Kate Macdonald & Anna Weatherlake, Co-Founders, Váhy
What was the motivation behind this beautiful natural house of fragrance?
ANNA: Our natural perfume brand is motivated by our ethos, ‘balance’. Váhy means ‘balance’ in Czech. While we are both Australian, Kate’s family heritage is Czech. Balance was chosen as our ethos as we are seeking balance in many facets of our lives, whether this be balancing work and life; giving to your family and also working on self-care; or protecting the environment and also making consumption decisions. We think that purchasing products these days is voting with your feet on the kind of world and environment you want to see in the future. We wanted to give our tribe an alternative to commercial synthetic fragrances which are made without harmful chemicals, without animal by-products and with only pure, natural ingredients. In a way, you balance the decision to buy a consumable against ethos of buying one that is good as possible for the environment, animals and your body.
KATE: Our motivation for starting Váhy and launching our natural perfumes right in the beginning was that we couldn’t find what we were after on the market and we found the whole process of working out was actually natural confusing when brands didn’t disclose what was in their products. We wanted to be able to substitute our designer synthetic fragrances with perfumes that were natural without making a sacrifice on the luxurious feel and quality. We wanted to create a natural perfume that was radically transparent with their ingredient list, so we disclose our ingredients lists rather than shielding our intellectual property. We trust our consumers, they know what works for them and what does not. We simply want to give them the opportunity to choose what they wear in an informed way and confidently make truly clean fragrance buying decisions.
Have you always worn natural perfumes? Do you remember the time when/why you made the switch?
KATE: Both Anna and I wore commercial synthetic fragrances until we discovered what was actually in them. I was looking into the labelling regulations while working as a corporate lawyer and noticed the ‘fragrance’ loophole. This being that brands did not have to disclose exactly what chemicals were in their products when these fell into the ‘fragrance’ category. This set me on a wormhole of research and I found out the 3,000 or so chemicals that are actually compromised in this term ‘fragrance’ and the nasties contained in denatured alcohol which is the base of most commercial fragrances. The Environmental Working Group has conducted a number of studies on what’s actually in commercial fragrances and found chemicals associated with hormone disruption, allergies, organ toxicity, amongst other terrible conditions.
ANNA: We then went to find a natural alternative to synthetic fragrances but we discovered that we couldn’t substitute like-for-like quality and style wise. At the time there were only a few on the market and we sampled every natural fragrance we could get our hands on and could never find any perfumes which had the same sophistication of scent as synthetic perfumes, that were stylish or that lasted long enough. Throughout this journey we also found that an unbelievable number of brands state they are natural but instead use lab made chemicals which are ‘modelled’ from natural notes or only a fraction of the ingredients are indeed natural. Half the time it was difficult even working out what was in the perfume as most brands do not disclose what’s in them or use terms like ‘fragrance’ and ‘denatured alcohol’ that do not have a universal definition. We started developing Váhy in 2016 because we simply couldn’t find what we wanted in a natural fragrance.
How do you think synthetic fragrance disrupts our health?
KATE: We don’t claim to be chemists or health experts, but we do rely on the experts in these fields and research studies. Different ingredients react with people’s skin differently. One of the most important things from our perspective is allowing people to understand themselves and how what they put on their bodies reacts with them. A crucial part of this is being aware of what is actually in your products. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted research on what is actually in commercial perfumes and found that on average 14 ‘secret’ ingredients were used in fragrances (see https://www.ewg.org/research/not-so-sexy ). These secret ingredients along with harmful ingredients like denatured alcohol have been associated with allergies, irritation, hormone disruption and, as importantly, have not been tested for safety in personal care products.
ANNA: We should also note that despite the concerning research on synthetics, the main reason we use naturals and steer clear of synthetics is not just the health implications, but instead because natural essences possess a bioactive power, a vibrational energy, or ‘compressed vitality’, to quote Mandy Aftel, which just cannot be replicated in a chemical lab. We’re not just being ‘woo woo’ with this statement, it was discovered by Semyon Kirlian in 1939 that the same energy field that surrounds natural living organisms was present when essential oils were tested, despite the energy fields ordinarily dissipating when flora dies.
Synthetics can replicate some of the dominant notes of a natural essence but they cannot capture the complexity, subtlety and nuances of natural notes. An example of this is how reconstituted orange juice just simply isn’t the same taste profile as freshly squeezed orange juice. Natural fragrance notes evolve over time and evolve differently with each different wearer and there is such beauty in this lifecycle.
What are some of the benefits of natural perfumes?
KATE: I think Anna nailed it above. The biggest benefit of natural perfumes in our view is that the scent is better, deeper and more complex. Outside of this, each natural note used in our scents brings its own aromatherapy benefits to the wearer. Some calm and relax, others uplift and inspire joy. There are books worth of insights into the benefits of each natural note we use in our scents, so I will leave that topic for another time.
ANNA: Absolutely! And we should also mention that natural perfumes are made from natural organic ingredients which biodegrade over time. Conversely, lab made synthetics are created often from petrochemicals specifically designed not to biodegrade. While this sounds great in theory (who doesn’t want their scent to last forever), but you need to think more deeply about where these molecules go. There have been studies that found that synthetic notes can bio-accumulate in your body and they also pollute the surrounding environment.
What do you always remind a customer before their very first purchase into this natural world of perfume?
ANNA: Like most things in life, it is better if you give it time and let it breathe. Synthetics have been lab modified to hit you in the face with the full scent right at the top note. Natural perfumes evolve over time and often their heart and base notes are the stars with the top notes simply complementing them. What this means is that natural perfumes usually smell best after the first few minutes.
You’ve eliminated harmful ingredients across the range and your products meet strict IFRA and ISO standards. Did you find it difficult to tick these boxes, while still creating fragrances that smelt good?
KATE: In short, yes! It has taken us four years to develop our scents in accordance with the strict standards we hold ourselves accountable to. We work exclusively with limited, premium, natural ingredients. With our limited palette, it was very difficult making scents that are refined in their composition and contemporary in their design and that offer premium substitutes to synthetic perfumes without any compromise on quality, scent or style. However, after enlisting the help of some of the world’s best master perfumers we managed to release a range of stunning luxe natural perfumes.
ANNA: Absolutely, it’s been a labour of love for Kate and I. We have an uncompromising approach to our products which has meant that developing these products took a very, very long time as we wouldn’t take any shortcuts. That said, we’re just so proud of how they turned out. Every element has been so carefully thought through. From the individual sustainably farmed, organic ingredients to the French glass bottles we use.
You say Vahy was inspired by a sense of wanderlust and uncompromising natural luxury, where would this sense of wanderlust take you within Australia?
KATE: Australia has just such an array of devastatingly beautiful and varied landscapes that it is hard to choose just a few of our favourite locations for inspiration. For a sense of calm, peace and disconnection we find it hard to find a better spot than Bruny Island, Tasmania.
ANNA: Both Kate and I spent quite bit of time during development of Váhy in Byron Bay and the bohemian charm and warm jungles helped inspire our scent Boheme. Other than that, the artisanal Mornington Peninsula in Victoria and the vibrant atmosphere of Melbourne in spring have been huge sources of inspiration for both of us.