A True Marriage of Luxury & Sustainability: Tammy Frazer, Frazer Parfums


Sophie Doran | October 26, 2011

Tammy Frazer muses that South Africa's failure to fall under the spell of industrial-mass-produced factories, has placed the Republic streets ahead in handmade artisanal design

Tammy Frazer muses that South Africa’s failure to fall under the spell of industrial-mass-produced factories, has placed the Republic streets ahead in handmade artisanal design.

In a period of time where the essence of luxury is constantly questioned, it is refreshing to meet an entrepreneur pushing the concept, quite literally, back to its roots. Just like her perfumes, Tammy Frazer’s journey to become a haute perfumer, was completely organic. A chance conversation with two scientist friends led to the shock discovery that most commercial perfumes are made using synthetic ingredients, and eventually that the resultant quality of such scents, were anything but the ideals of luxury that perfume traditionally stood for.

“The more I learned about perfume, I saw in history that perfumes were composed using only natural raw materials for their unparalleled quality. It sparked an idea, to work directly with farmers and source the best quality raw materials. Then to compose, create and design in the foreign medium of smell. I saw it as a way to communicate, rather than something based on a market segment, or a brief or focus group.”

Shortly after, Ms. Frazer resigned her communications position, where she had been working on sustainability at Westpac Bank and completed a Masters degree, focusing on Corporate and Social Responsibility. From there Tammy returned to her South African home and begun conversations with perfumers and producers around the globe, in a bid to gain as much knowledge as possible.

Fragrance is often referred to as an ‘entry level’ luxury product. Has it been a challenge to sell a truly artisanal product, with a reflective price tag, when many consumers can buy into brands like Chanel or YSL for under €100?

It is a challenge. My perfumes retail at €255 and I pour every drop of turnover back into quality natural raw materials and handmade elements – like the hand-carved sustainable African Blackwood housing my perfume solids or the hand-blown glass flacons for my perfume Chapters. I believe this is the way people respond to and have respect for my Maison. Nothing you purchase from Frazer Parfum will ever be discarded – it will be handed down to become an heirloom, an antique and a legacy.

Two things guide the price tag: the price of the raw materials, which is impacted by the quality of the raw materials. I have smelled, and there is no comparison between an acerbic jelly lime oil and a lime oil that is almost floral in its delicate freshness, and you pay for the expensive raw materials. What I do is not bound by a brief, nor commercially driven – it is art and only selected for true quality. Then I put it all together in a flacon (hand-blown, literally starting from sand) and charge a fair price.

“ The main barrier is that my perfumes are not like any other, but this is also their point of differentiation ”

What have been some of the key barriers to entry, in launching a new brand and such a specific product in a crowded market?

Education. People are not aware that many commercial perfumes are made with synthetics, thus lowering their price and driving up the price of natural perfumes. There is also unfounded rhetoric surrounding natural perfume. I did not want to be portrayed as a “hippie” or “green” Maison, but rather to be judged for the quality of what I do, and so this needed to remain top of mind throughout all of my visual cues. Deciding that everything should be handmade, and only in Southern Africa, was a challenge. Though now I feel it has resulted in an opportunity for transparency and traceability.

Price has also presented challenges – my perfumes are not the same price as commercial fragrances, which was an issue. Economies of scale do not translate very easily with handmade. The main barrier is that my perfumes are not like any other, but this is also their point of differentiation. The scents are unique. They take time to appreciate. Therefore it is important to partner with the right retailers in a space that enables people to discover and to learn.

Parfum Solide. Hand-gathered beeswax sourced in the Western Cape infused with the rare perfume oils and waxes, housed in a hand-carved African Blackwood compact crafted by Allan Schwarz in Mozambique

You very proudly source only natural materials, locally, with a focus on sustainable manufacturing. Why were these factors important for you to carry into the business?

Business in this age should be ethical – one should know where the raw materials come from and one should consider the people involved in process. Also, with better communication and collaboration, together, people can create better quality. There is tremendous benefit along with mitigation of risk.

When you smell the synthetic chemical that is mass manufactured as “tender tuberose” and then you smell the real Polianthus tuberosa, you will know immediately why I do what I do. I work with lively, voluptuous single notes that have far deeper dimension and weight. This is where my passion started and remains.

“ South Africa is a developing country that did not fall under the spell of industrial-mass-produced factories. Now we are streets ahead in handmade artisanal design ”

Do you feel this eco-awareness is something increasingly important in the consumer’s mind or something you personally felt strongly about?

I believe everyone seeks uniqueness. It is important for me to discern quality things that are timeless, as a curator of my life. I would rather have less, but appreciate each object. Therefore I create what is completely honest to me. It makes me numb to walk into a crowded shop with mass-produced face-less products.

This is pivotal in what sets South Africa apart – it is a developing country that did not fall under the spell of industrial-mass-produced factories and equipment (political sanctions aided) and now we are streets ahead in handmade artisanal design. We are truly bespoke.

Also people are genuinely interested in the stories behind a product, how it was made, and then share those stories in a sense of community. The time of the model face on a label to entice people to purchase has passed, such is the trend of learning who the perfumer is and the thoughts that went into the creation and their beauty communicated, an honesty. I see the trend shifting and this is why celebrities are linked to brands, my prediction is that entrepreneurs will become the new celebrity.

Chapters One to Nine. “Each perfume is translated into a Chapter composed at a particular time in my life inspired by my expeditions traveling to the source of the raw materials"

What do you think makes luxury a particularly good partner to sustainability?

Sustainability is defined by considering the triple bottom-line: social and environmental, as well as economic. Handmade and natural offers the best quality and the best luxury. I have a hand in all of the processes behind every component of my fragrances – from the raw materials to the eco-paint used in my laboratory and the sourcing of the hand-made packaging. When you do that, there is an unmatched opportunity in terms of considering quality and of nurturing workmanship, cherishing craft.

There is also an opportunity to educate people about the beauty of natural and its “imperfections” – and perhaps that is the best contribution towards on-going sustainability.

“ The time of the model face on a label to entice people to purchase has passed. My prediction is that entrepreneurs will become the new celebrity ”

What do you predict for the future of the South African luxury industry? In particular, the future of domestic luxury brands?

Hopefully, growing flowers! Early adopters in a new industry tend to side with quantity over quality. And to date the perennial growth and harvest and steam distillation is of plant matter, over the more technical distillation methods needed to extract, say, a rose absolute. Plant matter grows throughout the year and fetches a high yield of oil, but the odour composition is hardier than the delicate scent of a flower.

I think domestic luxury brands will individually make a name for themselves to an international audience, but it will be some time before South Africans decide that home-grown is better than imported, we have been conditioned with international enticement and what we could not get access to in the past. That said there are amazing ideas here. And design will lead.

Pure Shea butter handmade in Mali by the ladies of the M’Pedougou village in partnership with the Peace Corps. Enclosed in a Cedarwood box with an eighteen carat gold plated applicator wand

What geographical markets are you seeing the most rapid growth in?

Europe is growing steadily as more boutiques in more countries carry the range. The USA (New York and Los Angeles) has expressed interest in my perfumes, and there is interest from Japan, Germany and Moscow. Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in the Middle East, are particularly interested in my bespoke hospitality range for unique spaces like hotels and beauty spas.

The local SA market is flourishing, in terms of my nine Chapters, as well as for bespoke clients and the hospitality offerings. There are also very interesting projects locally, like developing fragrances for a wildlife organisation, in conjunction with indigenous peoples and for an architectural design studio.

“ Domestic luxury brands will individually make a name for themselves but it will be some time before South Africans decide that home-grown is better than imported ”

And how do you feel the industry is going to change or evolve in the coming years?

Products will become more authentic, and consumers will not be as swayed by an aspirational image of a model placed purposefully as a sales tool to define a brand. Therefore creative people and design-minded individuals will be more sought out and important and valued.

Creative perfumes will be the way forward, rather than a marketing brief to hit the largest number of consumers. Smaller quantities will be made, on purpose, with thought and consideration and appreciation.

For other conversations with founding females in the Luxury Industry, please see the following:

- Proudly Made in China: Alison Yeung, Mary Ching
- Amber Gordon, Founder, Imagine Fashion

Fragrance | Sustainability