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How a bunch of hikers are giving natural perfume a gritty new meaning


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Artisanal, natural beauty brands pride themselves on hand-mixing and otherwise concocting products in small, thoughtful batches. But when it comes to being hands-on, perfumer Juniper Ridge epitomizes what so many emerging natural and organic brands are setting out to do.

The California-based company (which began in 1998 as a one-man shop selling natural tree-scented soap at a Berkeley farmers market) has roots in backpacking, not beauty. So when they look for ingredients, they skip the suppliers and hit the trails.

Juniper Ridge’s wildcrafted fragrances and bath products are discovered, extracted, bottled, and shipped by the 22 employees who crawl through wildflower fields and scour the forest floor for the sake of wilderness perfumery.

So each Juniper Ridge product is a scented snapshot from one of these company camping trips.

“We adhere to capturing a particular time or place on the trail where these fragrances were born,” explains Obi Kaufmann, chief storytelling officer (yes, that’s his actual title).

More Reading: 13 amazing all-natural perfumes

For them, it’s all about highlighting beautiful moments in nature, not churning out cookie cutter scents. In fact, unlike synthetic fragrances, and even many natural brands, Juniper Ridge is not aiming for consistency. They fully expect that one batch of Coastal Blend, for example, will smell wildly different from the next.

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“Depending on elevation, precipitation, the age of a plant, season, if it’s at the top of a ravine or bottom of a canyon, the same species might smell incredibly different,” Kaufmann explains. “If it’s truly natural and comes from nature, it’s going to change. But that’s fine, we embrace that story with the harvest number,” a label on each bottle that tells where and how the plants were found. On their website, you can look up each harvest number and read your product’s story.

To truly bottle nature, Kaufmann and the rest of the team spend their days immersed in it, traveling all around the Pacific Northwest, from San Diego up to Seattle, and all the way over to the Rockies. This means hours and days of backpacking, camping, and spending nights under the stars to find the newest, best ingredients.

When out scouting for inspiration, they’ll travel in the field lab van, where all samples and prototypes are created. “If I find a plant I don’t know, I cook it up and coax out its beautiful aroma and see what we can make with it,” he says.

In California, there are over 7,000 catalogued species of flowers, he says. “We could be a thousand times the company we are and a thousand years old and not make all the perfume we want.” In comparison, more conventional perfumers work with about 75 different plants.

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Another thing they’re doing that most big brands wouldn’t bother to do? Using time-consuming perfume making techniques that were abandoned by the larger fragrance industry decades ago.

“We use ancient but also use very cutting-edge technologies,” Kaufmann says. “Some of our latest, we’re using a vacuum distillation, which means we’re sucking all the air out of our still. We boil at less than 100 degrees, and then we can collect that steam or evaporate fragrance and turn it back into liquid and we haven’t cooked the flowers to death, collecting delicate notes from very sensitive flowers.”

More Reading: Turns out, there’s proof communing with nature makes you healthier and happier

“It’s very expensive and very laborious, and it’s a questionable business plan. This is what we do, this is what we love. We have great success because we’re crazy,” he says.

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“Our customers don’t really want another thing in their lives, but they’re willing to shell out money to be connected to a real experience. When you’re invited to smell the forest, your body can’t help but respond.” When you’re confronted with the wafting odors of cigarette smoke outside your office and exhaust from passing cars, it’s safe to say you crave that connection to something a little more green. —Amy Marturana 

For more information, visit juniperridge.com

(Photos: Juniper Ridge)