Inside Our Fragrance Development

by Kate Brunk

I sat down with Shay, Lead Business Apprentice at Labyrinth Made Goods, to learn more about fragrance development, and discovered that it’s about so much more than what meets the nose. 

black woman holding candle in white tin 

The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
What's your role with Labyrinth Made Goods and what do you do as part of the team?
My name is Shay and I am the lead business apprentice. This means I handle the administrative workings of Labyrinth Made Goods alongside Kate (the director), I complete projects by myself, making sure goals are getting completed. I do fragrance development, accounting, networking, and a bunch of other things. 

How did you develop interest in fragrance development? 
I didn’t see myself doing this at first, it kind of came about while I was living at Labyrinth House. I started attending LMG meetings and realized I loved doing it, and this went from just attending meetings to a paid apprenticeship. I have learned many new skills and learned more about myself. I have gained so much confidence and love fragrance development. 
What's your favorite part of the process?
My favorite part is smelling the oils and breaking down the scents. We use accords, which in fragrance development are different raw materials we blend together to create a unique scent. We receive fragrance oils from the fragrance house we're working with, like Cosmo Fragrances. Then we meet with Lisa, who is our fragrance design expert and empowerment mentor. First, we come up with the name for the candle, and then think about what that word should smell like. Putting a scent to a name is one of my favorite things. 

Where do you find sources of inspiration for new scents?
It all depends; our Seasons Collection is based on the seasons in the Midwest and our memories associated with that. Our newest collection, the Resilience Collection, is based on experiences of women who've experienced incarceration. We try to come up with words that inspire, motivate, and push us to keep going.  The Resilience Collection uses uplifting fragrances.

Do you have a favorite scent and what does the smell evoke for you?
My personal favorite is Winter No.65 which I had a major hand in designing. I put my foot down and said no one is changing that. It takes me to a whole new place that is relaxing, calm, and lovely. Outside of that, I really love the smell of a basement. I’m from East Saint Louis and everyone has these old basements. I was taken from my father when I was little, but the smell of a basement and a garage reminds me of my father and I love it. Certain smells can transport us back to good places.

black woman lighting a candle in a white tin with a match

What is the most important thing you’ve learned from Lisa?
Lisa has taught me a lot; it is about way more than candles. She has touched my heart. The most important thing she taught me was to slow down, take a breath and calm myself. Through a phone call she was able to grab all that fear and pain and ball it up and really showed me that I need to focus on myself, let go, and realize I can't control the world. I've learned it's okay to not be strong all the time and it's okay to cry because everything is not going to be okay all the time.

What are some challenges you have faced in your role?
Sometimes I struggle with thinking everything is supposed to be perfect and that I’m not allowed to mess up. I have learned mistakes are meant to happen and you can grow from them and move on and that is how I've gotten better and continued to grow. 

What are the challenges with artificial smells vs. natural smells?
When a fragrance smells artificial it has a more syrup-y smell. With a more natural fragrance, you won't have that syrup note behind the real scent. Like banana candy versus a real banana those are two different flavors and two different scents. 

What's the story behind the Resilience Collection, and what does it mean to you?
The Resilience Collection means a lot to me. It’s the reason I’m here with Labyrinth Made Goods; it is my outlet. The words we come up with have stories behind them. Revitalize resonates most with me and my story, but every word in the collection affects me in a positive way. Tranquility shows me peace. Coming here has stabilized me and given me tranquility. With Visualize – having a stable income means I can visualize good things for myself and how I want my life to play out.  Labyrinth Made Goods made me realize I want to write a book and continue to think about bigger goals. The Resilience Collection will always be connected to me because those names (of the candles) are connected to the mission and the reason why we are able to exist today.

If you had to pick one candle to give to someone as a gift, which would you pick and why? 
I would pick Revitalize. This is my second favorite scent but that one has more meaning for me than the seasonal winter candle. I want people to feel the power of the candles and want people to be able to enjoy them and relax. This is an uplifting candle. 

What is your favorite fragrance note to work with? 
My favorite note to work with is Frasier Fir. It is the main accord in the winter candle. It is a piney, cold winter scent. I love that smell and was very vocal about it. 

Anything I didn’t ask that you want people to know?
Most people don’t know Labyrinth Made Goods is to help women who have experienced incarceration. They can support us by buying a candle, looking into local and national legislation, and advocating for folks that have experienced incarceration. I am going to continue with the apprenticeship opportunity. I have had the best experience with Labyrinth Made Goods, and I appreciate and want to thank everyone for supporting me, Labyrinth Made Goods, and our mission.
If you would like to support Shay and Labyrinth Made Goods, you can visit to make a candle purchase and/or donation today. 

Interview by Sarah Poole at the Labyrinth Made Goods office
Transcription and Editing by Amanda Garcia and Sarah Poole