There is something very evocative about the world of perfumery, taking its inspiration from nature and creating a scent that makes the wearer experience a particular sense of wellbeing and confidence. South Africa now has a second perfumier to celebrate, Agata Karolina, founder of House of Gozdawa in Cape Town, who is creating something really special and unique to Africa.
LoA had the opportunity to meet with the inspirational founder of House of Godzawa, Agata Karolina, at the recent Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair in Johannesburg to find out more….
Tell us a little bit about your company and how you got started.
House of Gozdawa is a small batch perfumery company founded in Cape Town in 2015, dedicated to creating high quality epicene scents, following a strict production process utilising only natural essential oils and carriers. Each scent is developed personally by myself. All the products are produced in small batches, bottled by hand and each vintage is specified. Each scent is created with deep love, commitment and intrigue to the story, the natural essences, and the history each wearer writes for herself.
"House Of Gozdawa is the contemporary legacy that pays tribute to all those that came before, the stories that were lived and apothecary knowledge that was passed down through generations."
You seem to have a strong brand design philosophy, is that your background?
I started out as a design initiator and curator and studied my Contextual Design Masters at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2009. I then returned to Cape Town to pursue my passion for perfumery and natural scents.
What inspired the name of the business?
House Of Gozdawa is a business that holds its origins in the history of the Gozdawa crest presented to me from my Grandmother Olga Von Chrapowicka. The crest dates back to pre1090 AD. Gozdawa represents the strength, sensitivity, creativity, uniqueness and relationship to nature encompassed by the family. House Of Gozdawa is the contemporary legacy that pays tribute to all those that came before, the stories that were lived and apothecary knowledge that was passed down through generations.
"Perfumes really do tell the story of the wearer, and that is what I really love about scent, because it is all about memory, and perfume really allows you the opportunity to tell your own story."
Tell us a little more about the range of products you create
We have six different perfumes in the first collection, which is called Confessions Volume 1 and which has taken one and a half years to develop - it is a real labour of love. The perfumes I create are Extrait de Parfum which are the highest value of perfumes that you can get on the market, and that is basically a 25-40% volume of perfume oil to the carrier alcohol. The perfumes I have developed in this collection are created around six different named individuals and each one reflects a part of my persona as a perfumier. The reason I started with this inspiration is that I decided with this first collection to tell my own story. So, the range is named after three men and three women characters - the first is Andrea and he is known as an adventurer; then Simo who is the aristocrat; then we have Albert who is the philosopher; then we have the women starting with Marta who is the lover and based on two individuals; then Hel who is a celebration; and than Aga who is known as the romantic. Each is very different in personality.
Do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
Yes I do, and bar one year of my working life, I have always worked for myself. My mother is also an entrepreneur and was an haute couture designer and now owns a natural oil healthcare company. My father is a trauma surgeon and owns his own practices and has always built every house we have lived in, so I come from a very hands-on family. Even my grandparents were entrepreneurs, so I am following in my family’s footsteps.
"I think what is really important about working here in South Africa is that we have so many incredible botanicals to work with that no one in the rest of the world has to work with."
What are some of the key challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur?
Being a woman entrepreneur in South Africa and doing something like perfumery, it is quite difficult because it is not something that the country is known for. There is the fabulous Tammy Frazer from Frazer Parfum and I greatly love her work, so it is an absolute honour to be another female perfumier here in the country. But the reality is that it is a business with quite a hard market to break into because traditionally, perfumiers have been known to come from France or Italy, those sorts of countries; but what I think is really important about working here in South Africa is that we have so many incredible botanicals to work with that no one in the rest of the world has to work with. So, we really have a very unique message to give. In fact there are only two perfume houses here in the country that produce under their own label, myself and Tammy Frazer.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I think it is being able to make my own decisions and being able to understand when I want to work with a client and when I don’t, because I have found that when I was working for companies in the past, sometimes you really have to put yourself and your beliefs aside. To some extent I understand this, but when you work with a client and you don’t really believe in what they are doing, it can be hard to be creative simply because you may need the pay cheque. I also think that the work you do as an entrepreneur has a lot more integrity because you really believe in the work you are doing and what you are putting out there in public. This is especially the case for me as I work with product. I used to work in advertising and there were many times I was doing design work for things that I really didn’t believe in, and that was why I had to leave and go out on my own. Now, I know that the products I am creating represent something I passionately believe in, and that for me is incredibly special. It is one of the most wonderful things about being an entrepreneur. Being strong and believing in yourself and the strength of your abilities is not something that you get to express when you work for someone else in a large company.
"It is all about believing in what you do, not being afraid to stand out, standing up for what you want, and following your intuition."
How important is it to build really solid relationships with your clients, particularly in the bespoke perfume creation space?
Very important, in fact it is one of the biggest things in the field of perfumery. Now, people are wanting to make a connection with the creators and to have a sense of provenance, understanding where and how products are made. At the end of the day, scent tells a story, you get a memory of something - your perfume is ultimately the story about you. Especially when it comes to creating really unique fragrances such as mine, which really develop and change with each wearer on their skin, making them really personal. The clientele that I focus on is the woman and the man who really want to tell their own story, and therefore developing personal relationships with clients is key to creating perfumes that are unique to the people who buy them. When we work with private clients on creating bespoke perfumes, we spend around 4 to 5 months just finding out what their own personal and unique stories are, and then from there we actually develop the unique fragrances themselves.
What do you see for the future of other African perfumers emerging on the scene over the coming few years?
I think there is so much potential here on the African continent. Here in Africa, we have such a tangible connection with nature and that is something you don’t get elsewhere anymore, and here as women, we have that sensitivity towards working with natural products and telling the stories that inspire and connect them to us. I personally would be so thrilled to see more independent perfumiers and creators emerging from Africa, and particularly women. You need to be a strong woman to survive in Africa, and to see more of us in business on the African continent would be fantastic - strength in numbers and creativity.
#EntrepreneurAdvice "The greatest thing that any woman can do is to truly believe in herself."
- Agata Karolina, founder of House of Gozdawa
Are you someone that welcomes collaboration?
Absolutely, collaboration is really important to me and some of the past projects I have undertaken in my role as a collaborator saw me bringing designers in from the Netherlands to collaborate with South African makers and designers, so that we could start developing relationships with Europe and Africa directly.
What piece of entrepreneurial advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs just starting out on their journeys?
The greatest thing that any woman can do is to truly believe in herself. For women in business, it has been quite a difficult road, but we are changing quite a lot now. It is the strength of women that puts us in a much better position than a lot of men - we are more sensitive towards our work, which means that we really understand our market spaces. So it is all about believing in what you do, not being afraid to stand out, standing up for what you want, and following your intuition.
Contact or follow House of Gozdawa
Why LoA loves it….
Meeting Agata Karolina is to see creative and entrepreneurial passion personified. She clearly loves her work as a perfumier, and importantly, appreciates the highly personal relationship that people have with the scents they so carefully choose to wear and that reflect their personality. What Agata is creating at House of Gozdawa is unique and a tribute to the art of the perfumier. She is also giving the world another wonderful reason to take a look at the incredible talent and natural resources of Africa with fresh eyes. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa