Defining Niche, Indie, and Artisan

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.

About Laurie E

artisan perfumer and owner of Sonoma Scent Studio
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5 Responses to Defining Niche, Indie, and Artisan

  1. Rappleyea says:

    Great article! You’re a genius my dear, regardless of the label!

    • Laurie E says:

      Aw, thanks Rappleyea! I feel like I keep learning as I go and there’s always more to learn. I’ve never felt like a genius at any one thing, but I can do a lot of different things well enough to wear the many hats of a small business owner.

  2. brie says:

    And here I was thinking you were an indie perfumer when actually you are an artisan perfumer-the term suits you much better as what you create is truly art! 🙂 I love all of your masterpieces and I hope that you never “sell out”. It is your personal touches and contact with your customers that make you one of a kind,Laurie, so please keep doing what you do!

    • Laurie E says:

      Thanks, Brie! 🙂 I’m actually both indie and artisan so either term is fine. The personal connection with customers is one of the best things about being a small business.

      I think it makes sense for some people to get help with production from a lab if they want to produce more quantity than they can do themselves, but the trick is keeping quality up (not making cheaper but easier ingredient substitutions in the formula for the sake of the lab). Going with mass production is the usual business practice as companies grow. It will be interesting to see how the new surge in artisan businesses plays out. I’ve been amazed how many bottles Andy Tauer can produce himself — he’s really pushing artisan production to new levels. I could not produce that many bottles here, so I’m looking for another path, staying small and exclusive in terms of distribution.

  3. I am about to launch my very own fragrance line which is actually the first called “Cherish” by Hershee Izell, this July 2016. It is nice to know that my perfume belongs to the indie fragrances…. ^_^

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