A Decade of Abel
04 October 2023
I write this journal from the air enroute to Amsterdam - Abel’s birthplace - to celebrate our 10 year anniversary and to launch our first foray into a new product category. I find the view from up above the clouds helps put things in perspective. And so, from my airborn vantage point I’ve stepped back to reflect on the Abel journey. It can be easy to fixate on what’s not going to plan, or the challenges you’re facing (they will both be omnipresent), but on our 10 year anniversary I’m choosing to reflect on the 10 things I’m most proud of in Abel’s journey to date:
1. Changing an industry by proving you don’t need petrochemicals.
When I started Abel ten years ago, the common thought was that you couldn’t make sophisticated perfume without petrochemicals. I was told countless times by industry insiders, “It’s not possible.” Setting out to prove them wrong became our raison d'être and has remained that way since. With 99% of the industry still heavily reliant on fossil fuel derived petrochemical synthetics, there is a long way to go. However, there’s no doubt a movement is underfoot and I’m so proud of the pioneering role we’ve played, and will continue to play, in this movement.
2. The incredible humans who’ve joined this journey.
Since day one I’ve turned to people around me for knowledge and advice. Abel’s first advisor was my husband and Abel director Dave who encouraged me to give this dream a go - choosing to look beyond my lack of industry experience and network! He’s been my biggest ally and support ever since. The second was Isaac Sinclair, our Master Perfumer and the first industry insider to say, “It’s going to be bloody hard, but let’s give it a go.” From distributors and retailer partners who’ve believed in our product, to incredibly talented people who’ve chosen to grow their career at Abel, to our investors Maker Partners enabling us to grow and flourish. The fact that these incredible humans choose to invest their valuable time and energy into our journey is something I value every day.
3. Walking the talk on women’s role in business.
As a woman myself, and one who has balanced motherhood with business throughout Abel’s journey (Abel is ten, my eldest son Rufus nine and Arthur seven), it’s been a personal mission to show that women can - and should - play a pivotal role in shaping the future of our economies. Today our management team is all women, with four of five mothers. We’ve been actively putting in place a framework and conscious approach to business that path the way forward. Seeing women flourishing in the workplace, whatever their situation.
4. Balancing sustainability and commercial reality.
I truly believe that balancing commerce and sustainability is a key challenge all sectors need to be confronting right now. For Abel it's always been a major priority. Two of the things I’m most proud of instigating:
i. ‘One in One Out Policy’ — taking a very tangible and often controversial approach to minimising the amount of stuff in the world.
ii. No Black Friday — for five years now we’ve closed our websites on this day and do not participate in any sales in order to promote conscious consumerism.
5. Decision making for Abel and the family.
Not a single person would have advised me to move a perfume business from Europe to New Zealand, and indeed it’s not been without its challenges. It was a decision I made for our family, but surprisingly, it’s been the makings of Abel. Choosing to put down roots and trust my instinct that business and family can coexist happily has been a defining mark in Abel’s journey. It created the solid platform we needed from which to flourish.
6. Driving transparency in the fragrance industry.
When we launched, we were the first fragrance brand to share our full ingredients list. In the years since, several more brands have begun to list full ingredients and retailers and customers are beginning to demand it. When we launched our best seller, Cyan Nori, it was alongside a campaign to mobilise transparency around synthetic ingredients that build up in our food chain. Transparency in a smoke and mirrors industry has remained a priority since, and will into the next decade.
7. Continuing to drive innovation.
We’ve never been content to sit on our laurels, instead we’re constantly shifting the dial on what’s possible. We started out working with only essential oils, concretes and absolutes. In the time since, we extended first to include natural isolates (plant derived single aroma molecules) in our formula. In the last five years we have invested heavily into biotechnology - ingredients grown in the lab from plant, fungi and yeast sources. A low impact, huge growth space we’re really excited about and one I truly believe is the future of fragrance.
8. Our Abel community.
From our pre-launch “first whiffs” more than 10 years ago in Amsterdam, to our community events today in our Fabriek in Wellington, community has and will continue to play a leading role in our path. Our community holds us accountable, challenges us and supports us.
9. Keeping people at the forefront.
As a mostly women-led business, we take a stance each year on International Women’s Day by giving the team the day off. When I reflect on the team of formidable women across Abel’s three offices (Wellington, New York and Amsterdam), it can sometimes feel that we’ve achieved equality. But the reality is that despite women making up 75% of the world’s workforce (*source: Oxfam International), women earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property. To acknowledge our progress and recommit to being part of the pay gap change, our team is given the day off for IWD. We’re not asking them to speak out, volunteer, champion the cause or do any other unrecognised unpaid work (as so often is the case for women), we give a paid day off, for themselves.
Our team has been at the heart of Abel from day one and continue to be the driving force behind our decision making into the future. The Abel team are loyal, smart, conscious and ambitious. They hold each other and myself accountable; they care about our customers and have shown on many occasions just how much Abel means to them - for which I couldn’t be more proud or more grateful.
10. Being honest about our mistakes.
I’ve been hyper aware from day one that I don’t have all the answers. When it comes to sustainability in particular, I’m brutally cynical of anyone claiming they do. So we’ve always cultivated a deeply honest approach to communicating both in the team but also with our partners and customers. The responses we got to this honesty when we talked about our failure with bioplastic was testament to the connection we can make with our community just by being honest.
Returning to my view from the clouds - not only does it put the day to day challenges of running a business in perspective. It also puts the fragility of our planet in perspective. As we enter Abel’s second decade, I’m hyper aware that as a global community we have some huge problems to tackle. But I’m optimistic. I believe in the power of conscious, driven businesses and their communities to make a difference. By respecting nature while harnessing the intellect of the world’s best thinkers, scientists and innovators - there are solutions out there. But we have to act now.
At Abel, significant changes are afoot that will see us entering into the next decade leading the way. Ten years ago we birthed Abel into the world hoping to make a difference, change an industry, contribute to the greater good. Since then our mission has remained steadfast, gaining momentum as the Abel team grows and with every person who is awakened to the world of natural scent turning their back on petrochemicals. I feel just as passionately about this mission today as I did back then, more so perhaps.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support over the past decade, we genuinely could not have done it without the loyalty and collective power of our global community. Here’s to the next 10!