Change the menu. The perfume industry has been marching on the same road for about 100 years. It is time to change how we look at perfumery, to include practices that exist outside of the current colonial construct and explore new kinds of smells. The same is true in life. Sometimes you just need to switch things up and look from a different angle.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Binder.
Rachel Binder is the “nose” and brand owner of Pomare’s Stolen Perfume based in Venice, California. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a wine educator at Future Food Institute and Matthew Kenney Culinary.
Rachel is a winner of the Art and Olfaction “Aftel” Award for handmade perfumery for her work on the perfume “Rasa”. She also is the recipient of the “New Luxury Awards” Brand of the Year for sustainability in natural perfume.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I moved a lot growing up and wound up in a small town in Northern Maine at around 12. We lived in the country surrounded by potato farms and pine trees- there were no malls, no internet, no fancy clothes but there was a tremendous work ethic. We got off three weeks every fall from school to work the potato harvest. People were so proud to work the land that their parents or grandparents had worked. I lived not far from “the Great Northern Maine woods” which is a kind of wilderness that many are never able to experience. The seasons were mighty.
When we were snowed in my sister would sit down with my father and open the almanac and dream of all of the places she would travel. I still have the aromatic imprint of the clothes, incense and jewelry that my sister brought back when she returned from India. Saffron, silk vine, sandalwood and dhoop sticks seemed to speak of the entire world I had yet to experience. Even this year on lockdown I often felt like I was channeling my sister as I used the time to dream of far-away places.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Leap and the net will appear”- Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
You can not wait for permission from the world to take that risk, to pursue your dreams or goals. That may never come. At some point you have to jump off of that cliff into the unknown, make that scary risk and go for it with every fiber of your being. The universe has wonderful ways of showing up to support you when you do. In order to release and bottle my 2019 vintage perfumes I had to take time away from my then day job, take out a loan and put absolutely everything on the line. It was nothing short of terrifying but I felt that determination down to my toes and knew it had to be done. One of the best decisions I ever made.
How would your best friend describe you?
She says that I’m effusive, brave and fiercely creative. And she loves that I would take three trains with her to buy the best chocolate in town.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?
For so much of my life I never really fit in. I always saw the world from a different perspective, which can be difficult especially when you speak your truth. It’s kind of its own super power because I don’t live with the idea that I have to be anything like anyone else but myself.
Secondly, I have been studying the senses through many mediums for my entire adult life before ever becoming a perfumer. I studied aromatics in the theatre, storytelling (in several mediums), years of yoga and meditation, grew my palate through blind wine tastings and culinary exploration. I credit not just my nose but the variety of non- traditional ways that I approach my work as a perfumer and brand owner.
It can be scary to be making perfume in a different way than most everyone else. But the response has been so overwhelmingly supportive. Especially the niche perfume community on Instagram who have been so wonderful. Lastly, I am crazy determined. I may have taken the long road- especially considering all of the journeys that I took in my first chapter that led me here- but I never gave up on learning new things or myself. That is what led me here.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
Having spent most of my life in the arts also means I’ve had a lot of day jobs! All of them were valuable even if I didn’t know it at the time. I worked in retail, restaurants, the environmental sector and in the wine world. From each of those jobs I learned something integral to launching my own business.
Working as a sommelier was vital to my developing my brand. It was so wonderful being able to shift a person’s taste perspective with the right pairing recommendation. I think people really want to taste and smell new and different things- it can turn an average Monday night into a special memory. This is just as true of a new scent as it is for a wine varietal you have never tried.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter? Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
About ten years ago I was waiting tables and twisted my ankle. I knew I wasn’t on the right path in my life, so I went home and reevaluated. That is when I dreamt of the idea that would become Pomare’s Stolen Perfume. The real impetus would come several years later and put a fire under me was getting pregnant and being unmarried. It gave me an absolute clarity and urgency. The most exciting trigger came in in April of 2020. I had been working in wine sales and felt like my values were no longer in alignment with the company I worked for. When I was laid off on April 3rd due to covid, I felt a deep sense of relief because it would give me time to really focus on my perfume business and that it was “my shot”.
I didn’t have to wait long to have an affirmation of this new direction, on April 14 my Artisan perfumer nomination was announced for Art and Olfaction Awards (for my work on “Rasa” where I created the first natural whole fruit passionfruit accord out of local fruit from the farmer’s market). This gave a certain amount of international attention that has been vital in my ability to run my business even on a lockdown. When I won for handmade perfumery in September, I became one of only a handful of people ever honored on the international stage for hand made craftsmanship in the olfactory arts. I’m still just so humbled and honored.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
Initially I didn’t even consider that I had an extra skill set, I just knew that I couldn’t find the smell I wanted in a perfume. I already didn’t wear synthetics due to chemical sensitivity so there were just less options on the market for me. I just went down the rabbit hole and started reaching out to the people I knew that were most conscious about their ingredients: bartenders, winemakers, distillers, native plant experts, organic farmers and chefs. I had started my own redwood extractions years earlier, but it took tons of research and trial and error to find out the wellness and safety components of using a totally new ingredient like redwood in perfume. To sum up it was really research, blind faith and a knowing determination that whole ingredient perfume was not only possible but could be a significant player in how people connect to the earth and shift their energy. My willingness to create outside the dominant paradigm in perfume is what led me to even knowing I had this skill set. It was something that I wouldn’t let go of. It was an insatiable curiosity.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I am so grateful everyday that I get to create art that gets sent all over the world, It is such a blessing! This year I created my first vintage of my peach- based perfume, Beulah (made from the best peaches of the summer “Cali Red” from Frog Hollow Farm) where I made the entire peach accord from those peaches using some winemaking techniques. There are few things in this world as gorgeous as a ripe peach at the height of summer! My daughter does love to “steal” my peaches and passionfruit when I get it for the perfume I always have to order extra.
I have also really loved getting to know people around the world in the “oud” community! Oud is a perfume ingredient made from aloeswood and is one of the most expensive ingredients on the planet. Working with real oud is nothing sort of magic. One moment it is fruit, one flowers, yet another chocolate tobacco and another barnyard. When combined with natural ingredients it takes on a life of its own. Working with natural oud is true alchemy and both challenging and so joyful.
My “Rasa”perfume got listed in many Best of 2020 Lists from Indy100 (The Independent) to a renowned perfume reviewer “Therapeutic Fragrances”. Being listed next to luminaries like Ensar Oud and Agar Aura (who are distilling legends in the oud world) was so humbling.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people that have helped me along the way! I have neighbors who have been in my quarantine bubble that are helping move and set up my new studio! I have very supportive friends (who have helped me with everything from marketing to logo design to offering judge free listening zones).
My mother raised me with a core idea that is so central to my work as a perfumer and business owner and that is: “there is nothing more perfect than nature”. Because of her I studied Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), grew up on whole ingredient food and without the presence of a lot of petrochemicals in my life. As a kid her response to almost everything was ‘why buy that from a store when you can just make it yourself’? She also would pass on so many of the ancestral and family stories that would come to inspire my work. She was the first person who thought that starting a natural perfume brand was a great idea and she has stood by it ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The Art and Olfaction Awards were in September so they took place over Zoom. My friend and fellow perfumer, Layla of Fum Fragrances wanted to make it extra special for me so she cooked me a spectacular meal including a saffron cake that paired with my nominated perfume and a hand made gold leaf pear in honor of the award itself. Other friends from the wine world sent me a bottle of Leclerc Briant Champagne to honor the occasion. It was just a magical day!
I made leis for Layla and her partner Kenny and a floral hei for myself (as is traditional in Raiatea, my grandfather’s island in Tahiti). I knew that winning was a long shot because so many spectacular niche perfumers from all over the world enter, so I wanted to make the day special no matter what. When the Aftel Award for handmade perfumery came up, my heart was in my chest (the Aftel Award is named for Mandy Aftel, a legendary natural perfumer who I was lucky enough to study under). At that moment, my friend pretended to “go to the bathroom” and went into a different room where she started on the broadcast live. She gave me the most gracious introduction I could have ever dreamed of (made even more special because she is also so talented and had been there for me since the day we met) and was able to hand the “Golden Pear” award to me in person. It was just the most magical day, made even more special by the fact that I could share it with a friend.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
I absolutely had so many limiting beliefs about myself! For a time, I even drew people towards me that would reflect this perceived lack. At every turn I would find another major fear or insecurity that would drain my energy and focus from a project. Ultimately, I had to step away from the people who did not reflect my possibilities. I stopped allowing unsolicited advice into my life and I had to lose some friends in the process. Some of the traits that I had perceived as a weakness turned out to be a strength for running a business.
There were several entrepreneurs that I worked for through the years would fall short of my idea of how perfect you had to be to achieve that position. They were juggling a house of cards in some cases but their vision, daring and determination would always persevere.
I have come from generations of folks who did not have two cents to rub together. My grandmother Beulah (who I have a perfume named after) had to raise a houseful of children virtually on her own. But she magically always pulled through. When I feel that I may not be able to pull it together I think of her and how she hustled to get food on the table for my mother and uncles and aunt. When I am most afraid that I am not enough I place my feet on the ground, close my eyes and try to pull the spirit of the ancestors that came before me. I remember that I am the granddaughter of Beulah and I remember that those who came before me are still here, whispering their wisdom.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
The most significant first step was learning to trust my own counsel. Other people may not yet share your vision so trusting your own viewpoint is everything. From managing self-care, to how I spent my downtime, I had to find ways to be my own first line of support. This included stepping away from those who did not reinforce positivity. I had to make the decision that I was completely committed to my vision and when I did more and more supportive and amazing people came into my life and helped hold up my dream of Pomare’s Stolen Perfume.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
The old comfort zone had simply stopped being comfortable. In order to get there I had to commit myself in fairly uncomfortable ways to make things move forward. The first year in wine sales I ran a pop up perfumery on the weekends over the holidays. I was exhausted but just so entirely determined.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why?
- Trust yourself. There are alleged “experts” and opinions out there that could derail you if you let it. Your vision has to be strong enough so that it is unshakable.
- Think Champagne. Bigger is not always better but excellence is everything. A champagne maker has a limited quality yield every year and they produce the exact amount of bottles that they can do exquisitely. This is the perfect model for high quality ingredient natural perfume and for life. Do what you can with the utmost grace and excellence.
- “Everything is energy”- Champagne maker, Herve Jestin. As an artist this phrase always meant so much to me but as a business owner, I think of it often when it is time to shift my energy from the things that I can’t control, to what is going to make actual progress for my brand.
- Never forget your busser. It’s so important that you can do every job within your company with competence so that you can hire the strongest team. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant will tell you that bussers are some of the hardest workers who don’t get enough thanks. Make sure you are always willing to do that hard work with a smile- it creates an important tone.
- Change the menu. The perfume industry has been marching on the same road for about 100 years. It is time to change how we look at perfumery, to include practices that exist outside of the current colonial construct and explore new kinds of smells. The same is true in life. Sometimes you just need to switch things up and look from a different angle.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The movement would be toward whole ingredient natural perfume that reflects the quality of soil, seasons and energetic imprint of the land. A lot of “naturals” are made predominantly of natural synthetics which lack the same feeling tone as complete ingredients- in reflection of the emergent field of quantum biology and biophysics there is an “x” factor to the way that certain aspects of nature work in concert with one another (a scientific difference between incorporating ingredients that contain the spark of life and creating without it*).
For so long we have viewed the world through the lens of everything being isolated from one another. One doctor for your heart, one for your head, as though things weren’t connected. Dr. T Colin Campbell talks about this so beautifully in the book “Whole” and I find it relevant when it comes to perfume. We are so used to everything being isolated and separate we have forgotten the magic that happens when whole universes of ingredients come together. A synthetic jasmine has a small amount of molecules whereas a natural can have thousands. We are only just now beginning to understand our sense of smell! We do know that study after study supports the therapeutic benefits of real jasmine. So putting on a truly natural perfume can offer therapeutic aspects of those plants- suddenly the act of putting on perfume can shift your day, your energy and connect you the the earth itself.
Ever since scientist Luca Turin introduced his “Vibrational Theory of Olfaction” which argues that we experience scent more similarly to sound, it seems to me that it would make sense that something containing more “high vibrating” materials would have something else special to offer the wearer. In biodynamic farming (which has yielded some of the most beautiful grapes in the world) even the tides and the moon are connected to when it is optimal to reap and when to sow. The most spectacular wines were made from great farming practices and reflect the soil and seasons. They age well and evolve with time. Why shouldn’t real ingredient perfume offer the same thing?
What do you want to be remembered for the most?
I hope that I can look back in 20 years and be remembered for helping shift the current dominant paradigm about perfume. Of course, mostly I want to look back and see that I was able to be a good parent to my daughter and role model. I want her to see the world through her own lens.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Instagram and Sensory Travel Stories:
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!