OPINION: Diversity is missing in the fragrance industry

Mar 21, 2022 | OP-ED, Opinion

For Adriana Carter, owner of Crochet Queen clothing in Toronto, perfume is essential in her daily routine. Purchasing perfume from a brand that is representative of her culture, personality, and lifestyle, allows her to feel her best.

“I like the smell of Lancome’s perfume called La Vie Est Belle but I rarely see black women in their advertisements,” Carter said. “Even if the perfume smells amazing, I don’t want to buy a product that doesn’t represent people of colour too.”

The perfume industry works hard to establish and maintain an elitist and traditional aura. However the limited representation, realism, and culture for people of colour remains the same.

Perfume brands often target wealth and class, but not cultural diversity. This will create inclusivity issues in the long run as the fragrance industry moves forward.

The number of diverse professional perfumers and brand owners are increasing slowly, as the representation and relatability in the industry towards cultural diverse communities remains slim today.

The global multi-billion dollar fragrance industry has grown tremendously over the years, however the direction strays from the realism of their consumers. According to research conducted by the National Purchase Diary Panel, the fragrance retail price increased by 15 per cent in 2021.

Premium and private fragrance brands are commanding higher prices and have increased market share gains. Increased prices can affect the inclusivity — or more accurately the exclusivity — of specific cultural groups in our communities. The realistic financial situations of consumers often don’t match the fantasies of perfume ads.

Marian Bendeth, a global fragrance expert at Sixth Scents Toronto, said she feels fragrance should be for all and represent all.

“As a consultant, I have a problem with micro-marketing to one demographic or culture,” Bendeth said. “For example, Neela Vermiere is originally from India but is based in Paris.”

Cultural and global customs are not the primary focus for some fragrance brand owners because, according to the 2020 L’Oréal annual report from Nicolas Hieronimus, deputy CEO at L’Oréal. The company’s growth will be focused on trends such as middle and upper classes, youth who are consuming at younger ages, and socially active seniors.

This focus fails to spotlight the true cultural representation of their consumers but focuses instead on societal trends, possibly because of a brand’s marketing and financial goals.

People of colour employed in executive boards and management positions aren’t pushed enough in the fragrance industry. This support within can allow relatability in the market attracting diverse consumers, and it can also deconstruct the unconscious bias that tradition often holds.

Research by Bridget Foley in a Women’s Wear Daily report reveals Burberry’s Linkedin profile employs 11 board members, and only one person has an ethnic background.

Capri Holdings owns the three brands, Michael Kors, Versace and Jimmy Choo. Research revealed ethnic employees make up 10 per cent of the employee demographic and only two per cent of management positions.

Small percentages of diversity is a continuous problem that industries often use to soften the blow publicly when a systemic issue still exists.

Ethnic women account for large portions in the earning of the fragrance industry, contributing $152 million-dollars of the $679 million total in 2017, according to research from Nielsen Homescan. Based on these findings, diverse communities who are consumers, should not be overcharged based on the white high-class reputation that comes with expensive perfumes. If elite fragrance brands claim they are for all, the prices should represent affordances for all.

The industry has yet to create changes for people of colour who want to be represented. Accurate inclusivity will create longevity for a brand and will show younger generations they are able to achieve these goals and truly relate to fragrance products.