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03.09.2019- In Conversation...Sadie Chowen, CEO, The Burren Perfumery

Back in March, I was lucky enough to visit beautiful Galway with some of my favourite people, and we had a wonderful time exploring the stunning surroundings of The Wild Atlantic Way. Whilst I was there, I also came across The Burren Perfumery, a family-owned perfumery and cosmetic company based in picturesque County Clare. After picking up some of their gorgeous products, I was lucky enough to chat with Sadie Chowen, CEO of The Burren Perfumery, to find out more about the business and living and working in such an inspiring location:

Tell us a bit about how The Burren Perfumery came into existence. 

Established here in 1972, the ethos of The Burren Perfumery was always to create perfumes from the highest quality ingredients, inspired by the landscape of the Burren and made on the premises by hand from natural ingredients. As a perfume house and working factory, it was a much simpler place, not open to the public in those days, with just a few curious visitors finding their way here in the heart of the Burren. A little different to the 60,000 + visitors that we welcome today, with the help of 35 local staff members. I started working here in 1998, and my first responsibility was planting the organic Herb Garden. I remember designing and planting many different types of native and organic herbs including many different beautifully fragrant mints that then took over one end of the garden for many years after. Sarah Casey and her husband Gabriel have now been doing a beautiful job looking after the garden for the last 19 years. 

When I bought the perfumery in 2001, my ethos was to create and sell only contemporary, beautifully designed, perfumes and products that I would like to wear myself. When I found it impossible to buy organic plant based skincare products locally I decided that we should make them ourselves. We were offering organic skincare from 2003 onwards so I think that I can say that we were the first in Ireland. We currently have a range of 120 products-amazing to look back at the steady growth. Recently there has been a flowering of Irish natural brands in Ireland which is great to see. I started the organic Tea Rooms in 2001 so that customers could take a pause and enjoy the surroundings and have a really good homemade cake or bowl of vegetable soup. For many years it was more like an extension of my own kitchen. I am a long-term vegetarian with vegan tendencies so it made sense to me that everything we served in the Tea Rooms was, and is, made with the same high quality ingredients that I use in my own kitchen, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic flour, sugar, nuts, veg, eggs, tea , etc. It was very simple at the start but everything was, and is, made freshly on the premises. I can often be found hiding in the kitchen with my coffee and enjoying a chat with the good humoured staff. The edible tastes and scents of the Tea Rooms compliment the Perfumery side well and I love that the ingredients are often the same in both sides of the business but presented in different guises. Between then and now The Burren Perfumery has grown a lot and I am proud that we have never compromised our values during this time

Take us through your average working day? 

My day can be varied, which is one of the pleasures of the job, my time is split between planning and developing products, maintaining and improving the customer experience, managing our staff and communicating our brand story. As CEO I feel my primary responsibility is to grow and develop the company in a way that reflects our values; sustainable growth, rural employment, honesty and fairness in our relationships with staff, customers and partners. 

What inspired you to start your own business? 

I fell in love with The Burren Perfumery when I came to work here over 20 years ago. The Burren Perfumery is a seductive blend of stunning Burren landscape, traditional small-scale production methods, wonderful local staff and high-quality raw ingredients. I was seduced and saw the potential to create something unique and bring a contemporary and cosmopolitan twist to the existing perfume house which has been here since 1972. I trained in Paris and became a perfumer so I could fulfil the vision I had of painting with scents and bringing all the freshness and flowers of the Burren into the perfumes. I find many perfumes quite ‘loud’ and blatant and I wanted to create much more natural and subtle scents. It is important to me that all our products are Vegan (apart from a couple that use organic beeswax), cruelty free, not tested on animals and contain no sodium laurel sulfates, animal derivatives, GMO ingredients, colourants, etc., and are absolutely not tested on animals. It is easier these days to find products fulfilling these criteria but when I started raising the bar in early 2000s awareness of these issues was much less. 

Which products would you say you’re most proud of and why? 

I love all our products, there are some that are very close to my heart such as the Spring Harvest Eau de Parfum which is the first one that I created as part of the Burren Botanicals when I took over the Burren Perfumery. A fresh, aromatic fragrance with top notes of Mint, Lemonbalm and Fennel and Wild Thyme, Spring Harvest perfume evokes the Burren in Springtime with it’s pure air and green vitality and all the plants in the herb garden and fields springing alive. 

I am very excited about our new perfume which will be launched in November. Wild Rose Eau de Parfum is a beautiful, subtle and complex perfume which captures the story of the wild Burnet Rose which grows in the Burren as it starts the day covered in dew, green and luminescent and, as the sun warms the flowers, releases it’s delicate velvety rose petal scent, soft and heady. This will be a new direction in perfumes as it is not only 100% natural and organic but also a personal, quiet, perfume, all softness and subtlety. In line with our ethos of sustainability, each element of the packaging has been thought through and is traceable and ethical. The inserts are made from 100% recycled paper, the cartons from FSC paper, the inks are vegetable inks, the glass bottle simple to allow easy recycling, the perfume natural and environmentally sustainable and biodegradable and the cap is aluminium. All packaging is minimal and sourced and made in the EU. I have been working on this project for 2 years and I am very passionate about both the beautiful perfume and the care taken with the use of resources around the packaging. I feel strongly that wasteful consuming of throwaway packaging is not luxury, that mindfulness and traceability are the new luxury in beauty. 

Where do you find everyday inspiration? 

In all seasons I think that my greatest joy and inspiration is watching the changing of the flowers and scents along the Burren roadsides as I go for a run with my dog, Lana. I am inspired by the subtle, delicate smells of the Wild Thyme, Wood Sage, Wild Fragrant Orchid, Ivy flowers, Meadowsweet, Juniper, the Wild Roses... shall I go on... I appreciate the richer fragrance of the more exotic climates but what I like to wear on my skin are the fresh natural scents of the meadows and herbs of the West Coast of Ireland. It’s like painting with scents, or creating a piece of music after listening to the running of a stream, recreating the experience of a walk through the wild west coast landscape. I do go away for breaks to Paris and Grasse quite regularly and often have new ideas there but more about packaging than the perfume itself. 

And finally, what advice would you offer people who might be looking to start their own businesses? 

When you are starting and running your own business you will need to give it 150%. Make sure from the get go that your heart is in it and you are passionate while also be clear and realistic about the figures. Be prepared to be fluid. You won’t have all the answers or get it right all the time, but you will learn as you gain experience. Be prepared to change course or cancel projects if it makes sense. Don’t work too hard! A business will consume all your time if you let it. Guard your personal time, it’s the source of your energy and creativity. The key is having the people to support you. 
 And finally, what advice would you offer people who might be looking to start their own businesses?

A big thanks to Sadie for her time!

Find out more about The Burren Perfumery here.

(Image credit: The Burren Perfumery.)


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