Rachel just recently opened Pyewacket Potions, a perfume shop.

Introduce your shop

My name is Rachel, and I’ve just recently been able to achieve my goal of opening a perfume shop. Pyewacket Potions opened for business July 2017, and I hope it will be around for many years to come! I’ve brought my own twists to the trend for geek chic perfume oils, with influences ranging from modern internet-based horror to favourite old folk music. All blends are personally designed by me, and I use natural components whenever possible; some blends contain real honey or beeswax but all others are vegan-friendly.

When did you turn your craft into a business?

I’ve been interested in indie perfume businesses for ten years or so, since someone mentioned the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab in a writing group I was involved in. I loved to read the descriptions and imagine what everything would smell like before I tried any samples. I’ve been writing since I learned to read, and the lyrical copy so many indie businesses use was fascinating to me. I’m also on the autistic spectrum, and tend to fixate on an interest once I have it, so I could spend hours just reading the websites.

It wasn’t until more recently that I decided to try it for myself. I had lost my job and was living at my parents’ house with nothing to do, and while bored I was reading through perfume sites again and thought “I could do this!” My hopes of turning it into a business weren’t high, because in the UK there is a much higher barrier to entry than in the US where most of these businesses are; safety assessments legally have to be performed by a qualified chemist. However, I invested in some inexpensive essential oils and had fun sniffing and blending.

When my lack of success in finding employment started to take its toll on my mental health, I seriously considered starting my own business. My dad works freelance and my mum’s self-employed, so I knew it could be done. Funding was a big problem because of the safety assessments mentioned above, so I browsed around for loans or grants, and came across the Prince’s Trust, a UK-based organisation which helps people aged 13 to 30 get into paid work, especially those with disabilities, mental health issues, or disadvantaged backgrounds. They run a course about how to start one’s own business and offer loans and grants for that purpose, so I signed right up! Getting the business plan ready was slow going because of my on-off depression and anxiety and still trying to find a job, but over two years later, I was ready to present my plan, and the panel loved my work and gave me the grant right off. Straight away I set out on getting my formulae certified and buying more equipment and ingredients, and finally was able to set up my shop.

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How did you come up with a name for your store?

There was some hassle with the name at first. My original choice was “Cunning Chemist”, after a children’s poetry book my Nan owns, which I still love and I felt was important as it inspired so much of my imagination as a child. However, it turned out at the last minute that businesses in the UK are not permitted to use the word “chemist” or its variations in their names if they aren’t one, so I had to come up with something new very quickly. I browsed around for words which might be connected with the idea of blending. “Chemistry” was out, “alchemy” has been used by a hundred people before me; “potions” it was, then. I searched for terms related to magic, and found that “Pyewacket” was the name of an accused witch’s alleged imp familiar. I loved the snappy sound of the word and I thought it would appeal to buyers to discover a historical reference!

How did you start selling on Etsy?

Etsy was my first choice for where to sell; it reaches a wide audience interested in handmade items, its users are likely to know what they’re looking for, and buyers can leave reviews which will attract others. I have sold in real-life craft fairs a couple of times, but there you’re left waiting for someone who might be interested to stumble across you by chance and new passersby can’t see what previous buyers thought of you. On sites such as eBay, people are less likely to be searching for handmade items. I already knew about Etsy when I formed the idea of the business, so I set up there first, but am also planning to put my blends up on eBay, Facebook, and possibly other craft-specific sites.

Do you talk to your customers? Do you run your website or blog, social media?

Of course! I run a Facebook, a Tumblr, a Pinterest, and a Patreon, comment on Reddit’s Indiemakeupandmore, and confer with customers via Etsy’s Conversation function. I’m always willing to answer questions! https://www.facebook.com/PyewacketPotions/ http://pyewacketpotions.tumblr.com/ https://www.pinterest.co.uk/rachelw1239/ https://www.patreon.com/pyewacketpotions

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What’s your most favorite product?

I’m most proud of “The Sculpture”, though it’s not one I’d wear often. It took the most fiddling with the formula of all of them, because civet fragrance (synthetic and so cruelty-free, of course) is extremely hard to work with; in too high a concentration it smells like weasel droppings, which is fairly close to what the real substance actually is. In tiny amounts, you can’t smell that aspect, and it provides a good musk base, makes flower scents lusher, and makes the scent last longer. I managed to fix that eventually, and I think I got across a very good impression of the creepy story which was the inspiration! “One Groovy Room” is my favourite to actually wear, and it’s also been my most popular among test audiences and craft fair customers. It isn’t a dupe of Lush’s Karma, but it has a similar feel; it’s a lovely cheerful hippy orange-and-resin scent. I have a few upcoming blends, which will be released when I’m able to get more of the required assessments done, and my favourite of those is a nicely eerie scent of dried grass and fruits; keep an eye out for “Old Fairgrounds”!

What are your future goals?

In the short term, I’d like to be able to expand my product base. A large catalogue is very helpful in this kind of business, but it takes time to build up. I would ideally like to be able to support myself full-time with the business eventually, and I’d love to see my items for sale in brick-and-mortar stores.

What’s your process from an idea to a finished product?

First, I pick my inspiration! As many indie perfumers do, I like to base my scents on known fiction; that way I both have a ready-made audience, and can attract new people to something I love! Currently most of my blends are based on the SCP Foundation, a Creative Commons-licensed fiction website with over two thousand short horror stories to pick from. I’ve always loved horror. Under the CC license there is no copyright issue as long as I link back to the site. I also have a line based on anime character archetypes, and one based on folk songs. When I look at the inspiration, I will often get the beginnings of an idea from it. “Yamato Nadeshiko” made me think of the elegance of the Japanese tea ceremony, so the blend contains green tea. My sleep blends needed to contain essential oils used for that purpose, which helped me narrow down the ideas. “Hand-Drawn ‘Cassy’”’s character namesake drinks a choco-banana milkshake in one story she features in, so that was what I based the blend around.

Once I have a starting idea, I find the relevant oils in my collection (I have four drawers full!) and arrange them on my well-scrubbed desk. I usually use shot glasses for test blending, as they’re good for working with very small amounts of oil, reusable, and are cheaper than special mixing beakers. I smell the bottles together, two at a time, and arrange them by order of how well they go together. Once I have a few which I think will work, I put a drop of each in some carrier oil separately, mix well, and put tiny drops of the mixes on my skin two at a time, then three, then more, to see how well it works on skin. I build up an idea of the scent that way, and fine-tune it by testing with different proportions of each oil until it’s perfect. This generally takes a couple of days, because I can only test so many scents on my own arms at once before they overlap too much!

Once this is done, I let some of the blend sit in a vial for a few days to see if it keeps smelling as good. When I want to send it to the chemist, I have to do a test involving freezing and refreezing to check that the product is stable, check off a form which says it is, and send off the formula for it to be checked. When I get the approval, it’s ready for sale.

I buy bottles in bulk from eBay, and design my own labels. The labels have to be printed specially on waterproof vinyl, and the allergen information is on a separate tag so everything fits.