Short answer: An ambition to be totally transparent about what we do, warts and all.
Long answer: We are a small company but we deal in the categories of fragrance, cosmetics and fire and we export to more than two dozen countries on five continents. A delightfully potent mix if ever there was one.
This is made all the more complex by the fact we have now become part of an industry that is plagued by an often confusing and contradictory blend of dubious product claims and cod-scientific benefits, side by side with increasing industry regulation and contrary territory legislation. All of which work to make it very difficult for the end customer to make a truly informed decision about what they are buying.
Being totally independent, just over 5 years old, with no prior experience in the industry, and with about 20 people in the company, it has been a whirlwind introduction to the many contradictions of an enormous global industry where the customer wants to know the truth, while the brands tell the customers what they think they want to hear. The two things are rarely the same.
So our job is to rapidly learn the facts and act on them, and simultaneously try to understand the fluff so as to avoid it. While it’s not the most fun part of our everyday lives (we prefer bringing to life our impressions of Scandinavia), it is essential in these prominent and sensitive industries that we know what we are doing and why.
More importantly, we set some principles and standards for the way we want to run a business and create products. So we have created our own type of FAQ to show how we approach our business and the products we sell, and we invite you to decide if we meet your own, individual standards.
If we don't, you should let us know why. The world is changing fast, we are still learning, and always open to new voices - provided those voices are informed by fact, not fluff.
Short answer: In Denmark, Sweden and France.
Long answer: We design everything from our office in Copenhagen and produce our finished products in Denmark, Sweden and France.
We prefer to source from the Nordic region, but this is not always possible - not least, since the Nordic region is not famous for fragrance production. So our perfume is produced in Grasse, France. Our glass is produced in Poland and Portugal. Our FSC/PEFC-certified wood is sourced from sustainable forests in Scandinavia and the EU. Our plastic and packaging materials come from Denmark and Sweden. Of our finished products, our candles and diffusers are poured in France, our liquid hand and body care items are produced in Denmark, and our bar soaps are made in Sweden.
Production inside Scandinavia and the EU is important for us since this is where we come from and this is what we are proud of. Plus it means we can be closer to our production facilities to oversee quality control, and our production lead times are faster to respond to demand. Only a minority of materials we use are sourced outside the EU such as wax ingredients and rattan wood (stuff that doesn’t grow in Europe).
If you are unsure where your item comes from, check the base of your packaging - it’s the law that ‘Country of Origin’ (the country where the product was manufactured) is specified on all products.
Short answer: No.
Long answer: No, mainly because we use synthetic fragrances. But the rest of our ingredients are as natural as possible, provided it makes functional sense.
It’s worth remembering the fact that flora in the natural world is, by and large, designed to deter, harm or even kill predators in order to ensure its own survival. Thus, 100% natural products may create their own risks to the user. After all, how many of you get a rash after lying on grass, or suffer watering eyes and sneezing when the pollen count is high? It's also worth recognising that human chemistry, the scientific application of natural and synthetic elements, is not all bad. So, for us, it's about finding the right balance.
You will find the leave-on products (creams and lotions) in our hand and body collections at 96-98% of natural origin, our candles and diffuser bases are all of natural origin. In both cases, the only dominant synthetic ingredient is the fragrance.
It is only with our hand washes (approx. 80% natural origin) where we use a significant quantity of other synthetic products, and the reason lies in how to make soap that cleans skin effectively. Put simply, if you want to clean your skin, you need the surface oils of your skin to interact with the rinsing water. Oil and water do not naturally combine, so to enable this process we use the ever-reliable family of sulfates in our soaps. Oil and thereby dirt, bacteria and other nasties are then successfully removed from the skin. In comparison, if you only wash your skin with water then you will only remove water-soluble grime.
Another question to consider is whether it is good to be ‘100% natural’ if your ingredients are neither organically-farmed nor sustainably-sourced? Ours aren’t always, neither is almost every other 'natural' on the market.
Thus, we believe that combining a majority of natural ingredients in all our products with responsible sourcing, human chemistry, and the expert use of synthetic ingredients are essential to ensure all skin types are safely protected from the risk of nature’s harm, that you have products that work effectively, and that will last longer than a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table.
Short answer: No.
Long answer: No, but we are working on increasing our use of organic ingredients.
While my wife’s rose garden is 100% organically-grown, we are currently unable to recreate Scandinavian stories that are also 100% organic. Either because the ingredients don’t exist in sufficient quantity, quality or price affordability, or because our use of synthetic perfume restricts us from organic certification.
It’s a jungle out there, so two tips from someone who has read a lot of boxes in the past 5 years:
- Read the small print on the products that do claim ‘organic’ but are not certified. More often than not, they have just included a single organic ingredient in a tiny dosage in order to justify splashing their packaging with organic claims to mislead you, their customer.
- It is worth being aware that certified organic products in Europe only need to contain 20% organic ingredients. Europe's leading cosmetic certification, COSMOS, defines an ‘organic’ product as requiring a minimum 20% of COSMOS-approved organic ingredients, with the remainder of ingredients being COSMOS-approved (natural or otherwise).
So, while all our finished products - home and body - are 80%+ of natural origin (wash-off 80%, leave-on 96-98%+, candles/diffusers 82-92%), and we are working on adding more organic ingredients to future formulations, you won't ever find our current fragrances as being certified.
If organic is important to you, then we recommend to focus on the actual % of natural and organic ingredients contained within a product. An increasing number of new brands already reveal this on their packaging. Then, be aware that neither water (aqua) or the vast majority of perfumes can ever be classed as organic, so finding a water-based product that smells great and is also 100% organic is impossible.
Short answer: Yes. But only RSPO-certified palm oil for our candle wax.
Long answer: Yes. We use wax from RSPO-certified palm oil in most of our candle blends, sometimes as the primary wax ingredient, sometimes in smaller doses alongside our other primary wax ingredients of soy and rapeseed.
Palm oil has been used by humans for over 10,000 years, it is the world’s most popular vegetable oil (ahead of sunflower, soybean and rapeseed), and the most efficient oil crop in terms of land use (tonnes per hectare). For example, in 2015, palm oil used 6.6% of the vegetable oil-producing land, but produced 38.7% of total output. Interesting.
Palm oil is mostly used for cooking, margarines, spreads, confectionary and ice cream, while a minority is used for biofuels, and even less for candle wax (ie: people like us). Recently, palm oil production has been criticised for deforestation and the decline of Orangutan habitats - and this makes us very uncomfortable.
RSPO is the Round-table for Sustainable Palm Oil production, an industry organisation launched in 2005 with a series of standards for sustainable palm oil production. It has its critics, but it’s the only regulatory body there is for now. The two largest producers of RSPO-certified palm oil are Indonesia and Malaysia. RSPO-certified palm oil is more expensive, due to the costs of meeting these criteria, and just 19% of global palm oil production is RSPO-certified. So we make sure that all our palm wax is RSPO-certified.
Short answer: Yes. But only GMO-free soy for our candle wax.
Long answer: We use soy wax in most of our candle blends, sometimes as the primary wax ingredient, sometimes in smaller doses alongside our other primary wax ingredients of palm and rapeseed.
Soy is less land-efficient than palm, and is often associated with GMO (genetically-modified organisms). China, the USA, Argentina and Brazil are the world’s largest producers, with the EU coming in at number 5. The majority of industrially-produced soy is genetically modified in some way or other, for the simple reason that soy oil has a fatty acid profile that makes it susceptible to oxidation, which in turn makes it rancid (very smelly), and this has limited its usefulness to the food industry. But since we do not use our soy for food, we do not use GMO soybeans.
Short answer: No. We use a vegetable wax blend.
Long answer: Yes, we do add paraffin wax to our vegetable wax blends. But at 20% of the mix or less, no one in the candle-making industry is legally obliged to declare it (which is a little contradictory when you compare this with the fact you only need 20% organic ingredients to be certified to claim a product as 'organic' in Europe).
Paraffin wax is a byproduct of the oil industry, and has been used for decades as the default wax base in candles worldwide. With the right quality of paraffin wax, it mixes better with perfume, burns better, and is cheaper to produce. All in all, win-win. Except that everyone these days seems to think that paraffin wax is very bad.
So why do we use a small amount of paraffin and not claim it? Because it improves the quality of our wax burn; because it is a byproduct of another large industry so leaves no additional impact on the environment or food supply chains (unlike palm, rapeseed and soy); and because it is becoming less acceptable to admit to using paraffin wax.
What kind of paraffin quality do we use and not want to talk about? Food-grade paraffin (ie: the same quality as the paraffin you unwittingly eat on products from candy to chocolate to fruit, from companies who also don’t want to talk about it).
So if you prefer your wax paraffin-free, we recommend you look for a ‘100% vegetable wax’ or ‘100% stearin’ promise. But please think twice about whether it is better.
Short answer: Yes. They are free of parabens, phlatates, silicones and microbeads.
Long answer: Yes, all of the above.
But let's look at the facts: Parabens have been reliable little experts for many years in preserving formulae and protecting skin, but they were destroyed by the media over the past decade after a controversial study claimed some parabens might affect fertility. While this is still not scientifically proven, and only relates to a handful of parabens, it signed the death certificate on this whole category. As a consequence, the industry has simply had to find new ingredients for preservation. In Scandinavia, we use something called phenoxyethanol (in dosages of less than 1%) because it has similar effectiveness as parabens - without the controversy. But in other countries, the replacement ingredients may be different.
Ironically, many brands have since been busy celebrating ‘No Parabens’ all over their packaging and promotional material ever since. These ‘no’ claims will be outlawed in the EU from 2019 because of the confusion it creates in the market, and the risk of compromising valid ingredients without sufficient scientific evidence.
So we don’t use parabens because public opinion is resolutely against them. Our products are also free of phthalates and silicones. Both have a great skin feel and are not yet scientifically proven to harm people either, but since they are also very controversial (and not very environmentally friendly), we have decided not to use them. We also don't put microbeads in our products because not only is it irresponsible, it is also now illegal.
Short answer: Almost. Every one of them except the hand creams.
Long answer: We use beeswax in our hand creams because they help with viscosity (thickness of the cream) and moisturisation of the skin. Our beeswax is a byproduct of the honeymaking industry and the bees are not harmed during the process but, strictly speaking, beeswax is an animal-created product that humans are exploiting and is therefore not vegan.
We could replace the beeswax in the hand creams, but the reasons it is in there are twofold:
- Because beeswax does a great specialist job in our hand cream formula and replacement options aren’t always quite as good
- Because we simply weren’t aware of the rising scale of the vegan movement when we decided on formulations (and only one of us has recently converted to being a vegan)
Do please let us know if you think we should replace the beeswax. Though, if we do, please don’t expect us to be certified as well. This slows down the development process, makes it more expensive, and there is still no harmonised vegan certification organisations in Europe.
Short answer: Allergies are very personal, so we recommend you read the ingredients label on our packaging before buying.
Long answer: Allergies are personal so we can’t advise on individual cases. But in order to create our fragrances, we do use - in tiny quantities - some of the 26 allergens that are listed by the EU as being reported as possible ‘contact allergens’. While there is currently insufficient scientific data to verify whether these ingredients do indeed cause allergies via contact with the skin, we nevertheless declare each of them on our packaging when their dosage obliges it.
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Synthetic fragrances and flavourings, like it or not, have been a part of everyday life since before Coco Chanel created Nr. 5 in 1920. This particular fragrance may be most famous as Marilyn Monroe’s favourite choice of nightwear, but in the industry it is recognised as one of the first successful synthetic-dominated perfumes. Ever since then, the overwhelming majority of perfumes for the skin today are synthetic - including, most likely, the one on your skin right now.
Synthetic perfumes are available in their thousands, offer a fantastic palette of options for creativity, deliver consistent quality, more stable prices, provide full transparency on risk of allergies, and are heavily regulated to protect the user from harm. This means we can safely create unique new formulations reflecting the Scandinavian region using upwards of 50 different ingredients in each fragrance without it costing the earth.
Natural perfumes, on the other hand, are restricted to just a few hundred scents, are prone to significant scent, quality and price volatility due to external factors including climate, harvests, and even war, and are no less likely to provoke allergic reactions as synthetics.
Of the natural perfumes available, only a very limited number are produced with organic farming methods, and the cost of these is beyond what people would pay for our products. Even fewer are sourced from the Nordic region.
Thus, as a fragrance company first and foremost, we choose to use synthetic perfume in combination with exploring and expanding our use of the most relevant natural, organic and local scents available.
Short answer: By identifying an aspect of the Scandinavian region that is precious to its inhabitants and exotic to the outside world, then researching it and interpreting it via chemistry and creativity.
Long answer: First things first, we are not perfumers, we are ambassadors for Scandinavia. Having lived here since the turn of the millennium, we have a healthy knowledge of the flora, climate and lifestyle of the Scandinavian region. Unlike many companies that simply buy off-the-shelf fragrances and then dress them up to be something unique, we make it very hard for ourselves since we aim to create the most authentic fragrance impressions of the Scandinavian region as possible. A region few people understand in olfactory terms and a region of limited commercial history in industry terms.
As to the process, we start by identifying an aspect of the region that is both precious to its inhabitants and exotic to the outside world. More often than not, this is based on our 15+ years of travelling across the Nordic region in our former jobs working for big American multinationals and as foreign immigrants who married into the region. We are aided by two important people:
Firstly, my Danish wife, who grew up in Sweden and spent her summers in Norway, and has had a passion for gardening since childhood. She knows how and what to plant in soils that freeze and seasons with short amounts of sunlight. She helps us understand the theme, what grows there and when, and - more often than not - we go visit. Our Copenhagen garden is also a constant source of experimentation and inspiration with more than 120 varieties of rose alone, together with a cornucopia of temperate flora.
Secondly, our gentleman French perfumer, who helps us interpret that theme through a combination of artistry and chemistry. Our perfumer regularly visits Scandinavia to build his own understanding of this region. We cycle in Copenhagen, swim in Swedish lakes, and trek through the forests and coastline together. He learns our region, we learn the magic of perfumery. We don’t always get it right, but it’s not for lack of trying.
Short answer: Yes and no.
Long answer: We know, and regularly visit, our primary producers in Denmark, Sweden and France. Some we have worked with since the beginning, others have joined us along the way, each adding their own dose of expertise to our growing product collection and company knowledge. We talk daily, we rely on them for their expertise, they rely on us for our growth, we break bread together and swap gifts at Christmas.
We also have a set of standards and quality controls that we apply to all our suppliers, and we trust they will execute them. What we don’t always know in detail is how their own suppliers produce the ingredients for our products, or how they tend their crops. As a small company with small volumes, our ability to influence source production in complex supply chains is very limited so we constantly ask a lot of questions to ensure we understand the business, and to make sure we get the best - rather than the most standard - solutions.
The positive news, in the 5+ years since we have been in operation, is that we constantly make incremental improvements as we learn more about the industry. These improvements include: consistently higher quality perfumes; Scandinavian production for all our hand and body care lines; EU-sourced rapeseed wax, sustainably-sourced palm and non-GMO soy waxes for all our candle products; a switch in 2018 to sustainably-sourced Swedish paper and card for all our packaging and merchandising materials; and the removal of cello-wrapping from most of our products by spring 2019.
With progress comes greater responsibility, and we will continue making further incremental improvements as we grow. Looking forward, factors affecting our raw materials such as organic ingredients, more responsible farming and production techniques, water usage and wastage, and restrictions on the use of fertilizers and pesticides, are all areas we feel we need to know more about and apply to our future products.
Short answer: To get the most from your Skandinavisk candle we recommend burning in moderation and by following the instructions (below).
Long answer: Candles have been used since the earliest civilisations, their small flames have been used as a source of light, warmth and togetherness for generations. When purchased and used responsibly, a candle contributes more positively to the atmosphere of a room than almost anything else except the people present. But burning anything indoors, from log fires to candle flames, is not as good as enjoying fresh air in the open countryside so make sure to inform yourself before buying.
A candle is a living element that is designed to work in a specific way in order to provide the maximum benefit for the user. A quality candle will typically use better quality ingredients - such as premium wax blends, cotton wicks, and superior perfume components - just as a luxury Eau de Parfum from an established brand will do a much better job on your skin than one found in the discount supermarket.
For any quality candle, let alone ours, there is some consistent user advice that everyone should know:
- Place the candle on the beechwood lid, or a mat, to protect from sensitive surfaces
- Allow the melt pool to reach the glass edge the first time you light it, to avoid tunneling
- Burn for no more than 3 hours at a time to allow the fragrance to contribute to the room, and to stop the melt pool becoming so deep so that it may cause the wick to drown
- Place the beechwood lid back on top of the candle to extinguish the flame. This avoids sending wick particles into the molten wax through blowing, and keeps the surface clear of room dust when not being used
- Allow the wax to cool, and trim the wick to remove the carbonised black tip before relighting
- Leave a small amount of solid wax before disposing or, preferably, washing and reusing with tealights or for storage
What’s more, being aware of exactly what you are burning indoors makes sense. I am amazed at how many people buy candles based on low price. Indeed, cheap candles are often produced using cow carcasses. The two most common ingredients of stearin are either byproduct from the beef industry or tropical plants - worth knowing if you are vegan, or if you are concerned about deforestation. So investing in quality for your home doesn’t end with the block of wax on your table.
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Yes, because it’s the best option for now. The plastic for our hand and body care bottles is produced locally in Denmark. It is PE plastic that is recyclable and which can be burned safely after use to provide heat for power grids.
We are lucky in Scandinavia to enjoy some of the world’s best recycling schemes (in Copenhagen we have up to 7 different bins outside each door). But with such intense focus on plastics today, we are constantly looking at all options for future productions:
- Should we replace our PE plastic with plastic made of sugar cane? (We can do this, and sugar cane is a renewable resource. But it is principally sourced from Brazil, it would affect biodiversity of their land, use crops originally planted for food, and might not be farmed sustainably. So should we?)
- Should we move to recycled plastic? (We are looking into adding more recycled plastic to our vessels, but the cleaning requirements for recycled plastic for future use with cosmetic products is intensive and not environmentally friendly, while the demand for such recycled plastic is currently greater than the supply. So should we?)
- Should we use recycled plastic from the sea? (It is currently very hard to identify and sort cosmetic-grade plastics recovered from the sea, and then to wash and recycle them sufficiently to reuse. But a couple of brands have managed. So should we?)
- Should we replace plastic with glass? (Unlike oil, glass is a renewable resource. It is also recyclable, but it uses more energy to recycle and transport, and a broken bottle can be dangerous if dropped on the bathroom floor. But should we?)
There is no happy solution. For now, our strategy of using locally-produced PE plastic, with minimal weight and limited road miles, together with our customers’ responsibly-disposed plastic is the best option we have. For now.
Short answer: To constantly work to minimise the negative effect of our activities on the environment.
Long answer: Any business, any government, any individual, has an impact on their environment. It is rarely honest for a business to claim it is a positive contributor to the environment.
In order to tell our Scandinavian stories, we have ended up in the business of fragrance, cosmetics and fire. These are all sensitive categories and there is plenty of environmental debate around each of them. What we need to do is act responsibly and minimise our negative impact. This will often mean making our lives harder and our profits harder to come by in the short term. But so be it.
Actions we have taken to minimise our impact:
- Production of all hand and body care products within a one hour radius from our Copenhagen warehouse
- Production of all other products in France and the EU
- Renewable, sustainably-sourced, industry-certified wood, palm, soy, paper, card
- Reduction in packaging weights and excess materials
- Prioritisation on road freight, rather than air
Another part of our environmental policy is to be transparent, as this FAQ is designed to be. If we expose our weaknesses we believe people like you can make a more informed decision about our company and products, we also believe it obliges us to work on those weaknesses.
Our longer-term ambition is to join the responsible companies we admire, such as Patagonia and Innocent, as a certified B Corps company.
Short answer: Anyone with talent and a passion for Scandinavia and the Nordic region, that we need and can afford.
Long answer: Aside from us two English chaps, a lovely Danish lady, Line, has been with us since the beginning and is responsible for all our design and artwork. Five years down the road, the three of us have gradually been joined by Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns, Brits, Irish, Swiss and an Afghan. It may sound a lot, but the truth is we are 15 full-time people based in Copenhagen, Stockholm and London, plus another 10 or so who help us part-time.
As a Danish company in the EU, and because we only work directly with suppliers based in Scandinavia and the EU, we fulfil all essential employment criteria such as labour laws, working hours and contracts, health and safety,
We are also entirely independent and always on the lookout for new talent, provided you fit the ‘short answer’ terms above and enjoy working in an open environment where everyone helps each other.
Plus, there’s always cake on Thursdays.