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Inventories in Indie Perfumery

In my continuing effort to maintain a studio that is as radically transparent as possible, I'd like to address the issue of inventories in indie perfume, a topic about which I am asked often.

Most truly independent perfumers — those who are usually self-taught and those who are almost always self-funded — have the confounding task of determining how much perfume to produce, all by themselves, once their formulae are complete. Few other perfumers will offer much free consultation on what to do, aside from some basic generalities, because, really, every situation differs by budget, ability to take on risk, and ultimate goals.

Generally, the easiest, largest container to acquire and in which to make one's first production run is a one-gallon jug, usually called a growler. The approximate volume of a growler is 3700ml, or about seventy-four (74) 50ml bottles.

However, indie perfumers must also account for sampling. Let's say that, starting out, it takes 30 samples sold to sell one bottle. If your sample size is 2ml, you need 60ml of sampled juice in order to sell one 50ml bottle. 

This means a one-gallon jug for an indie perfumer that's starting out might accommodate enough juice to sell thirty-three (33) 50ml bottles (1650ml total) plus the 990 2ml samples it takes to sell those bottles (1980 ml) — a total of 3630ml — with a 70ml cushion we can attribute to waste or spillage or testing, et cetera (and, in fact, waste and spillage and giveaways to greedy influencers are all usually much more).

Once an indie perfume knows a more accurate sample-to-bottle ratio, the planning for bottles becomes easier.

But, you can see with this very simplistic example why many indie perfumers run out of something quickly once the moment of viral public recognition hits: It's simply too hard to plan future inventory with no established sales data. And it might be several years of selling small volumes of samples and bottles before you hit a stride.

Whether an indie perfumer claims that they are making perfume simply for art's sake or for bona fide enterprise, the fact of the matter is that perfume materials are very expensive and it takes resources to perpetuate any kind of art practice, year after year.

Doing it independently — without corporate backing — almost deserves an award itself.

So, for the sake of objectivity, let's be direct: Both Art and Perfumery require capital. The amount of capital to which one has access dictates the type and volume of production one can make. And when you make perfume with deeper artistic goals at heart, the need for capital rises considerably.

Thus far, it has been my policy to continually update my collectors with inventory alerts when certain products are either at the risk of selling out temporarily or being entirely discontinued. Some have accused me of manufacturing FOMO, or fear of missing out, by publishing inventory counts in emails and on social media. In fact, the whole economic system of capitalism is structured on fear of missing out — it uses fear of lack of shelter, lack of food, and it restricts access to the basic necessities of life, all in order to compel society to participate in the system with the hope of finding a livelihood that prevents their catastrophe.

Deeper systemic arguments aside... My policy of providing inventory updates is rather more of an acknowledgement of our shared problems: That I must make available and generally wait for collectors to sample work before they determine if they want to purchase a full bottle, while they themselves acquire the resources to do that.

Similarly, some people believe that indie perfumers artificially create inventory shortages in order to drive up these kinds of fears. On one hand, this is nonsense: Every entrepreneur will tell you THEIR greatest fear is having an open shop with nothing to sell. Yet, there are certainly perfumers who seem to never have enough stock despite demand being high. In these situations we must ask deeper questions to determine whether its our heartstrings that are being plucked or our pockets.

When an artist — perfumer or no — has successfully created something that, over time, entertains or brings satisfaction to people, it's inevitable that people will want it for themselves. We can only try to control demand by making our best work possible. Nevertheless, our abilities to control our supply are often hampered by the same economic and systemic problems that create suffering for all: Lack of access to capital or resources, lack of space for production or storage, and restricted access to wholesale pricing that drives up our costs and lowers our profit margins, thus perpetuating hampered production yields.

If you love indie perfumery, the best way to support indie perfumers is to purchase their Discovery Sets, sample the work, and then buy a bottle for your collection and tell everyone you can once you find something praiseworthy. The perfumers who make good work AND wish for themselves longevity of their studios will last, as a result.

Trash eventually finds the gutter if people toss it there.

Ultimately, consumers hold a lot of control in a capitalist marketplace through their buying power. It's always good to question the policies and practices of artists and businesses, but the power of the purse can truly make or break any company. Use it!