In Conversation With

Ffern: Restoring Perfumery to its Artisan Roots

by Toni Din

FFERN is a natural fragrance maker based in Somerset. It was born out of a simple vision: to restore perfumery to its artisan roots. With this in mind, Ffern creates fragrances that are organic, vegan and made from the highest quality, sustainably sourced, natural ingredients. Working with the rhythms of the seasons, we blend, barrel-age and bottle four unique fragrances a year, released at the equinox and solstice.

What inspired you to create Ffern? 

My brother Owen (Ffern’s founder and CEO) and I grew up in Somerset with a herb farm at the end of the lane. These incredible herbal scents formed the backdrop to our lives, helping to form all our memories. Later on, Owen developed a deep interest in the complex art of natural perfumery - a chance encounter with Francois Robert, the fourth-generation master perfumer who is now one half of our team of noses, led to the founding of Ffern. 

The idea has always been to celebrate natural ingredients and artisan techniques, disrupting the highly commercial landscape of fragrance by sticking to small-batch production methods. But it is also about wanting to bring people closer to the natural world and the seasons around them, creating a community centred around the joy of good fragrance. 

How is it to work with your brother? 

It might sound a little too sincere but it really is a privilege to work with Owen. We loved growing up together (it was me and my two younger brothers) and we were always creating things, whether it be incredibly elaborate dens or, as we got older, short films. I feel very lucky I’m able to see him everyday and keep that sibling connection going - I know life circumstances, such as having families of your own or living far away, don’t always allow for this. My other brother Matthew (who builds bicycles) often comes to our studio too!

Tell us more about how the Ffern ledger works? 

The Ffern ledger can be thought of as a seasonal membership - you sign up and we then make one bottle for each ledger member, one scent for each season. We began the ledger to help us anticipate how many bottles to make (as supply was outstripping demand!) so that we could grow without compromising on our core value of sustainability. 

Essentially, the ledger allows us to make only as many bottles as we know we will need, thus reducing waste. Any bottles that come back to us are put immediately into our climate controlled fragrance archive, which only ledger members are currently able to buy from. 

Do you think sustainable fragrance is the next big thing?

Absolutely! It’s the only way forward now for the industry - and we’re seeing sustainable fragrance being adopted by bigger brands each season, most recently Comme des Garçons with Parfum Zero. However, it’s still a challenge to find brands that are transparent about their ingredients, and packaging remains a huge problem in perfumery. This is something we want to continue to disrupt the narrative on.

Ffern packaging generates zero landfill - do you think materials and packaging will become as widespread across the fragrance industry as they are becoming in fashion?

I certainly hope so! Fragrance and fashion are closely linked, with many fashion houses also creating fragrances, so I am hopeful that the positive changes happening in some areas of the fashion world might filter over into fragrance, too. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge of sustainability in the fragrance industry?

The industry has historically suffered from a lack of transparency - this makes it very difficult to trace the provenance of ingredients, and for customers to understand what is in their fragrances. Of course, this is a difficult problem to solve and I think only those really focussed on fragrance making, at the heart of a brand, can really achieve it. 

At Ffern, we often talk about how winemakers have made an amazing transition towards organic grapes and sustainable processes; how a real focus on craft and artisanship has become the norm. We think perfumery urgently needs to move in this direction, placing ingredients and their traceability at the core of our industry.

Buy less! Consider each purchase you make with care and try to find products and brands that align with your values.

What is one piece of advice you would give a customer who wants to become more ethical or sustainable in their everyday life?

Buy less! Consider each purchase you make with care and try to find products and brands that align with your values. Sometimes buying ethically can feel prohibitively expensive, but what I try to do is buy better quality less often, knowing it will last longer. And it’s even better if you can buy vintage or second hand. When I was putting together my son’s nursery I bought almost everything second hand - this meant I could afford the good quality products I wanted that would only have lived in someone else’s attic. And I plan to pass those things on to a friend who needs them one day.

What is your personal favourite Ffern scent?

I have always loved Spring 21 - it feels to me like the most complete fragrance we have made, so balanced and true to our creative vision for it. But honestly, each fragrance we make delights and surprises me. There is nothing better (or more nerve wracking!) than trying the first spray of the first bottle after the ageing process. It’s like magic, how we send something off thinking it will be a certain way, and then that first bottle always holds something unexpected. It’s so exciting! That’s the beauty of natural perfumery, its unpredictability. 

Do you have any exciting plans / projects for the rest of 2022 or 2023? If so, tell us more!  

We have some very exciting news but we won’t be sharing it until November! 

What’s keeping you hopeful for the future?

The world is in a tricky place just now but more and more people are turning to nature for comfort. We’ve seen listens of our podcast ‘As the Season Turns’ reach over 16,000 a month and we know this reflects the turning tide towards wanting to understand more about - and learn from - the natural world. I’m hopeful that as humans, we are beginning to truly cherish this earth and reconnect with the land beneath our feet.

Discover FFERN's beautiful perfumes here.

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