Trio of perfumes

Interview with a small business owner: Marina Barcenilla Parfums

Find out how this entrepreneur overhauled her brand and relaunched her award-winning products – while studying for an astrophysics degree.

I just had to find out more about Marina when my Facebook feed filled up with posts about her stunning new product range… at the same time as showing me updates on her astrophysics course.

I mean, I can hardly keep up with the laundry.

Marina making perfumes in her workshop

Marina creating perfumes in her West Country studio

Interesting facts about Marina

  • Superwoman Marina runs a recently rebranded perfume business in Somerset
  • She also studies Astronomy and Planetary Science full-time at the University of London
  • Marina uses a Filofax (yes, you read that right) to stay organised
  • She successfully crowd-funded her new candle range
  • She has a long history of supporting charities through her business

The interview

I met Marina at her West Country studio on Tuesday 14th February 2017 (we didn’t plan to meet on Valentine’s Day!). I had been once before but couldn’t quite remember the way.

No matter. I just followed my nose…

UW: I’m really interested in your story. What made you revamp your brand and products?

MB: One of my main reasons for breaking with The Perfume Garden was that it was too much about being natural, and not enough about the perfume.

Yes, it is a natural product. But more importantly, it’s about the perfume and how good it is. If you’re somebody who loves naturals, my products are perfect for you. But I’m trying to appeal to people who love perfume, whether it’s natural or not.

UW: What motivates you? What’s your ethos?

MB: For me, perfume is about the story that’s behind it, which is why there’s a little story with every perfume on the website. It’s my story. It’s what made me create it. But it’s also the story of the ingredients.

They are grown in developing countries, where whole communities survive because they’re growing a plant and harvesting it. There’s a human element to perfume that’s important to the brand.

It’s also about gratitude for what’s in the bottle. Up until relatively recently, perfume was a luxury. It was not something you could have every day.

You can’t scale up to a huge commercial enterprise when it comes to natural perfume – you would exhaust your materials. It is unsustainable and it is wrong, as far as I’m concerned.

So, it’s about making perfume special again. It’s a luxury because it’s rare. It’s not something you take for granted.

UW: Where do you see the company going in the future?

MB: I would love the brand to be more well-known, not as a natural brand but as a perfume brand.

I’d also love to have a couple of very select stockists. My next step would be looking to place the products with a retailer, which I’ve never done before.

And I’m terrible at it, because I’m just not good at selling myself. I hate it. But that’s my challenge for this year.

It’s not about aggressive growth or trampling over other perfume makers.

I do something that I think is beautiful, and I want to share it with the world. I’m not looking to make lots of money or become the next Chanel. I want to keep it small, ethical, sustainable and beautiful. And cruelty free. That’s all I care about.

MB Parfums candle and box

“I want to keep it small, ethical, sustainable and beautiful. And cruelty free. That’s all I care about.”

UW: Do you have a marketing strategy or schedule that you follow?

MB: [Laughs] I hardly do any marketing (which I know is bad), for three reasons. One: I’m really bad at it. Two: I hate it. And three: I really don’t have time, because of the other side of my life, which is my university studies.

So, I have to balance those things and try to have a life in the middle. And it’s hard.

I want to let the business grow organically. I’m not terribly worried about having a marketing strategy that I follow to the letter.

If I launch a new perfume I do some marketing around that. Christmas, yes. I do some marketing then, because Christmas is a good time for me to make some money!

In the summer, I probably put more time into it, because my exams are finished and I have the time to do it. I don’t plan ahead.

UW: I love your Instagram page. Do you have any Instagram tips?

MB: I got some tips from a social media expert who came to one of my perfume workshops.

The main thing is that you’re consistent. People should be able to see a picture and recognise the brand immediately.

I also think that Instagram is quite personal. People like to have a look behind the scenes. I’ll post pictures of the perfumes, yes. But sometimes it’ll be me working in the studio, or the ingredients.

I use it to share the story of the perfumes. If I were to give tips, they would be to post regularly and to learn to use hashtags.

I’m not the kind of person who spends a lot of time on social media, so I have to try to think like a social media user.

UW: How did you get into astrophysics? And how do you balance studying for a degree with running a business?

The business started in 2011, but before that I had been doing perfume for about 15 years, learning and making perfumes for private clients and so on. As I got older – I was probably about thirty-three or thirty-four – I became very disillusioned with many things in my life. I started turning to science for answers.

I took an Open University course that gave me a really good grounding across the disciplines. I had forgotten how much I love this stuff!

I have always been fascinated with the stars the universe. But I believed that I was terrible at maths and physics, and science in general, because that’s what I was told as a teenager.

I never entertained the thought that I would be able to do anything scientific in my life.

But I realised that I’m quite good at it! And I wanted to do more. So, I applied to study full-time for a degree in Astronomy and Planetary Science with the University of London.

UW: So, you spend most of your week in London?

MB: Yes – Monday to Thursday I attend lectures. It’s hard work to manage that and the business at the same time. I get a break in the summer after my exams, so there are a couple of months a year when I can focus on the business. It’s about being organised, and knowing my priorities.

UW: Do you have any tools that help you stay organised?

MB: A Filofax…

UW: Nooooo!

MB: Yes! An old-fashioned Filofax. And my mobile phone. I refused to have a smartphone for a long time, but now I couldn’t live without it. Not because of all the fancy apps, but because I can do Instagram from my phone, so that’s my social media taken care of. I can check emails. And I’m constantly typing things. On the Tube if I think of something, I make a note.

“I do something that I think is beautiful, and I want to share it with the world… I want to keep it small, ethical, sustainable and beautiful. And cruelty free. That’s all I care about.” – Marina Barcenilla, MB Parfums

Well said.

Marina is on a mission to help people rediscover the soul of perfume. Find her at MB Parfums, on Facebook and on Instagram. Her brand has just been shortlisted for the Beauty Shortlist Awards 2017.