Around these parts, we like to learn about and from people who are running their own businesses – business we love and admire, and the women who are running shit behind the scenes. This week’s interview is with Sara Panton of Vitruvi, a company making essential oils and aromatherapy products based in Vancouver. She runs the company with her brother and, like us, interviews cool people doing cool things. Her oils are said to help overcome any challenge, whether it’s trouble sleeping, focusing, waking up, or even getting rid of a pesky headache. Here, she talks about the importance of supporting women and shares the best advice she’s ever been given.
Mind your Business: Tell us a bit about your background. What made you decide to start your own company?
Sara: My curiosity with botanicals and wellness rituals started when I was completing a degree in Health Sciences with a focus in Global Health. As part of that degree I had to research different wellness and health practices around the world and became fascinated with the subject on medical anthropology. During those years I was also working for a Nobel Prize nominated charity that was doing brilliant work in eight developing countries. I was fortunate to be able to travel a lot with them and to learn about the cultures of the places we worked in.
From there I started medical school and the concept for the blog (which would later become Vitruvi) began. Sean (my brother) and I were living together and we started a simple website that we built in the evenings after work and med school — Sean created the website and I did the writing. We started an interview series that asked people about their daily rituals, and the habits that allowed them to do the great work they did — it was all about living with intention and the simple habits and rituals that keep people grounded.
I was full time in med school and our class started learning about the olfactory nerve: I became fascinated with the science of scent and how if affects different parts of the brain. I started experimenting with mixing my own essential oils to apply during different parts of the day and Sean and I started sharing the practices on the website. Long story short — people identified with the concept of ‘modern rituals,’ the simple daily tasks that we do everyday that keep us grounded and the benefits of using traditional oils and botanicals in a very modern way.
Two years later and we’ve launched two collections of our essential oil blends that are sold in over 100 stores in five countries.
MyB: What kind of research did you do prior to launching your business?
Sara: A lot of research on botanicals and which places they grow best in the world as well as the history of perfume making. Our products are not perfumes but our natural essential oils are combined like perfumes. I went to Grasse, France this summer to the perfume capital of the world and toured perfumeries and learned about the history of perfume making.
MyB: Do you think it’s particularly challenging to work with a family member?
Sara: Our business wouldn’t be where is it and wouldn’t have grown as quickly as it has if Sean and I were not siblings. Sean is absolutely incredible to work with, he is one of the smartest, grounded and agile young entrepreneurs I’ve met. Because we’re related we can be very honest and move very quickly from problem to problem; no one gets offended or takes things personally because we know we are both in it together and are just trying to get to the best outcomes for our team and our company.
MyB: You dedicate significant time to philanthropic pursuits. Can you tell us how you choose your causes and what work you’ve been doing with them?
Sara: As a team we are looking to grow this passion greater in 2016, we are really passionate about the safe cosmetics movement domestically as well at internationally support women in entrepreneurship and access to clean water.
MyB: What’s your favourite product and why?
Sara: Focus Aromatherapy Oil. It is one of the first blends we created and it helps me to get in the work ‘zone’ regardless of what country I am in or if I am travelling. It is a very complex blend and has a beautiful mix of oils from more than seven countries.
MyB: I think some people consider aromatherapy a bit of a “hippy” concept, perhaps something that has more of a placebo effect than anything tangible. What do you say to that?
Sara: At Vitruvi we are fascinated with the idea of intentionally living and the science of scent association. As a company we create and use scents as a way for people to strategically associate scents to different parts of the day or during different moods. The reason why you may smell something and it reminds you of a friend or the home you grew up in, that science of memory and scent can help create intentionality in how we design the rituals of our modern days. All of these scents weave together so that regardless of where you are in the world you can wake up, work, exercise, meditate and sleep with the constancy of that scent. Humans love habits and find comfort in ritualistic behaviour. That is what our company is designed for.
MyB: Can you give us any insight into new collections or designs on the horizon?
Sara: We recently launched our home collection of home diffuser blends, we will be launching a line of aromatic diffuser machines as well that are hand made and absolutely stunning porcelain. You can expect some new collection from us in the Spring, possibly in a different category of scent.
MyB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Sara: A favourite quote: ‘If not you than who?’