With a background in Global Health and Medical Anthropology, Vancouver-based Sara Panton might not seem like the stereotype of a founder of a beauty brand. The reality, however, is that beauty entrepreneur like Sara are much more the norm than ever. As consumers become more considerate of what goes into their products and their bodies, wellness brands like Vitruvi take center stage in the beauty realm. Self care is the new beauty.
Sara Panton founded Vitruvi three years ago after traveling to Morocco and Kenya as part of her Global Health studies. She was inspired by the ways in which women in other cultures used essential oils as part of their routines. Initially, the brand started as a way for Sara to take botanicals and repurpose them for modern day use. Vitruvi has since evolved into a wellness and lifestyle brand centered around essential oils, with a simple goal: to improve the quality of your overall day.
COOLS: What can you tell me about the trend of wellness as a beauty practice?
Sara Panton: It’s been really interesting in the last three years since we launched, being on the table when some of the largest retailers launched either beauty or wellness. I was there when Nordstrom launched wellness, and now with Sephora launching wellness. In that sphere, I think there is a shift between, wellness used to be fitness. Wellness used to be workout classes, and aerobics and spin. And then wellness is now, to not sound cliche, more “inner.” We’re even seeing Sephora bring on supplements, we’re looking at inner beauty, practices around meditation. And essential oils are interesting because they fit both:the functionality and the intention around lifestyle. So the two ways that we talk about our products are the physical property of the oils, so teaching you how some are stringent, or more antimicrobial, and how they can be used in your beauty and skincare rituals. But then the second part is around scent association and this idea of controlling our environment and being able to set a mood or a tone or get into a headspace. So I think that essential oils really show the shift that’s happening and how people are thinking about taking care of themselves. It’s less about sweat and more about inside.
COOLS: Why are people more interested in this approach to beauty?
SP: I think there is a lot of noise. I think we can look at what’s happening in the world, in politics, and just in how fast everything is moving and the brain likes a sense of consistency. And I think we’re all running on high adrenaline, and to a certain point you can only spin and run for so long. I think we’re craving that, and that’s from what the brand came from. My background was in global health and medical anthropology. I think there is a lot we can learn from other cultures around ritual and practices of slowing down.
COOLS: How can scents bring about mindfulness to a normal day?
SP: Fundamentally, just a reminder to breathe. Sometimes when you smell one of our products, it might be the deepest breath you take in a day. So that is just a really great way to start. I love using our mists that we’re relaunching to set my makeup in the morning, and I take a deep breath, and sometimes we leave our houses without taking a deep breath, so that, to me, is a win. I think that’s really it, fundamentally.
We don’t like to use the term “aromatherapy” as a brand. We stray away from the “therapy” of essential oils, we don’t believe in curing anything. We’re really focused on scent association, pairing ritual with aroma, because the brain likes consistency. And with the chemistry of essential oils, we’re taking a much more modern approach to these products, rather than saying they can do anything that I don’t believe they can accomplish for someone.
I think they can absolutely accomplish a sense of ritual, control, calming through breath and how scent affects different parts of the brain.
COOLS: What do people not know about essential oils?
SP: I would say people don’t know all the different purposes that they can use them for, and how much essential oils are actually in the products that they already use, from making your own cleaner, using tea tree or eucalyptus and peppermint. I think they’ve been used in a really medicinal, prescriptive way, but then you can be playful with them, and you can blend your own aromas for your home. And then there’s also the physical chemical properties of them– I’ve taken way too many organic chemistry courses, so I won’t go down that route. But some of them are anti-bacterial and that can be proven and that’s how we like to think about the utility of them.
Essential oils have been used through the ages, and I don’t think it’s from a superficial place, I think it’s from a place of helping a woman fill up her cup back up. Any time of our products are used to fill her up with a little bit of energy so she can go up and take on the world, that’s why coming to the office everyday.
COOLS: How do you develop custom blends?
SP: It starts from a mood that I want to create, or a place that’s important to me. So for example, our Pacific Blend, I try to get to the beach as much as I can, it’s one of the perks of being in Vancouver, and I’ll often go to a space and think about all the things that make up that experience. So with our Pacific Blend, it was thinking about saltiness, what can I bring in for saltiness, smokiness, having a beach fire, a sense of summer, there’s a hint of basil in it and basil is a self-conscious reminder of freshness, summer strawberries, basil, salads. It’s that experience. Or our Dusk Blend, I went to Joshua Tree on a girls’ retreat, and I needed to recreate that experience. You know when you’re with your girlfriends and you have it all figured out? That’s what I needed to recreate. It was dry rocks, and it took me so long to find that scent. I found Ho Wood, which is a dry, smoky scent, and added a hint of eucalyptus, that freshness, cacti, the water component.
The goal, when designing an aroma, is for the person experiencing it to not be able to pinpoint one thing. It makes me smile when someone says, “I love this, it’s familiar but I don’t know what it is.” And that is like, “boom, I’ve done my job.”