Mission talks to the founder Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed of sustainable perfume brand Sana Jardin on her passion to create social change.
Why did you create Sana Jardin, and what are the company’s main objectives?
Sana Jardin was created primarily as a vehicle for social change, a first in the fragrance world. Our objective is to fundamentally shift the way business is done and modernize it by embedding social impact initiatives and human centric values into the business model. I believe that each of us can be an agent of change. With Sana Jardin, I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to offer both a luxury product and a powerful consumer choice, to economically empower the local communities involved in its creation. We aim to change the fragrance industry and be the Warby Parker, Tom’s, or Stella McCartney of perfume. We do this by sharing the supply chain value with the women who harvest the flowers that go into our products. I want to create a true flower revolution.
How do you incorporate your background in social work into this new job as founder and CEO of a socially conscious brand?
I think my background in social work enables me build to a company whose goals are human-centric and profitable. My professional background helps me to identify the needs of women in a low-income community and find creative solutions to support them. I feel I can analyze a problem with an eye towards creating a positive social impact instead of the way business has traditionally been done, which is to generate a profit and consider the community and environment after the profit has been generated. My goal with Sana Jardin is to be as ethical and socially conscious as possible with all touch points of the brand—from the packaging—the bottle and cap are from recycled materials—to making perfumes that are free of artificial colorants, parabens, and formaldehydes and contain a high percentage of natural oils.
You have an extensive background working with social causes all around the world. What made you want to bring environmental consciousness and social justice into the realm of luxury fragrance?
I wanted to bring social justice and an environmental consciousness to luxury fragrance because most fragrance houses do not focus on this. I love fashion and saw what was happening to make the supply chain more ethical in that industry and [I] thought, why not do that in fragrance? I have been obsessed with fragrance since I was a teenager traveling the world with my grandmother and being exposed to exotic and natural scents. I researched perfume as a hobby and learned that women who harvest the flowers are low-income and often [live] in developing countries. I was captivated by the sacred and mystical rituals the women historically engaged in when they handpicked the flowers—the women in Morocco still chant over the flowers while collecting them. I thought creating a socially conscious perfume could fuse all of my loves and demonstrate that luxury businesses can be used as a vehicle for social change. It is 2017, we can and should use business to change the world.
Tell us about the philanthropy and outreach aspects of your business model.
The social impact model of our business is what I am the most proud of. I wanted to create positive change for women through commerce, not charity. I am happy there has been a shift in consumer consciousness and a desire to make the supply chain ethical and sustainable in industries like fashion, coffee, and food. I wanted to build upon this ethos with our Beyond Sustainability™ platform, which is a movement to power tangible and measurable social change for low-income women through commerce. We provide financial opportunity and business skills to enable wage increases; waste reduction; and transparent, sustainable business practices, creating female entrepreneurs that are agents of change in their community. We are proud to support three of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030: empowering women, promoting sustainable economic growth, and ensuring sustainable production practices.
Tell us about the Orange Blossom Project--who else is involved, what it does, why it is an important aspect of Sana Jardin.
Sana Jardin’s Beyond Sustainability™ Movement is the overarching ethos that houses The Orange Blossom Project. The Orange Blossom Project is our first social impact project in Morocco, and we hope to replicate the model and create more social impact projects around the world with female flower harvesters. Since 2015, we have worked hand in hand with the indigenous Amazigh women in the historic flower-growing region in Morocco to economically empower the female flower harvesters who hand-pick the flowers for Sana Jardin perfume. Traditionally, the orange blossom, jasmine, and rose harvest provided only sporadic and seasonal employment for these women. In addition, the harvest yields around 900 tons of orange blossom waste by-product annually that has previously gone to landfills. To address these issues, Sana Jardin joined with Nest, a non-profit organization bringing transparency, business development, and advocacy to the global artisan community. We also partnered in Morocco with leading international floral supplier Les Aromes du Maroc, who supply floral ingredients to Sana Jardin. Together, we created three micro-enterprises with female farmers in rural Morocco.
We provide closed loop systems that enable the women to up-cycle the waste by-product from the floral harvest and create their own line of products, including orange blossom water and scented candles. Participating female farmers received training in key business and leadership skills, including product pricing, brand development and market analysis, to ensure they launched a competitive range of products. The women are the sole shareholders of the cooperative and retain 100% of the proceeds from the products they sell nationally, under their own brand called Annamaa. According to the Clinton Global Initiative, “90% of women’s income is reinvested into their families, compared to 35% for men,” so our hope is that the increased wages for the women will have a positive ripple effect on their families and communities.
What is your brand doing to empower women?
Sana Jardin partnered with Nest, a New York City-based nonprofit, and Les Aromes du Maroc, the Moroccan raw floral supplier that supplies some of Sana Jardin’s orange blossom, jasmine, and rose, to economically empower the women who harvest the flowers. There is a lot of waste created in perfume production and we have converted that waste into a new line of products: orange blossom water, scented candles, and organic compost. We formed a cooperative for the women who now sell these products nationally and receive 100% of the proceeds. Nest has trained the women in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, marketing, and sales, and Les Aromes du Maroc has helped to position the cooperative in Morocco so the women can sell their products. The women are projected to increase their earnings by 250% this year alone, and when the compost element is finalized it will be a zero-waste project.
Your brand effectively turns these women in Morocco into women of empowerment by providing them with stable jobs and the ability to create new opportunities. Why is this important to you, and how do you hope to make a positive impact on these women and/or Morocco in general?
It is important to me to have a positive impact on women because I was raised with very strong feminist values—I was a child of the 70’s—and empowering women has been a goal of mine since I was a teenager. I am a hippie at heart and have always felt enormous empathy towards others and an innate desire to try to help people feel valued, important, safe, and cared for. In the 1960’s, my grandmother founded the United States Delegation for Women to empower women economically in developing countries, and she tucked me in her suitcase and took me around the world as a young girl. I did not realize it at the time, but she laid the blueprint for my 25-year career in social justice as a social worker and in the non-profit/charity sector. It is just part of my DNA. My very first job as a teenager was working with low-income children who were developmentally disabled, which I did for 8 years.
As my career in the non-profit world evolved, I realized that people who are disenfranchised need genuine access to economic opportunity, and that requires macro-level solutions to social problems. I had the good fortune of working for incredibly innovative organizations including the Robin Hood Foundation, and have been an advisor to President Clinton’s Health Access Initiative and a governing Trustee of Cherie Blair’s Foundation for Women. I always knew I wanted to work with Moroccan women as it is a country that is close to my heart. My hope is that by giving women access to the resources required to create and run their own social enterprises, they will become agents of change in their own communities [and] have increased opportunity, wages, self-esteem, and freedom for themselves and their families. My goal with Sana Jardin is not only to work with the women of Morocco but [to] replicate the Beyond Sustainability Model to low-income women around the world. Morocco was our first project, but we would like to expand operations to work with women in countries like India, Indonesia, and Haiti or Bhutan eventually.
All photos courtesy of Sana Jardin
By Bailey Calfee