In conversation with Amy Christiansen, founder of the conscious luxury fragrance house Sana Jardin, on her dream of illustrating a ‘commerce for good’ business model in the luxury sector
Celia Lyttelton: Travelling with your grandmother to the Middle East fueled your love of scent.
AC: I traveled to many exotic destinations with my grandmother. I grew up surrounded by the scents of North Africa and the Middle East; neroli, jasmine, and amber in particular. It has fueled my passion ever since. I have studied fragrance and now use such a high percentage of oils in our perfumes because I believe in the healing power of flowers.
CL: Your grandmother who was a champion of the women’s movement.
AC: In the 1960s my grandmother co-founded The United States Delegations for Friendship Among Women; the organization works towards increasing communication between women from the US and developing countries. Their aim is to promote friendship and understanding among women leaders, broadly defined. They are 100% committed to cultural appreciation, friendship, and peaceful coexistence. As a result of her work, my grandmother traveled across the globe. I was fortunate enough to travel with her and experience the sterling work she was doing first-hand.
CL: When you founded Sana Jardin, you enabled harvester women to be financially independent.
AC: At Sana Jardin, our vision is to use clean and sustainable perfume as a vehicle for social impact and women empowerment. Our Beyond Sustainability™ model empowers the floral harvesters with the skills and materials they need to increase their wages through commerce, not charity. This alternative model is based on ‘flower recycling’ and illustrates that a luxury perfume brand and business can be used to drive social change. The women develop and sell their products (candles and orange blossom water) within the local community, receiving 100% of the profits. We teach the women skillsets including finance, literacy, branding, distribution, and marketing. These skills help the harvesters to run their own business as micro-entrepreneurs.
It took two years to launch Sana Jardin and I began by developing the branding and packaging and spending time in Morocco to do a community needs assessment. Traditionally, the harvests of Jasmine, rose and orange blossom was seasonal so we developed the orange Blossom Project whereby the Amazigh women can convert the tonnage of waste into rose and orange waters, used in the region for baking and tea and rose candles from the scented wax waste which they sell in the local markets. No wastage, they were taught to make organic compost, which they can sell back to the farms for future flower crops. The women are the sole shareholders of the cooperative.
CL: Is Sana Jardin’s cause — working in tandem with the UN’s 2030 sustainable goals strategy — expanding for the Berber women?
AC: The 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to empower women (goal 5). To promote sustainable economic growth with full, productive employment (goal 8), and ensure sustainable production practices. Our vision is to take the Beyond Sustainability Movement, beyond Morocco into countries around the world like Egypt and India and empower women to build sustainable business for themselves in areas where fruitful female-focused economic opportunities are hard or impossible to come by.
CL: Should international fragrance and fashion houses follow the supply chains?
AC: Brands often talk about their ingredients or packaging, but I feel strongly about taking that conversation a further to economically empower the women who harvest the ingredients for our products. With Sana Jardin I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to offer a product with a consumer choice. It is my dream to illustrate a ‘commerce for good’ business model in the in the luxury sector and set a precedent for not only fragrance but food, beauty, fashion and manufacturing brands going forward. I want to inspire other businesses to engage in a language of Beyond Sustainability and look at ways they can be creative with their use of waste in the supply chain and give back to their low-income employees. Going forward I see commerce and sustainability merging; sustainability becoming a business practice and vice versa. They should be complementary to one another.
CL: Do you see conscious consumerism as a zeitgeist?
AC: There is no doubt that there is a greater demand for transparency when it comes to how a product is produced. Consumers are passionate about using their purchasing power to support brands that work towards social change and engage in sustainable initiatives. As a result, we have seen a move towards more conscious practices across the board as well as more focus on provenance, ingredients, and eco-friendly packaging.
CL: Was it the Nest initiative that taught the women how to make candles from the orange blossom waste?
AC: Our alternative business model is designed to help upcycle the waste from perfume production. We send the by-product from these harvests to female harvesters in the co-operative. To facilitate this, we partnered with both Nest and Les Aromes du Maroc (world producer of neroli). Nest is a non-profit organization based in NYC which builds a hand-worker economy to increase global workforce inclusivity, improve women’s wellbeing beyond factories, and preserve important cultural traditions around the world.
For instance, to ensure there is a closed loop throughout, we repurpose any waste at the co-operative into the organic compost which is then sold back to our partner Les Aromes du Maroc for the future flower harvests.
CL: Do you believe in the sacred in perfume, in the ancient rituals that surround perfume?
AC: Before I launched the brand, I researched the history of fragrance and the sacred practices associated with essential oil and perfume production. Perfume is alchemy. Ancient priestesses used essential oils to heal and incense and flowers have been used for spiritual rituals for thousands of years. I believe in the healing power of plants and flowers and I believe that translates into perfume. During my last trip to India, I took part in a Hindu religious ritual; a blessing ceremony that actually inspired and informed our tuberose fragrance, Jaipur Chant.
In ceremonies such as these, as well as in daily worship, garlands are given as an offering, to show humble devotion and love for the grand mystery of life represented by various gods and goddesses. Tuberose and jasmine are commonly woven into these garlands. One of our bestselling scents — Tiger by Her Side — was inspired by the mythical High Priestesses of Ancient Egypt. They were apparently so powerful they could walk alongside tigers, as symbols of their strength.
CL: Would you say that your scents are mood enhancing and healing?
AC: Each of our fragrances harnesses the healing life force of plants with a high concentration of naturally perfumed essential oils (15-20%). They are designed to uplift and empower you. All scents have properties; ylang-ylang for example in Revolution De La Fleur works on your heart chakra to provide inner strength and emotional support. Jasmine on the other hand is connected to sensuality and is also thought to be aphrodisiac. I do believe that people are attracted to what their body needs for balance.
CL: Have you recorded the ritual chanting of the harvesters singing in the orange groves?
AC: I witnessed the sacred rituals that are associated with a floral harvest first-hand and I cannot express in words how ineffably magical it was. The women who harvest the Moroccan flowers in Sana Jardin’s perfumes still chant while they harvest the flowers.
CL: How closely do you work with Carlos Beniam and can one layer your scents and is there a bespoke service for customers?
AC: We both share a language and passion in fragrance. I wanted to create a collection of perfumes that incorporated scented memories and ‘smell-scapes’ from my travels such as the souks in Morocco. At the same time, I wanted the scents to be pure and of course sustainable. I love each of the perfumes he has created for the brand. Berber Blonde is one of the reasons why I started to launch a brand. I searched high and low for the orange blossom scent but never found it. This fragrance captures the essence of Morocco in a bottle. All of our fragrances are designed to be layered with each other on the body and hair to enhance one’s olfactive signature.
Last month we unveiled fragrance consultations online. For us, it is also a fantastic way to educate our customers about who we are and what we stand for. We are not like other fragrance brands.
CL: How has Covid affected the plight of the women in Morocco and what does the future hold for Sana Jardin?
AC: Like most businesses. Our team in Morocco have remotely trained the harvesters to make face masks. This has not only taught them a new skillset but helped with their income too during these challenging times. With the help of a grant from non-profit Nest, we are now donating the masks throughout the community. We will soon sell the masks internationally through our own channels at Sana Jardin.
Our plans for 2020 have been delayed as a result, of the last couple of months. We will however be launching new eau de toilettes, smaller travel 10ml rollerball one, adding bath and body and home fragrance to our new product pipeline and we are redesigning the candles made by the Berber cooperative while deepening our commitment to social impact work. In terms of packaging, we are looking to incorporate upcycled and biodegradable materials into our boxes that can be composted when discarded as well as refillable perfumes that come without the box and cap to minimize waste.
Amy Christiansen worked for twenty-five years in the non-profit sector in the US, Middle East, and Europe. She began her career as a direct practice social worker (MSW) where she provided outpatient psychotherapy to low-income children and families on the West Side of Chicago at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s family planning clinic, a domestic violence shelter and a public school.
She then shifted her focus to address economic inequality on an institutional scale through posts at the New York City-based Robin Hood Foundation, The Clinton Foundation and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, where she worked to empower women economically by supporting female entrepreneurs in developing countries through mobile technology, enterprise development, and mentoring programs.
She currently sits on the Advisory Board of Nest, a NYC non-profit dedicated to alleviating poverty, empowering women, and promoting peace through the creation of artisan businesses. She is also a Board Member of the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation whose mission is to provide creative learning experiences for children and professional development training for adults in Egypt and Italy and a Georgetown University Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security.