I’ve read quite a bit of discussion lately about the definitions of niche, indie, and artisan perfume brands. As more and more brands enter the market, we seem to look for more specific words to describe what we do as small brands.
Niche: The word niche seems to be used these days for everything that is not designer. Niche originally implied something different than what you find at department stores, but the term has become less meaningful as the niche market has exploded.
Indie: The word indie describes brands that are niche but are smaller, independently owned brands. These days even indie companies can be fairly large though, at least compared to the very small owner/perfumer indie companies.
Artisan: This word seems to engender the most disagreement. Artisan is a subset of indie that refers to brands that produce artisan-made products. Most people define artisan to be products that are handmade in-house. Many indie companies have their scents batched and bottled in labs rather than doing it by hand, and that takes them out of the strict definition of artisan if you subscribe to the idea that artisan means handmade rather than factory produced. Being artisan is not a guarantee of quality, but the best artisan products are original and creative, and they contain a piece of the creator because they are personal. Being artisan in the strict sense means that quantity will be limited because the products are not mass produced.
Finding your way as an artisan brand can be hard, trying to grow while still doing everything by hand. Wholesaling means larger quantity and less profit per item, which is hard to fit into the artisan model that requires so much time and hand labor. The internet helps artisan businesses thrive because we can reach customers directly without the middle-men, and that gives us a way to compete even though our base costs are higher than for factory-made items. (Base costs for artisan brands are higher not just because of increased labor, but because ingredients and packaging are much more expensive when purchased in smaller quantities as we must do.)
I don’t have the answers, but I’m taking things day by day and trying to steer in the direction that my heart says is right for me. Currently, I’m working on my first collection of all-natural scents and am having a lot of fun with it. Terminology is important for defining things like FIFI award categories, but terminology isn’t as important to the consumer; people buy what appeals to them, so indies need to produce the best quality, most unique and interesting products we can regardless of the labels we use to identify ourselves.