On the ascent to a pure success

Joan Woods: Plans for growth abroad.

A West Cork firm making perfumes with only organic materials is thinking global, writes Trish Dromey

Following in the footsteps of Irish producers who have blazed a trail with organic foodstuffs internationally, West Cork company Waters + Wild is now working on making a name for organic Irish perfume.

Director Joan Woods believes that as the only Irish perfume company with organic certification, and one of only a small number in the world, Waters + Wild is well placed to sell to countries such as Germany, the US, and Japan, where there is a growing demand for organic, chemical-free perfume.

Although it’s a small, one person operation with part-time staff, Waters + Wild has already developed sales to high end retailers around Ireland and is selling to an online retailer in France and an organic shop in Austria.

In recent months, the company also signed an agreement with a distributor supplying high-end organic perfume stores and pharmacies in Germany.

With some assistance from the Local Enterprise Office in West Cork, Ms Woods has now opened an organic shop in Glandore and is aiming to increase perfume production, rebrand, and develop exports in 2018. Her new year plans include taking on a full-time employee.

A commerce graduate, Ms Woods worked for Vichy Ireland in the 1990s and set up two fashion stores in Dublin before settling in West Cork to raise a family, in 2004.

Looking for business ideas she hit on perfume and decided that scenic West Cork was perfect for this type of venture. Although she went to France to learn perfumery at Grasse, she decided that conventional methods weren’t for her.

”They told me it would be impossible to make perfume without chemicals, but I decided to prove them wrong,” said Ms Woods.

Working from a stone barn near Union Hall, she and her business partner, who has since left the company, experimented with various ingredients, importing a variety of them from around the world and researching combinations.

Ms Woods says that the decision to go organic was important: “There are quite a number of natural products on the market now but an organic certification says more; it says no chemicals.”

Applying to the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association the company secured the certification in 2015.

In early 2016, Waters + Wild had three perfumes which sell for €120 for 50ml and €45 per 10ml.

“The ingredients for organic perfumes are difficult to find and very expensive — they include oils and roses from France and Madagascar as well as herbs and seaweed from West Cork,” she says.

Ms Woods designed the logo and the packaging herself and has been doing all the blending, bottling, packaging, and selling.

“I started out by travelling around Ireland with the perfume taking it to high-end retailers,” she says, adding that customers include the Kilkenny Shop and Shannon Duty Free.

Recognising that opportunities to sell high-end organic perfume in the Irish market were limited, the company immediately began looking at export prospects and secured help in identifying them from both the Local Enterprise Office in West Cork and Enterprise Ireland.

In 2016, the company participated in Going for Growth, a programme for women entrepreneurs, and attended a French trade fair in 2016 where it launched Waters + Wild’s fourth fragrance.

“This year we were the only certified organic perfume company at Pitti Fragranze, a niche perfume trade show in Italy,” says Ms Woods.

Opening an organic shop in Glandore in time for Christmas, Ms Woods says she’s had a high level of interest from distributors in Germany, Japan, and the UK.

At her new shop in Glandore, she says she will have space to expand production to develop exports in 2018.

Assistance from the Local Enterprise office will allow her to take on a staff member to help with the workload and also provide her with the services of marketing graduate.

Options currently under consideration include attending a trade show in the US where she sees good potential for sales.

She’s also thinking about looking for investment to grow the business.

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