We had the good fortune of connecting with Whitney Swales and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Whitney, what matters most to you?
The principle that matters most to me is authenticity. Authenticity in relationships both personal and work, as well as authenticity to myself and how I live my life. To me, to live authentically is to live by being true to yourself and focusing on what is important to you – regardless of what others might think or what others tell you that you should or should not do. This might mean taking a risk and attempting something that seems very daunting. However, as I have gotten older, I have realized that no one can make my life be authentic except me. This mindset shift helped me realize that I wanted to follow a passion of mine and take it to the next level by starting my own perfume brand, Wit & West.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
The world of perfumery is highly competitive, with the majority of perfumes on the market coming from large beauty/luxury brand perfume houses. In addition to large brands dominating the perfume and fragrance market there is also a perception that to be a true perfumer (known as a “nose” in the industry) one must study at top institutions in France and post-graduate work as a perfumer must be at a top brand. This may seem a bit discouraging from the outside, however, there is a silver lining. Change and disruption is occurring within the industry. These change-makers include indie perfumers who are often self-taught or who’ve studied under other independent perfumers. Within the indie perfume community there is a smaller sub-genre of perfumers focused on naturals. One could classify me as an indie natural perfumer, but I would say I am more a student of the olfactory art of perfumery. As someone who started down their artistic journey later in life, I took a more non-traditional path to becoming a perfumer and am mostly self-taught, with some time spent studying under well-known natural perfumers. Coming into this field and starting a small business after spending 20+ years in medium and large corporations has humbled me as I know I have only begun to scratch the surface of the art of perfumery. Some of the primary challenges with this artistic path (besides the competitiveness) is the mainstream perception of natural perfumery. Natural perfumery is growing in interest with more and more small natural perfumers emerging each year, but there are still misconceptions regarding its legitimacy and relevancy in the industry. These misconceptions are based on a belief that natural perfumery is not luxurious or sophisticated and instead is rooted in aromatherapy and simplistic homemade formulations. While I was aware of these misconceptions prior to embarking on this journey, it wasn’t a challenge I originally sought out to take on. However, now one of my primary goals is to show that natural perfumery is not only as beautiful as mainstream perfumery, but also that it can connect us to the sensory world in a way that synthetic perfume cannot. As we describe on the Wit & West website, “…synthetics alone do not represent what scent and perfume should be – inimitable, luxurious and natural – an olfactory interpretation of an essence in its true form that elicits emotion, connects us to the natural world, and ties memories to the moments in our lives. Perfume can’t truly be experienced if treated as disposable, uninspired fast-fashion. We believe perfume is an experiential art, both for the perfume wearer and the perfumer. Our approach is based on a commitment to creating authentic, handcrafted perfumes developed with 100% natural whole botanicals and naturally derived ingredients that are unique and never boring.”
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would say I know Colorado pretty well as I am a Colorado native who grew up in Colorado Springs and have lived in the Denver area now for over 23 years. When I think about what I would want someone visiting me to see in Colorado for a week I would probably recommend the week be split up between the city and outdoors with an itinerary that looks something like this – Days 1-3: • 2-night stay at one of the unique hotels in downtown Denver like the Crawford at Union Station or The Maven off of 18th and Wynkoop. Dinner for one of the evenings in Denver would be at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox one night and for the second night a venture out to Capitol Hill at Shells & Sauce and a comedy show after dinner at Comedy Works. In terms of the day activities I’d recommend something super touristy (but also fun) like a tour of the city via a Vespa scooter (though I would probably have to ride on the scooter with my husband as I already know I can’t drive a Vespa). Finally, I cannot let anyone visit me without a trip to Twist & Shout, the eclectic music store on Colfax that has an amazing selection of new and used CDs, vinyl, books and more. Days 4-7: • Denver to Vail for some hiking or snowshoeing if the weather is right with an overnight in Vail. • Drive to Palisade, CO for a couple days and tour the local wineries (my favorite is Varaison Vineyards and Winery) and an overnight stay at the Spoke & Vine Motel.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My friends and family have been incredibly supportive throughout my journey, both in my corporate career and now as a small business owner. However, the one person who has not only inspired and encouraged me but also pushed me when I have needed it most is my husband, Rob. Rob is amazing – not only because he is my husband and the co-founder of Wit & West, but also because he is a key reason my dream of becoming a perfumer and owning my own line of perfume is a reality. When I initially told Rob that I wanted to take my passion for perfume to another level (which at the time, I had no idea what I even meant by that) he told me to go for it. After spending time studying under other perfumers Rob helped me plan out our business strategy with a focus on creating a brand that is centered on authenticity to who we both are without compromising things that are important to us. Whether that be in the brand itself or our focus on perfumes formulated completely in-house from 100% natural ingredients or our promise to ourselves to always ensuring we have time for each other outside of the business. This meant not taking out huge business loans to start the business and not cutting any corners by outsourcing any part of the startup process or ongoing business operation. Instead, we spent almost two years prepping to launch the business, working on nights and weekends during off-hours from our normal jobs. This included everything from developing perfume formulations to branding, product packaging design, copywriting, website design, business incorporation and other legal requirements, etc. We did this all ourselves with no outside funding or support from a business consultant. This was challenging due to the initial time commitment and slow ramp-up but the long term goal was to ensure sustainability and a business we could be proud of. Rob pushed me (and still does) to remember who we are and why we did this – to create a business based on a passion of mine that remained true to our values as both individuals and as business owners.
Photography by BlueSky https://www.photographybybluesky.com/.