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Wanderlust Captured In a Bottle: Meet Aggie Burnett, Founder of Nomaterra

Aggie & Ben Burnett 

Aggie & Ben Burnett 

Have you ever had a moment where you smelled something that reminded you of a place and time? Nomaterra has captured that moment in a (beautiful) bottle. The fragrances created by husband and wife team Aggie & Ben Burnett transport you to New Orleans, Cape Cod, East Hampton and beyond. Learn more about Aggie's story from a beauty editor to in a lab developing a scent. 

1. What inspired you to launch a travel fragrance company? 

I knew pretty early on while working at Glamour Magazine that I would eventually want to start my own beauty brand. I got to interview experts in the industry, people I had looked up to my whole life and was inspired by my boss' penchant for vintage parfums. I met well-respected perfumers and learned about their process of creation ... the story, the inspiration, the science, the meaning behind the bottle, the production process, and how it all came together with marketing in the end. What drew me most to fragrance, and what made me start to think seriously about creating my own, was this beautiful marriage between science and scent. Scent is just beautiful and it's actually the sense that is most closely linked to memory. When it came time to figuring out our personal take on fragrances, it was undeniable that travel had played a major part throughout my life. From first moving to the States, discovering all of the US through road trips with my parents growing up, to my self-discovery and adventure years during my early 20's, and then worldwide travels with my husband, each new locale for me was emblazoned in my memory through a unique scent. Artists paint a landscape or the bustle of a city, photographers capture the perfect sunset, I capture the essence of a place through scent. 

2. Can you walk us through the creation of a new scent? 

The process in which we create our scents is quite unique. One of the best parts is the travel! All the scents we create are based on locations that have some personal connection or influence on us. A major part of making the scents authentic to the location is that we actually do extensive historical, archaeological, anthropological, biological, and geographical research and record in a spreadsheet what flora and fauna grows or used to grow ingenuously in that area, which has a major impact on the smell of the area, as well as specialty foods or spices eaten and used in that area. We do the same for our custom clients, learning the ins and outs of their establishment, their customer/guest profile, and work with ingredients that perfectly encapsulate their brand.

We then source the ingredients in collaboration with our blender, many of which are natural, organic, exotic, and rare essences of the highest grade from all over the world, incorporating them in our fragrance compositions to capture exactly the right scent of each locale. Often we work with really small distillers, because the oil is very rare or expensive. For example, in creating our Oahu Gardenia fragrance, I recalled from my trip the pure scent of gardenia wafting naturally in the Hawaiian air. Hawaii is also where some of the rarest species of gardenia can be found, so it was paramount that we created our composition around the gardenia flower and that it was natural, not synthetic. However, finding a distiller that had supply of natural gardenia extract was incredibly difficult because it’s a very long and tedious process to extract gardenia oil from petals, and not much comes out so thousands of petals need to be used for just a tiny amount of oil (even more so than a special oil like Bulgarian rose). We were able to find a very small and artisan distiller that had all natural and organic gardenia oil, and they extract it through the ancient process of enfleurage, where petals are placed in between layers of vegetable fat for months before the gardenia oil from the fat can be extracted.

The process of creating a fragrance usually takes about three months to a year. I often also revisit a particular location while working on its fragrance to make sure I’m moving it in the right direction and that I’m accurately capturing the true beauty and essence of the place or establishment. Once the formula is finished, our blender scales production to the desired quantity. He also works with us on making the scents last longer, tests our fragrances, and makes them commercially viable. While we're involved with more of the artistry of the actual scent, without him, we wouldn’t have the finished product.

3. You've worn many hats from studying journalism at NYU, to a post-bacc at Columbia University, to being a beauty editor at Glamour. Nomaterra seems to be a mixture of those loves. How did your past influence your future? 

Every past experience had a large impact on the foundation of Nomaterra. Glamour provided me with the opportunity to get a close up look of the fragrance industry, and be able to interview perfumers on their process, and get a good sense of the daily ins-and-outs of the perfumer. My journalism background provided me the foundation for my approach to marketing with Nomaterra. It has helped me develop a definitive, proprietary system for content marketing for my brand, and now, also for other lifestyle brands. My understanding of the nuances of start-ups, lifestyle brands, and journalism has resulted in the ideal combination to help develop editorial programs for other travel, beauty, wellness, and fashion brands. Lastly, my post-bacc in the sciences at Columbia allows me to apply organic chemistry to creating beautiful scent combinations. 

4. What's the biggest challenge with having a product based company? What have been some of your most "pinch" me moments? 

The biggest challenge with owning a product-based company is the many different playing pieces that have to fit into a complex puzzle just right. Those playing pieces go beyond the things that I enjoy most—creating scents, or marketing, sales and events— and include things like shipping and handling, product customer service, manufacturing, and warehousing. You have to continuously check on your suppliers of these services to make sure everything is running as it's supposed to. 

A few pinch me moments have included being the youngest company to ever be picked up by Sephora and having them place our product in every single Sephora nationwide. Seeing our product on the shelves was a once-in-a-lifetime moment I will never forget. Additionally, being filmed for a pilot for Entrepreneur Magazine was an exciting moment and validated our concept, and being featured in numerous publications such as Vogue, InStyle, Refinery29, New York Mag, Time Out NY, Martha Stewart, W Mag and the like. But probably the biggest deal for us was getting our first unrequested positive comment from a customer, and having one customer tell us they've never been able to wear fragrance before, due to allergies, until they discovered our brand. 

5. If you were to have a coffee date with the 21 year old version of yourself what sort of advice would you give her?

Plan! And then plan some more! And keep detailed spreadsheets on EVERYTHING. I didn't realize how important and necessary planning and overall organization was to running a business until I was in the thick of it. While I now set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, track numbers religiously, review and analyze data weekly, and the like, I didn't do that when I first started Nomaterra, and didn't learn how to do that until a couple of years in. Treat your business as a business from the get go, and you will reap the rewards, and will keep your sanity!

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