Isabelle Lewenhaupt on the journey to become the leading Swedish natural fragrance house
Björk & Berries’ CEO explains how to create storytelling based on ’Sweden in a bottle’.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
October 27, 2023
Isabelle Lewenhaupt has been a part of Björk & Berries almost since its start in 2012. Four years ago, she and her family took over the company, redid the whole packaging and branding, and launched the new concept.
— We launched on the day that COVID-19 was proclaimed a pandemic, she says. So, quite an interesting start. But this is also the beauty of having a small company where everyone pitched in, quickly adapted, and focused a lot on the e-com. It also made us better and more creative in terms of connecting through our own channels to our community. It was a time when you as a small company could reset and really focus on the core. But of course, as for everyone, it was challenging.
Since then, Lewenhaupt continues, she and her team have turned a quite small, local Swedish beauty brand into something different.
— Now, we are a global brand. Still very small, but we are taking steps and have gained confidence from great retailers like Le Bon Marché and Liberty. The concept is based on Swedish natural fragrances, such as pine trees and birch leaves, and translating its magic, beauty, and heritage into these sensory experiences of fragrances and formulas. I have a background in marketing and advertising and we’re all about creating stories connected to the fragrances that we make. We want our customers to be transported somewhere emotionally and psychologically when they experience our products.
Lewenhaupt has very high ambitions for this brand, aiming to be the Swedish natural fragrance and beauty house.
— We are doing it in a very conscious way. Everyone in the team is involved in every decision that we make, which are the perks of being a small entrepreneurial-driven brand.
You mentioned creating stories. How do you want to stand out?
— We feel that there’s so much untapped storytelling on the Swedish heritage and nature. When we are talking about our fragrances in another country or market, we also create a story around how we actually live together with nature in our country. Things like how we live with the harsh seasons and grow our crops during a very short season are quite unique but rooted in our culture and what has made our country to what it is today. For instance, White Forest, our best-selling fragrance, captures this day in the forest where everything is snow-covered and cold and you can only hear your own footsteps. The snow is a little crisp. And then comes this warm ray of sun and the mix of the sun, the snow and this extreme cold is something that we can always feel when we are talking about it. We want to make everyone be able to feel this as well and the emotions that it can give you.
— It’s always a challenge to translate this visually together with texts to fully capture this. But fragrance is such a powerful tool to make people feel and emotionally connect with something. When I talk to people who experience our products, I often hear that they really are kind of transported. For us, first, we want to capture someone to wants to try this fragrance by explaining the — amazing — feeling that they will have. So, it’s about connecting to fragrance and story together, and we think this is a way to really stand out.
Like Sweden in a bottle. Do you have any hack on how to communicate the country in, for instance, short Instagram videos?
— It’s difficult and all small brands that don’t have huge budgets are of course struggling. As I said, we’re very creatively driven. We do a lot of our content production in-house, which means that everyone who works with our visuals or copy really knows the brand. We make the things, also our samples, ourselves. It’s always gonna be a numbers game, since we can’t compete with the big giants, and we actually make things ourselves — it’s a strength for us that we can be genuine and trustworthy when we communicate.
And when you meet with Le Bon Marche or Liberty, what do they say?
— They are often very amazed by the fact that we are quite a small brand and they always think that we are bigger than we are. But when we tell the stories about our fragrances — Mareld, inspired by the Sea Ghost, or Never Spring, inspired by the spring that comes and goes all the time in Stockholm — that’s what makes them tick and want to carry our brand. What they say is that they want to go and see our products in their home environment. Basically, they want to go to Sweden.
Björk & Berries’ entire range is made in Sweden, except for the Home collection, which is made in France.
— We can go and visit our factory whenever we want, and we have a very close collaboration in terms of creating formulas and selecting ingredients. Since we’re a small company, it’s been crucial that we can together come up with new formulas and fragrances. We work with perfumers Jerome Epinette and Pierre Wolf. They are based in New York but have a Swedish heritage which is good because when we explain that we want the feel of a snowy forest, they know what it is…
Starting this fall, the range of beauty and fragrance products will become more curated and focused.
— Where we feel that we are gaining more following and also when listening to our consumers, they love our fragrances. We’ve taken more of a focus on becoming a proper fragrance house and will work on new fragrance concepts to release, including more fine fragrances. We’re still working with wellness and beauty but fragrance will be the top priority for us going forward. This is where we started 10 years ago. As we are now expanding into new markets, we see that fragrance is a very powerful tool to share the magic of Swedish nature. There are hand-picked Swedish heritage ingredients in our bath salts and we grow our own herbs in Fäviken.
Do you grow your own herbs?
— We do. My family has a farm called Fäviken. We started our own garden there, quite a long ago. We grow some of the herbs that are in our bath salts. It feels like a way to connect to nature through growing things and creating things that can help our consumers connect back. For us, Fäviken as a place represents Swedish nature. It’s good to have one place where we grow things and we see how the growth cycle is. Up in the north, it’s quite harsh. We’re also very inspired by the rare flowers and the nature there.
As part of this mentioned focus on fragrances, Björk & Berries just launched Synchrony, a spicy fragrance for the colder months to come.
— It’s inspired by living in the city and how different materials connect together in old buildings in terms of creating the space in between water, glass, stone, and all the natural materials that become a construction. Both of my grandparents were architects and I always felt very inspired by creating a building. And when we walk into a building or a house, you can feel something in the spaces in between — it has a certain fragrance and it’s like a synchrony between different materials and how it becomes one.
Selling fragrance as an emerging indie brand online can be tough but Björk & Berries came up with a solution.
— How can we encourage people to really try the fragrances? We created our Discovery Sets. We thought that it was just going to be a small thing, but it really became a huge success. And when you buy that set, if you then want to buy a full-size fragrance, you get a discount. We understand that you want to try something before you buy it, especially with fragrances.
One of the countries where you are growing is in the US. What’s your view on the US market?
— It’s such an exciting one for us. At first glance, it’s this one big country with a huge amount of consumers and a single market. But when you look at it closely, it’s also very fragmented, says Lewenhaupt. She continues:
— It’s very much around the big cities and how different behaviours can be throughout the coastal cities and then what it looks like in the country as a whole. We are taking the first baby steps now and really trying to make the right decisions to evolve. We see a lot happening without doing anything — there’s a lot of interest in our e-commerce since we opened it towards the US and we’re also selecting some partners to work with. As of the beginning of this year, we launched with Saks in the US, which has been a very good collaboration. We are trying to take the right steps. It’s all hugely interesting and I think that niche brands are gaining more traction in the US, so a lot of potential for us.
And what are the keys there? Finding the right agent or distributor to partner with?
— It depends on what kind of business model you have. It becomes quite evident that you have to have a warehouse in the US and find the right partner who can help you set up meetings and such. And you have to be a bit more understanding towards the culture of how to do things. Maybe be a bit more boasty, something that we are not so used to. We are almost always the underdog. We have to be really proud of what we’re doing, and we are.