Our guest today is Brianna Lipovsky, the founder of Maison d’Etto, a luxury fragrance brand centered around spiritual wellness. With a varied background in marketing, fashion, and design, Brianna has created a lifestyle brand that nurtures connection through five key pillars. Her brand is both a realization of her purpose and an avenue to help others find purpose in their own lives. Listen to hear how the hardships in Brianna’s life brought her to her true calling and what she sees in store for her future.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:00:01] It took me some time to realize that I can do this, that I wanted to do this and that sacrificing everything was finally going to be okay.
Sam: [00:00:15] The recent pandemic has accelerated the shift of all consumer brands online, and particularly so in the world of fragrances. Average daily fragrance sales online have increased by 77%, likely due to the transfer of in-store shopping to e-commerce and seasonal sales. Brianna Lipovsky is the founder of Maison d’Etto, a gender neutral luxury brand of artisanal fragrances created to inspire moments of connection, reflection and well-being to nurture the human spirit one moment at a time. Brianna, it’s a pleasure to have you with us on ideamix radio today.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:01:14] Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I’m very happy to be here.
Sam: [00:01:19] So tell us, you had a very interesting career before starting Maison d’Etto. What inspired you to start the company and sort of embark on this entrepreneurial path?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:01:31] So there’s a lot of things that really came together over the past 18 years of my career that led to this place. And I don’t think if I went, if I hadn’t gone through each step, each kind of winding road. It may not be as magical to be here now or as profound or as diverse for myself. And so I definitely was one of those people who would get bored every two and a half years and need to change something in my life and particularly my career. And so I had always kind of gone through a journey of working with big advertising agencies, a large pharmaceutical company, studying to be a doctor by doing my post-bacc for medical school and then going on to really solidify my career in fashion and luxury and beauty at Condé Nast, which was– I was kind of overseeing Women’s Wear Daily Style.com at the time, and a lot of the properties that Fairchild Fashion Media owned. From there I caught the fashion bug and the design image-making bug and went on to really gain solid business management, business operational skills. So running two world renowned agencies in the graphic design, art direction, campaign, ecommerce designed space. And then found that, I had always had this drive to be an entrepreneur. And it took me some time to realize that I could do this. That I wanted to do this. And that sacrificing everything was finally going to be okay. And so I think the impetus for that was and came from having my daughter, who’s now almost six. And realizing that I wanted to have a more balanced life or, not even the balance, because I wouldn’t say that my life is balanced by any means right now. But a life dictated on my terms. And so I wanted to be able to make space for her. I wanted to do something that I was truly, truly passionate about. And that, I could also incorporate my other hobby, which is being a competitive equestrian and make some time and space for that. And so here I am three years later, not being able to do any of those things because I’m so busy running this business. But I picked the right space and the right category, the category that holds my heart. And I would not have it any other way. So my one guiding vision, I’ve always been this horse obsessed girl ever since the age of five or even earlier that’s when I started actually riding, but I wanted something that jolted me alive as much as the horses did. And the sport around horses, whether it’s showjumping or polo or dressage, which is the sport that I compete in. I love all of those disciplines. And so something that really riled me deep down in my soul. And that’s always been scent. I don’t like to call it perfume because I feel like it attaches a gender to it. So I either call it scent or fragrance and yeah, that’s kind of where it started.
Sam: [00:05:47] You’ve said so much in there. You know, number one, thank you for having been sort of a wander over the course of your prior career, because I myself have been a real wanderer and done a lot of different things and sort of felt the itch to do something different every few years. And I’ve always felt a bit strange about that because it’s not a kind of customary path. And a lot of people are like, wow, how have you had so many jobs and, you know, whatever number of years. But I think the second is this idea of sort of doing something on your own terms. You know, I think that is exactly what entrepreneurship is. I think it’s exactly the motivation that most entrepreneurs cite. And then to another point you made. You know, entrepreneurship is so all consuming that it doesn’t allow you time and space for all those things that you thought you were going to do when you started your entrepreneurial career. But then can’t because it’s like having a baby. And it’s completely all consuming.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:06:52] I and I couldn’t agree more with you on both points, because I’ve always felt like the odd one out. I grew up outside of Rochester with careered Kodak executives and Bausch Lomb executives that had been in a place for 25 years. I went to a university, you know, outside of Rochester. And that was the thing, that was the generation that I grew up in, is that you find your path, you find one path, you find a good company and you stay there. And so I always beat myself up as to why am I wandering? There must be something wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with me, I was just in the wrong spot for myself.
Sam: [00:07:35] So true, it took me a while to realize that too. So, I want to take you back to the moment when you started. So you decide to get started. You know it’s in the fragrance, in the scent arena. What were the first few things that you did to take that seed of an idea from sort of ideation to an executable business?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:08:02] Yeah, that’s a great question. I think I actually didn’t when I started this business three years ago, it was called Maiden. And it wasn’t a fragrance brand. It was something very, very different. And it took– so the three things that I used to find where I was and how to kind of create this was the sense of spirituality, a meaning on my past career and confidence in something that I knew and then fragrance experts. And so I’ll back up a little bit about what this all means, but that’s kind of how I’m bucketing these things that helped me get to where I am. I personally am not regimented. I am an Aries. I am full of fire and passion. And I’m also for anyone who studies human design, I’m a manifester. So I am a big ideas person. I am not good with execution. I am not good with details. I can do it. I don’t like to do it. It’s not where I thrive, where my soul kind of comes alive. So I think. Understanding really who I was as a founder, who I was going to be and how that would impact my business. And then being able to gain the courage to lean into fragrance, literally every person that I talked to said, “oh, I want to start a fragrance brand”. They said, “you’re crazy, it’s dominated by multinationals, it’s so much money and marketing. You’re just– by the end of the day. Just don’t do that. Go find a whitespace”. Now, this was three years ago, in the era of white spacing everything. White spacing shoes, tampons, this, that.
Sam: [00:10:13] That was very much part of the zeitgeist back then.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:10:16] Yes. And so I was torturing myself, trying to find these white spaces. And I found many of them. And I’m happy to share with any private equity company that wants to go into a VC, that wants to go into the white spaces that I found. But none of them spoke to my soul. And I said, you know, if I’m walking away from my executive career and I’m going to turn toward something and put all of my personal capital and roll the dice on my personal future, it has to be something that speaks to my soul. And so at that time, I didn’t have enough confidence really to do that. Someone had reached out to me that I had worked with in the past, and she came in and looked at what I was doing with Maiden, and she saw this little blue sign on the bottom of my sprawling wall of mood boards. And she’s like, why do you, why does it say “Maiden is a fragrance”? And so we started talking and she just saw me light up. She also happens to be a shaman. And so she could really see deeper than I could see or feel. And we ended up working together in a business and personal coaching relationship to get me into that place of okay yes, this is going to be a hard road. Most people probably wouldn’t want to without any true massive innovation, enter a category like this. But this is what is lighting you on fire right now. So you have to do it. And so I worked with her to really dig deep and understand all the different facets of myself and how to best optimize them. And then what? What are my weaknesses and how do I account for them and accommodate through other resources?
Sam: [00:12:18] Do you feel that she gave you sort of the courage to do this in that you knew it was intuitively correct but there had been a hesitation before this to actually go off and do it?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:12:31] 100% I don’t know if I would have or it would have– I would have gone down so many windy roads in addition to the past nine months of windy roads that I was on trying to figure it out that I don’t have this trust in myself, this really authentic trust in myself. So I needed reassurance from her to say, I see something. I notice that. There’s something there, let’s explore that. And so when we started exploring that together, it was a no brainer. Automatic no brainer for me.
Sam: [00:13:13] Makes sense.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:13:14] That this was where I needed to be. And then I put all of my Aries fire into making that happen. And also learning about meditation and spiritual work and really understanding when you’re pushing a boulder up a hill vs. it’s coming to you. And so once I could kind of stop being this type A controlling, I need to make it happen. Once I opened up my heart and my mind and my body, it came to me, which was just the craziest thing. To sit back in and witness and reflect on now.
Sam: [00:13:57] So it’s a perfect segue into you know, as I prepared for our session together today, I was struck by how you focus the brand on five aspects of human connection: to ourselves, others, to nature, to the world, and to finding each of our purpose. And these are sort of a set of wellness and philosophical and spiritual values. But you’ve articulated this in the form of a consumer brand. And, you know, it doesn’t strike me that many people have done that. How did you think about articulating these principles as really the basis of the brand and communicating that and, you know, is that what’s made the brand resonate with your customers or your first customers who became loyal to the brand?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:14:52] I don’t know what has resonated with them. I think it’s for– I have so many different sectors of customers. So I think different parts of the brand resonate with different people, you know, from the hiring of Lotto Nieminem, who’s a world renowned graphic designer. And, you know, Helsinki in Europe lights up whenever there is a press mention about Lotta. So does my e-commerce platform and everyone from Europe wants it because they follow her. To the you know, the niche fragrance connoisseurs who are, you know, going crazy over the olfactive territories and the perfumers that I’ve used. Then you know, the other conscious consumer. That that really speaks to. But I do think that that narrative speaks to each one of them in a different way. But I think that they really appreciate it. And for me, after working on so many different fragrance brands and beauty brands and luxury brands and fashion brands, I just wanted to cut through all the bullshit. Like, I just, I was over the marketing talk and the marketing speak, and this brand was birthed from me and my heart and my soul. And, you know, prior to this transition of my career into fashion, I spent a lot of time in, you know, surrounded by doctors, working in medicine, actually doing my post-bacc for three years at Hunter College, studying and wanting to be a doctor, because all I wanted to do was help people.
Sam: [00:16:44] Wait, wait, wait, I missed that part? When were you studying to be a doctor?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:16:48] So from 2007 until 2009, I did my post-bacc for medical school. So right after I had finished at Pfizer, I decided to take a sabbatical, which included torturing myself for 18 hours a day, studying organic chemistry and physics and biology. And it was because I had this overwhelming desire to help people. And I didn’t know how to do that through advertising or through, you know, any of these traditional things, the skill set that I had learned in my undergrad career. And so, you know, obviously coming from Pfizer, the people who help people are doctors. So that’s kind of what I went on to do. And it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
Sam: [00:17:44] So that completely makes sense. So you do this for two years. What brings you back then to advertising and communications and brand management?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:17:53] Yeah. So it was the bottom of the recession when my body physically just couldn’t take anymore. I developed if we’re going to be truly honest, I listened to Vanessa Cornell’s, from New Shoes, interview with you earlier this morning. And I love her and I love New Shoe. And if we’re going to be radically honest and transparent with each other, I developed a panic disorder, an anxiety disorder from the study. It was actually chemically induced from a medication that I was taking. And I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I had a resting heart rate of one hundred and sixty five beats per minute. I was being diagnosed with, you know, heart disease, cancer, this and that, and which just made my anxiety worse. And so I think for me, this brand is a lot of the healing and the journey and the road that I’ve gone on. I’m not answering your question at all. But what brought me into fashion was so I walked away from this doctor route. It was just too, too much too overwhelming for me. It wasn’t the right path. And I think this is part of the universe putting up roadblocks for me to say, uh huh, I know you want to do this and you are bullheaded about making this happen, but you cannot. This is not where you need to go. And so it was 2009, kind of coming out of the recession. The only job I could find, I wanted to work for a non profit, for Doctors Without Borders. The only job I could find was at Women’s Wear Daily.
Sam: [00:19:37] Amazing.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:19:38] Being a sales rep.
Sam: [00:19:39] What’s so ironic about this is that, you know, there’s a set of people who would kill for the job at Women’s Wear Daily. And there’s a you know, then there’s you who went to that job reluctantly because, you know, the original idea had been to go work at Doctors Without Borders. So I absolutely love that.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:19:58] I remember sneaking out of the office to go for a Cornell P.A. interview with Cornell University. So I’m like, I can’t do this publishing thing. I can’t do this fashion thing. It’s not me. But then slowly, it was part of the road on my journey that was leading me to this place that I now am. And so Maison d’Etto is a collective of all of these experiences. And my desire to help people, really is at the root of it. But I didn’t know how to do that. And I wanted to create a brand. So after Conde Nast, after Women’s Wear Daily. I went and I worked with some of the best brands in the world and helped either build from the ground up or rebrand or launch on e-commerce. And I wanted something tangible of my own. And I wanted to be able to impact lives through product, through a purpose, beyond product. And so that’s kind of where we are now. And those five things for me, I guess those are my five mantras or pillars, if you will, that help me through any challenging times that I have in my life. And so I said, well. If they help me, they could help others.
Sam: [00:21:28] They’re essential pillars for everyone.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:21:30] Yeah.
Sam: [00:21:32] So you start the business, you develop an initial set of customers. You know, the business is still young. We’ve kind of lived through some months of lockdown and the economic after effects that are to come. You know, on the one hand, people are turning much more to brands such as yours and and and self care and wellness and sort of living more thoughtfully and sustainably in general. But there’s also an economic reality that’s coming or that’s here one could say already. How are you thinking about scale in the business, you know, with this with this sort of time that we’re living through?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:22:23] It’s such a good question. And I actually think about it every single day. When you asked me about what keeps me awake at night. It’s that question. So and I’m torn because I’m used to working on, you know, two million dollar ad campaigns, seasonal ad campaigns, which thank goodness we’re getting away from that now with this new fashion calendar. And all of that. But so I’m used to working with these massive teams and huge ideas, and I get that. And growing and building quickly, I get that I also get and now appreciate and I think, you know, going through these recent times has made me really look at myself in the mirror and say, what do you really need? What do you really need to do today? What can you get rid of? What do you need to add? And how can we for right now at least, how can we be the most efficient and the most effective as we can with or without taking, you know, outside funding debt? All of that, at a certain point I do know that that’s going to be part of my reality. I think that, you know, I went out originally talking with investors and then realized that that wasn’t going to be the right path for me because I had this object, this idea that was so precious and I just wanted to get it out there and get essentially get my MVP, if you will, my minimum viable product out to market the way that I wanted it to look, feel, smell, touch. It doesn’t taste, but, you know, make sure that it’s exactly how I wanted it before I took on any capital to help accelerate and fuel that growth. And so now I’m in a stage where, thank goodness, I am lean and mean and it’s just myself and I’m here packing orders and meanwhile dealing with, you know, top perfumers, creating new products and doing all the things. But it has been really rewarding and fulfilling to take a product that I created, that I never in a million years thought I would be fulfilling with my own two hands and be packing each one of those and sending a note personally from myself to each and every single person that that buys something during this time because it just means so much to me. And so it’s been this kind of profound—
Sam: [00:25:35] Journey.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:25:36] Yeah.
Sam: [00:25:39] So as you said, I think when we started, the field of scents is competitive. How do you think about competition? How do you think about differentiation?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:25:58] Yeah. So I’m going to put on my VC hat. We have no competition. No, I’m joking. I mean, I think about competition and I think this is the beautiful thing about the niche category or the artisanal category, if you will, is that it’s a category filled with love for fragrance and for the craftsmanship and for the storytelling and all of that. And so even though I have competitors, they’re also friends and, you know, like-minded, you can mix and match. We found this incredible mix between one of my scents and one of Frederic Malle’s scents. And I know that the Frederic Malle brand does not stand for mixing at all. So it’s against their brand DNA. But one of our clients found this incredible mixture of the two. And I think it’s time to play and enjoy the space. And I love using other brands as well. So in terms of kind of our competitive set, I see us with our aspirational set of where we’re going to be is in that world of Creed, Tom Ford, Chilian, Frederick Malle, Ex Nihilo, those types of brands. Those artisanal, but it’s scaled up and, you know, they’re deep into other product categories. The one brand that I use kind of as my overall benchmark of where we’re going to be in 25 years or 50 years forever is Hermès. And so, you know, really creating the next generation of what luxury means. And it’s luxury through purpose driven products, but also creating purpose driven communities, a purpose driven work environment for employees for vendors. Really having this holistic partnership and trust and building a company for the future.
Sam: [00:28:25] I love that I think, you know, internal culture and mission and marketing and, you know, the customer set that you’re targeting, I mean, all those things I think have to be so closely linked and consistent with one another. I think that’s what distinguishes brands that succeed from the ones that fail. And you, of course, have a ton of experience with this from your career before founding Maison d’Etto. Looking back or even looking forward, what’s a lesson that you feel you’ve learned that other entrepreneurs ought to know?
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:29:08] So my lesson, this is always a hard question. I think, number one, and it’s a lesson that I keep repeating to myself, but I always try to also work with my clients on this and work with friends and colleagues and my mentees is to know what you don’t know and to be okay with it. Ideally, you want to hire for it. You want to identify it and then hire for it. Or in my case, as a self-funded brand with, you know, a little bit of sprinkling of friends and family coming in, I begged, pleaded and bartered for the help that I didn’t have. So, you know, being an operator and being a business person in a creative agency type environment is very different. Night and day from being an operator and a product based business. And I did not know that. I was not aware of that until I had a very pleasant conversation with a vendor going back and forth about who is sending the P.O.. I didn’t even know what a P.O. was. I thought it was something that they would give me and I just signed off on. So that’s when I called in a dear friend of mine, Gloria Luna, who without her, I would never have been able to make it through the manufacturing process. And she just helped me. And it was just out of pure friendship and belief in the brand and belief in what I was doing. And I still, you know, I’m so grateful for that. So I think it’s knowing what you don’t know and knowing when you need to call in or hire for it, you know, whatever the situation that your company is in and being okay with that and being okay with that turn over, you can’t know everything. You can’t be great at everything. And so I think also one of the other lessons is. There’s two types of work that you need to do as a leader. There’s the work work and then there’s the personal work, which is the spiritual work and whatever that means to you. You know, Etto actually stands for each to their own. That’s one of the acronyms of what it means.
Sam: [00:31:46] I love that.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:31:49] So whatever that is to you, we tried to say that we’re gender neutral, we’re inclusive of all religions, all races, all cultures, all beliefs. And so whatever that spiritual work is for you, do it. And so for me, it was diving deep into meditation and opening up to the universe, opening up my heart, getting out of my head and, you know, working with all different types of people to figure that out. And kind of what niche kind of brings you on that journey of understanding, meditation and human design and astrology and how to use that in your work. And so I think that the work work and the personal work and I think I would venture to say that the personal work is actually more important to do than the work work. Of course, grinding it out is very important. But if you aren’t solid in where you are and who you are and why you’re doing the things that you’re doing, and you can’t feel that deep intuition and you can’t feel it in your heart, you’re on the wrong path. And you need to kind of fall-back and reset that path. And I think the roadblocks earlier in my career that would come up were super aggressive, like, no, don’t do advertising. You know, I had something happen to me that that was like the rude awakening. And then, you know, Pfizer was a different situation and post-bacc was, you know, developing an anxiety problem. As I’ve journeyed through life, these redirections have become softer and more manageable. But that’s because I’m listening and I’m feeling and trying to use all of me versus just my rational mind to make the right decision.
Sam: [00:34:00] Very well said. Here’s another fact you need to know: at close to nine billion dollars in revenue, the U.S. fragrance market remains the biggest in the world. The headline trend towards consumers demanding individuality, quality and exclusivity has accelerated the growth of luxury artisanal brands. Thanks to Clavier Glossy and the cosmetics business for the data cited in today’s show. Brianna, your foresight in anticipating these consumer desires and building Maison d’Etto to encapsulate a motto of ethical and sustainable luxury is something we love. So thank you for being here with us today.
Brianna Lipovsky: [00:34:39] Thank you for having me. Such a pleasure.
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