In Conversation With Shaun Russell, Founder of Skandinavisk

For those not yet familiar with the name, Skandinavisk, produce hand and body care using natural and organic formulae inspired by the natural elements to create unique fragrance impressions of Scandinavia – and do so ‘leaving a lighter footprint’. Here we meet Shaun Russell, founder of the beautiful and eco-friendly brand to discover more about the business, his journey and how we too can work towards leaving a lighter footprint. Read on to find out more.

How did the idea for Skandinavisk arise and how did you make it a reality?

I had been living for about 10 years in Scandinavia, first in Denmark then in Sweden and travelling throughout the region in Nordic roles, and I just reached this point where I felt I truly understood what makes this region so different, so successful, and such a reference for the rest of the world. As an outsider on the inside, I then wanted to share this story with my fellow foreigners, to put skin on the bones of those positive but vague perceptions of Scandinavia, to help people understand how a better approach to life does exist and why we should all embrace it. I took the unusual path of telling this story via candlelight and fragrance because I thought if I can connect to people’s senses, then I have a better chance of getting them to respond. We now have a growing team and a wider global community of passionate followers who share a similar mindset, we ask them questions, we invite them to make suggestions, and we continue on the journey together.

You combine natural essential oils with safe synthetic ingredients to create unique fragrance impressions of Scandinavia, please tell us more about where you find inspiration for your ranges and the process involved to bring them to market.

Our fragrances are inspired by twenty years of travels and experiences across Scandinavia. We start by identifying an aspect of the region, a theme, that is both precious to its inhabitants and exotic to the outside world. We are aided by two important people: Firstly, the Danish gardener (my wife), who grew up in Sweden and spent her summers in Norway, and has had a passion for gardening since early 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 one hundred and fifty rose varieties growing alongside a cornucopia of temperate flora, and a special section reserved for growing scented Nordic wildflowers from seeds. Secondly, the gentleman French perfumer we found along the way, who helps us interpret each theme through a combination of artistry and chemistry. He regularly visits Scandinavia to build his own understanding of this region; we cycle in Copenhagen, swim in Swedish lakes, explore the Norwegian fjords, 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.

Skandinavisk is a super sustainable and B Corporation Certified brand. What does this mean to you as a business and to your customers?

First off, I would say the more you go down the ‘sustainability’ path, the more you realise how much farther you need to travel. Nature makes no waste, but I would argue that no business, perhaps no human, acts completely sustainably. This is the core of the problem. For us, it’s a priority to continuously find new ways to leave a lighter footprint, to communicate our journey (and all its mistakes) to our customers, to expose the contradictions on the path and the fact that there is no black or white decision, no absolute right or wrong, only shades of grey, and to be honest and say we’re not good enough, but we’re trying, and we encourage you to try too.

Which is your own personal favourite fragrance or range and why?

That’s a difficult one, as they all have meaning to me. If I’m pressed, I would probably have to say ØY – Island Solitude. I love the Scandinavian relationship with water, I try and take a dip all year round, the fragrance itself is a gentle marine floral, it was the fourth fragrance we ever launched, and we recently reinterpreted it as an Eau de Toilette – Kapitel 4 (Chapter 4) – that I now wear daily.

Please tell us more about your partnership with 5-star hotel Villa Copenhagen, how did the relationship come about and how it has evolved?

They actually contacted us about a year before opening. They were looking for local partners who prioritised sustainable business practices, and they wanted to avoid the excessive waste of conventional cosmetic miniatures that litter hotel rooms worldwide. We weren’t looking to get into hospitality, we didn’t even have plans for hair care, but we quickly realised we shared some common values so it just felt completely logical to work together. Plus, they’re two blocks away, so they couldn’t be closer! We set about building a strong partnership with their leadership team, we went the extra mile to create a new shampoo and conditioner formula in our SKOG (forest) variant as well as a simple refill solution for their housekeeping staff, and we’re now in all 390 rooms and communal areas. Obviously they’re been compromised by the pandemic, but they’ve been open throughout, they’ve stuck to their principles, and they’ve weathered the storm better than any other hotel I know. It’s a partnership I’m very proud of.

Villa Copenhagen has a strong affiliation with the UN’s Sustainable Development Program and has ambitions to become one of the best eco-hotels on earth, do you think sustainability is becoming more of an important consideration for consumers and travellers today?

And if so how do you think the luxury sector will / should respond? The terms travel and sustainability tend to be mutually exclusive, but I do think conscious travel can open minds and bring different people together, so I think what Villa is trying to do is very progressive. If other luxury destinations don’t also challenge themselves on a fundamental level – and I mean by making tangible changes to their established business models, rather than taking isolated actions and greenwashing them toward the market – they will quickly be left behind.

Due to the CoVid-19 pandemic, the last 18 months have been an unusual time for businesses around the world, how have you adapted and what’s next for Skandinavisk?

It’s been quite a ride. Twelve months ago we’d closed the office, and I was back at my kitchen table calculating when the money would run out. Our business only survived because our warehouse didn’t close down, because UPS could still deliver, and because of our stubborn refusal to give up without a fight. It was that close. During the pandemic we launched our first Eau de Toilette collection, a shop-in-shop at Selfridges London, a new fragrance inspired by the remote highlands, a Tmall brand store in China, and a subscription service. The pandemic also accelerated things that we were already working on – namely the transition to ecommerce (selling fragrance online was once a contradiction in terms), the importance of our own direct channel at and – perhaps most importantly – the general public awareness of the environmental consequences of previous lifestyles and buying habits, and the need for everyone to take more responsibility for our actions. We’ve come out of it stronger and are looking forward to the future with renewed confidence. As we said at the time, we didn’t come this far to only come this far.

Luxury means different things to different people – what does it mean to you?

Living in the present, and the appreciation of nature. Neither of which should be luxury, but we so often forget to appreciate our surroundings in the moment that, when we do, it’s the most precious gift.

Finally, what if your life motto? (if you have one).

To steal from John Lennon; Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

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