The Function, Utility, and Beauty of Scent | Sara Panton of Vitruvi
Whether you need to relax before falling asleep, energize yourself for work, or escape your reality, Sara Panton can help. As the co-founder of aromatherapy and essential oils company, Vitruvi, Sara and her brother have harnessed the power of scent. Using her work in the medical field and ambition to create tools to enhance everyday rituals, Sara has been able to create products that are used by women everywhere. Scent has a powerful impact on our everyday lives and overall wellness, and Vitruvi helps compliment and improve them. MISSBISH was able to talk to Sara about what it is like to build a company with a sibling, her go-to scent, and the surprising differences between the male and female brain when it comes to scent.
Tell us about how Vitruvi came to be! Where does the name come from?
Vitruvi was created by accident, it was a passion project that has become a company and my whole world. While completing a degree in Global Health, I worked with Nobel Peace Prize nominated charity We.org and traveled to places like Kenya and Morocco which sparked my interest in learning about indigenous botanicals and the wellness rituals of other cultures. Inspired by the plants, people, and practices I was experiencing, I created a collection of essential oil products that I used to help me during my days with studying, waking up, and falling asleep naturally.
Vitruvi is now the first company in a 25-year-old industry to create products made by and for millennial women. Now, the majority of Vitruvi’s growth is online and our products are also sold in 300+ stores internationally with retail partners like Nordstrom, Anthropologie, Goop, and Sephora.
Vitruvi is named after Marcus Vitruvius Polli, the first Roman architect who discovered the mathematical symmetries between plants and people from which Leonardo Da Vinci named and created the Vitruvian man. Vitruvius also believed that everything designed must exhibit the three qualities: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas--that is, functionality, usefulness, and beauty. These are the principles we design each product with.
How has your experience in the medical field helped you develop your essential oils?
Beyond helping me understand the chemical components of essential oils, my medical training has helped me understand how scent influences different parts of the brain and also helps me explain in a detailed way how products and healthy habits help lower the metabolic stress in our bodies.
With choosing to leave the medical field to pursue a business, did you have any difficulty with finding support from others? How did you stay motivated?
My brother and I have been fortunate to have a solid support network through all of the highs and lows of a fast growing company. Our parents are really cool people and they have been our biggest inspiration and strength during this adventure. As for motivation, when you are obsessed with what you do and when your passion project becomes something you get to do all of the time, motivation isn’t even a thought. My biggest inspiration is our community, our customers are the most incredible women and we design products with the hope that each product helps them take care of themselves so that they can take on the world.
What is it like working with a sibling? What have been the benefits and challenges of working with your brother?
I couldn’t imagine having a co-founder that isn’t my brother. Sean and I grew up in a really small ocean-side farming community where there were not many other kids around, so naturally, we became best friends. We have very complementary skill sets and give one another room and respect--I think that is the key for any co-founder team, especially for siblings.
Your products are made for everyday rituals. How do these scents work in those specific moments?
We have a specific collection of products called the Rituals Collection which is made up of complex blends of essential oils designed for different movements throughout the day. Our inspiration for it was taking traditional botanicals used in ceremonies, rituals, and tradition, and redesigning them for the rituals of modern day society. This product line comes in roll-on oils and mists that you can travel and develop habits with by using the science of scent association.
Scent association is a powerful tool because your brain loves shortcuts and cues. When you start pairing a habit with a scent, it is a helpful cue for the brain to get into that "zone." For example, if you start waking up with a Grapefruit and Spruce essential oil every day, your brain will start associating the scent of grapefruit with time to wake up. The same goes for using Lavender at night before bed.
“There is something really special about blending and mixing your own essential oils, I think it brings out the goddess in every woman."
Do different scents work differently with the male and female brain? Have you learned anything about women while developing scents?
Such a good question. Men and women do respond to scent differently, for example, men often find woodsy scents invigorating while women would describe them as grounding and calming. Of everything I have learned about women in the making of Vitruvi, the most notable is that women love things that smell amazing and appreciate being able to personalize the products they use on themselves and their homes. There is something really special about blending and mixing your own essential oils, I think it brings out the goddess in every woman.
Vitruvi has been so successful! How did it feel to see your brand in public for the first time? Have you had any meaningful customer interactions that motivate you to continue your work?
I get so excited when I see our product in stores, in someone’s home, or if I spot one of our #OnlyEssentials bags being carried down the street. Scent is such a powerful sense and we are fortunate to have beautiful stories from our customers. One, in particular, was a woman who emailed us thanking us for creating our Sleep Mist because it was the only thing that gave comfort to her elderly mother who was dying of cancer. We found out that the scent of the Sleep Mist became the scent associated with her for all the grandchildren and family members, and the aroma was comforting for them. We sent the family a case of Sleep Mist when we heard this and the woman called our customer experience team crying, saying that it had brought so much comfort to the family because now everyone in the family had the scent that reminded them of her mother.
Which of your products would you recommend the most and why?
Our Lavender essential oil is from an organic French Lavender sourced from the high alpine fields of France. It truly smells like France in a bottle and I use it when I travel under my nose on the plane. I also use it as a spot treatment for blemishes and in my Vitruvi diffuser before bed. Our Sleep Face & Body Mist is amazing. It is a beautiful blend of grounding and comforting aromas and our STILL Mist is my favorite product to set my makeup with every morning. It is super feminine yet fresh.
How do you come up with new scents that continue to have a positive effect on your customer's lives?
The more we grow, the more tools and opportunities we have to get closer to our customer and really understand her needs. We are always creating new products and we have a group of people that we gift to, to get their honest opinions on products before we start developing them further. We think about all aspects of a woman’s day and what the products we are creating will contribute to her lifestyle.
What advice can you give girls who want to start their own business?
Get really focused. Have a strong vision and develop a filter of what is impactful and was isn’t. The first few years of a company are critical and it’s easy to get distracted when your company gets a little traction. Don’t take coffee meetings or do busy work unless there is a tangible outcome or you have an intention for it. It’s easy to feel "busy" but you really need to be aware of what projects, people, and priorities truly move the needle and create momentum.
What is your go-to scent? How do you feel when you wear it?
I don’t have just one scent, I experiment with different oils creating my own blended aromas. My favorite essential oil to use personally is Geranium and for home, I mix a blend of either Geranium and Eucalyptus in my diffuser or Bergamot and Cedarwood. I go through phases with my scent preferences, I think every woman should.
What are three hidden gems in Vancouver?
I have a little secret beach in Kitsilano that not many people know about. I take books there and it’s my own little sandy reading nook.
The Good Spirit Shop is a magical place for buying crystals, books, and getting your tarot cards read. Forage is my favorite restaurant to take girlfriends to. It’s all local food, it’s beautiful and healthy and delicious and everyone there is super nice.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
It means being your fullest most authentic self and operating intentionally with sincerity and clarity of purpose.
Who is your MISSBISH and why?
Oh, probably Solange. I saw her live a few months ago in a room of just 50 people and her work blew my mind. I cried twice, she’s a force.
Photos by: Reece Voyer