We can learn a lot from the partnership of Susanne Pruitt and Shelley Callaghan, founders of the Seattle-based home fragrance brand Antica Farmacista. They have not only built a leading brand that’s expanded into bath and body products, candles, personal perfume, bubble bath and bath salts—but they’ve done so as best friends. When Susanne and Shelley first forged their business relationship in 2003, they made a pact that their friendship was number one. They agreed that if they ever felt discord with one another, they would close the business.
We at b-glowing support all innovative entrepreneurs, and feel particularly inspired by Susanne and Shelley’s partnership as best friends. The inspiration they take from their families, art, and the world around them, coupled with the value they place on strong female relationships provides all of us an empowering template for living. Learn below how mutual respect, the pursuit of happiness, travel, and the power of scent enriches their own lives and impacts both their families and employees. Yes, friendship and business DO go together. Read on, and learn how the masters make it happen.
Inspiration and advice to entrepreneurs and women
We love that you both are best friends who have built a business together and have become leaders in the luxury home fragrance space. What does it take to build a business as best friends? How do you create balance in your business, your friendship, and your families? Interpersonal harmony and work/life balance appear to be very central to you individually, and your company culture.
SP: When we started the business, we had already been friends for 10 years. We always said that our friendship and family would come first. I think what really makes the business and friendship work is that we both have enormous respect for what the other person contributes. We have completely different talents and I think that is what makes it easy.
SC: We also put a ton of emphasis on our family lives. Not only do Susanne and I cherish our extended families, we strive to create a work environment for our employees where they feel the importance of blending family and work. As a matter of fact, my 79 year old mother walks to our downtown Seattle office almost daily and has become the “office grandma” to many of the young girls in the company. This sort of family balance is very important to us.
What is your #1 mentoring tip for female entrepreneurs, young girls in school or women graduating from high school?
SP: We actually have an office full of women that are younger than we are! They each have been given a long leash to own their own work, be as creative and proactive as they can be and try and truly make a mark on Antica’s growth. Hopefully, this empowers them not only in their current roles, but in their future careers.
SC: Don’t assume that someone else has already “done it.” There is always room for good ideas, with great execution. My example is always… Do we really NEED another white T-shirt on the market? The answer is no, but there will always be a need for a new, well executed white T-shirt in some market, marketed in a creative way.
Shelley and Susanne, we’d love to know…what is your superpower as a boss?
SC: The easy default on this question is to make it crystal clear that Susanne is the SuperBoss! She is incredibly organized and a total “doer." She likes to pull the trigger and get stuff accomplished. If it were up to me, we would create and create and create, but rarely produce. She makes the ideas come to life!
SP: Well, probably my analytical skills and strength as a taskmaster in the office. It is definitely NOT my creative development side, which is why Shelley is such an amazing superpower partner!
Shelley, we love your statement on your website that, "we are all about creating fragrances that capture a moment in time and ultimately transport the Antica customer. I believe in the power of scent and it excites me to share the olfactory journey through beautiful scent creation and products that Susanne and I both love." And in context of this image from your Instagram…we’re interested to learn how you build out the inspiration and “story” of a fragrance.
SC: The process of creating a scent story happens very organically. Our latest fragrance creation was Damascena Rose, Orris and Oud. This was born out of a personal longing for a floral based fragrance that I didn’t think existed on the market (in any capacity, personal or home categories). I spent 4 months thinking of the ideal fresh youthful rose scent, focusing on the marriage of rose with the depth of deep Amber and exotic Oud. Susanne and I have traveled to India and Dubai and the exposure to these musky amber and oud scents left an indelible impression on both of us. The next step in this creation process is to let my imagination run wild and develop a creative brief. This process is typically done simultaneously while pulling tear sheets from books and magazines, filling my office walls with content that evokes the spirit of my inspiration. It’s funny how the entire fragrance will come together through imagery and words quite quickly, once I allow myself the freedom to dive into it.
Shelley and Susanne, what IS it about the power of scent that touches us so deeply? Do you feel there is a therapeutic quality to scents?
SC: Of course. We all know that the limbic system (our emotional hub) is deeply connected to scent. I personally find it incredibly comforting to think about a place, a time or a situation and what that smell was. I can go on this emotional “scent journey” with almost any time in my life… from simple moments, like driving in the car on Sunday mornings with my dad to get the Sunday paper… to the chlorine drenched towels that permeated my grandmother’s linen closet as a child, to the oil I used when pregnant with my first son. I love the exercise of thinking back to a moment (often times by looking at pictures) and recalling specific fragrances that surrounded me at the various times in my life.
Susanne, we see on the Antica Farmacista website that you "love to cook, travel and discover wines. In all aspects of these passions, there is inspiration for fragrance and brand development." Can you share a particular trip that provided new inspiration for a scent in your line?
SP: My frequent trips to Napa have been a huge inspiration for several of our fragrances, particularly the Lemon Verbena fragrance. It is the perfect balance of a fresh citrus smell with a floral herb that reminds me of the hills of Napa. Also, our Coriander, Lotus & Cucumber scent was inspired by this trip. For my 50th birthday in Napa, Shelley originally created this fragrance for me before we launched it and it is reminiscent of this wonderful trip.
Both of you are inspired by Italian art, fashion, food, and landscape. Why is the Italian way of life so appealing to you, what can we learn from this way of living?
SP & SC: The Italians place great importance on a few things that resonate with us. They cherish their families. They love to feed themselves and their loved ones. And they pay close attention to detail… in art, architecture, and design. There is a patience and importance placed on beauty in everything they touch and that mantra has truly shaped our business.
We totally agree that “aesthetic preferences, passions and dreams drive fragrance selections and are deeply connected.” Please tell us why you think so, (BTW we love how you’ve categorized your products, under the personality types of The Romantic, The Fashionista, The Classic, The Modern, and The Man).
SC: Fragrance is a deeply personal choice. Every fragrance becomes unique, based on the chemistry of the individual. Each of us have our own individual look and style and these preferences naturally extend into our fragrance choices. It’s a blend of how we want to “smell” and how we want to be perceived as smelling. There is an impression we oftentimes want to make with our appearance, and the same holds true with fragrance. I think of fragrance as one of the many accessories we choose daily. The same theory applies to the home, a monochromatic beige and white interior versus a leopard and jewel toned color palette conjure different ideas of home fragrance. As we like to say, there are no rules when it comes to fragrance. It’s more about discovering YOUR scent and the message you want to send with that fragrance…
Susanne, if you’re open to sharing, we’re open to hearing any words you have on being a cancer survivor. Cancer has touched so many of our lives.
SP: Everyone has probably had some direct or indirect impact from cancer in their life. As a survivor from 12 years ago, I must say that it has had a direct impact on the way I live my life day to day. Looking back on the first 25 years of life, I felt a need to control the outcome of situations. In this state of distraction, I would completely miss and ruin the moment I was experiencing. It was living in what could have been, rather than appreciating the fact that there was a moment at all. I now try to be as engaged as possible with my boys, my family, my friends and my business contacts. It has allowed me to “let it be” in the true sense of the word. Oddly enough, I feel blessed to have experienced this awakening and survived it with a healthier attitude.
What quotes or mantras do you both return to again and again for personal and professional inspiration?
SP: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
SC: Every obstacle is a new opportunity. -My Dad
If you could have a dinner party with 3 female artists, icons, politicians, authors, wellness aficionados, spiritual leaders, or any person alive today or not, who would they be and why?
SP: Maya Angelou because her inspirational poems represent the way I try to live my life today; Estee Lauder because she was a businesswoman way ahead of her time and her family founded the successful Breast Cancer Awareness cause; and Sheryl Sandberg because she is now a survivor that has certainly found a way to tackle the balance of grief, life and business.
How do you define beauty? What’s your “beauty philosophy?”
SC: Beauty to me is all about feeling confident and in control. Whether that means exercising and staying strong, or striking the balance between sexy heels that I can actually walk in. I love beauty products but I don’t believe that “beauty” equals “youthfulness.” At my age, it seems that in order to follow a beauty regimen, that means you are trying to look younger… reducing wrinkles, injecting fillers etc in order to appear younger. The way I see it is… yes, I am growing older. But I love living and have a lot more of it to do. Seeing wrinkles and a few sun spots is simply a reminder that we better “get on with it” and do the things we want to do because time is ticking!
What are the 5 life rituals you do daily to stay happy and healthy?
SP: Stretch, laugh, exercise, check on my loved ones and sing to myself!
SC: – Coffee. I just started drinking coffee this year. 46 years into this life and I’ve just discovered the happiness of Half and Half and Coffee. That’s my new morning ritual and I love it.
– Before the coffee, I force myself to drink 10 ounces of water.
– One of my favorite indulgences is to sit down before anyone else is awake and open a big beautiful art book. I am surrounded by them at home and it’s such a luxury to let my mind wander through a beautiful tactile experience first thing in the am. The computer doesn’t give me the same experience.
– Talking to my sons….asking them “what their plan is for the day” and anticipating their eyeroll. All of that makes me smile.
– Cooking for my family (the standard subjects are: my sons, my boyfriend and his two kids). I have lots of happy mouths to feed… which makes the kitchen my happy place.
Who’s on your playlist right now?
SP: I have quite the mix right now… Men At Work, REM, Joss Stone, Bill Withers and Mary Blige.
SC: I’m learning how to play the guitar so lots of acoustic music….Neil Young, loving some old 90’s music, Alice in Chains, old throwbacks like The Spinners, and I love a little Reggae in the summer….Steel Pulse!
What's next for Antica Farmacista?
SC & SP: We love our partnership and we love our business. We look forward to continuing our work together….whether we further develop our hotel business and existing retail relationships, with new exciting ideas (can’t share those yet) or…we build something else together…we feel incredibly grateful that we have managed to build our friendship AND our business together. There is never a dull moment!