You can find Claire Baxter at the corner of Art and Science. She’s the mind and muscle behind the popular independent perfume company Sixteen92, named after the 1692 Salem witch trials. She blends elements of that historical aspect with her modern design aesthetic, producing a cohesive and edgy brand. In addition to locking down a clear company vision, she has grown her business significantly in the year she’s been open for business. Here, Claire shares her motivations, her love for interacting with customers directly, and finding your personal “voice.”
Location: Dallas, TX
Occupation: Founder & CEO, Sixteen92
Secretly Obsessed With: High performance driving, gardening, and ‘90s video games
On My Nightstand: Water bottle, iPad, and inevitably a handful or two of upcoming fragrance prototypes in little vials.
Last Thing You Read: The Chemistry of Fragrances by Charles S. Sell. Not really a riveting read, but a daily reference staple.
Tell us a little bit about what you do!
I craft small-batch fragrances inspired by literature, history, lore and (of course) magic.
How did you get started? Where did you learn how to mix perfumes?
My background is in advertising — with a concentration in branding and photography — so I’ve always been a creative. I’ve also always been a lover of fragrances, and particularly fascinated by the science behind scent/memory associations. My journey actually began as a search for a creative outlet that didn’t involve Photoshop, client meetings or last-minute, nine-page change orders. Something I could create with my hands; something tangible that could connect with people in a meaningful way. Fragrances are bottled memories, and during my earliest experiments I realized that the style of fragrance that I wanted to share trended more toward conceptual or atmospheric — the scent of my grandmother’s garden in the summer; the scent of an impending thunderstorm in Tornado Alley; how I imagine the forests of Grimm’s fairy tales or the bustling speakeasies of prohibition-era Chicago may have smelled. A lot of perfume is, of course, science, which is easy enough to learn. The challenges lie in finding a voice — much in the same way a designer or writer discovers their personal style. And I think that’s something that’s always evolving.
What does your daily routine look like?
No two days are alike, though I’m consistently working towards a more solid routine. Coffee first, always. Depending on the day, I spend an hour or two communicating with customers (email, social media, etc.), and the next 10-12 hours are spent filling orders, mixing batches, inventorying supplies and raw materials, arranging schedules for my rotating part-time assistants if needed, researching and planning new products and collections, balancing accounts, and maybe eating something if I’m lucky. Most days start before 9 a.m. and end after 11 p.m. So, I guess not too much has changed there from my ad agency days.
What key elements played into your success?
Learning to delegate and accept help. In fact, this is something I’m still working on, but it’s been refreshing to realize that I don’t have to do everything by myself. Sometimes as a business owner there’s a pressure to take on every task and fulfill your business’ every need on your own, and that’s just not a sustainable business model. Learning to accept help when I need it and when to move certain tasks (like accounting, ha!) into more capable hands has been one of the greatest things I’ve done for the overall health and success of my brand. Playing to your strengths — and allowing others to play to theirs — is important.
What’s the best piece of advice you received?
I think the single best piece of advice I’ve received was actually to quit. There’s something compelling about being told you can’t or shouldn’t or won’t that’s a much bigger driving force than being reassured that you can or should or will. Listen to the people telling you to give up, and prove them wrong.
What struggles did you face getting to this point?
I’m an introvert in a world where business owners are expected to have face-to-face interactions with all sorts of people on a regular basis. The creating is easy for me — it’s all I’ve known for most of my career in one form or another — but the meeting and the organizing and the delegating can be a struggle at times. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to meet and bring on board my two business partners, who are much better “people persons” than I am. They have been hugely instrumental in helping me stay organized and taking some of the day-to-day business operational tasks off my plate so I can focus on building my brand in the ways I most enjoy.
Who was the biggest influence on your work?
What accomplishment are you most proud of? When do you feel most successful?
I am amazed and delighted every single day that I was able to leave my advertising career and focus on Sixteen92 full time. There is something so much more meaningful in knowing that your passion is your livelihood, and your successes and failures are determined solely by your own doing. It’s thrilling and terrifying and extremely rewarding to only have yourself to answer to.
You started out as an Etsy shop originally. What are some of the reasons behind your decision to move to your own website?
I was on Etsy for five months, and I think it’s a great launch pad for brands to learn about their customers and define their markets. That said, the Etsy platform can be fairly limiting, and I wanted a way to reach a broader market and tell my story a little more clearly.
Do you want to stay as a small, independent company? What are your plans for the future?
I do plan on remaining a privately-owned business, and I expect to maintain daily involvement with as many facets of the business as possible through whatever the future holds. I did build my brand with growth and scalability in mind, and plans for the future involve doing more or less what I do now, but bigger.
You have a pretty loyal fan base that you interact with well. How do you think that interaction has affected your business?
I am immensely fortunate to be able to interact with my customers, and am humbled by their support, encouragement and feedback. Fragrance is such a personal experience, and I love hearing about how a scent made someone feel, or a memory it conjured, or a new memory that was created with its help. It’s really fascinating and eye-opening to be able to interact directly with the people who enjoy your work. This isn’t something I ever had as a designer or a photographer. I created things that were bought and sold or consumed or looked at in passing. Crafting something that has a real connection to the people who use it has been an amazing adventure, and I really enjoy the conversations that I have with my customers.
What advice would you give to girls looking to enter your industry/space?
For any creative business — Don’t be afraid to try new things and work outside your comfort zone. Seek out and make use of constructive criticism. Take a business course or read every business blog or book you can get your hands on. Understand your market, and understand that your market is always changing. Don’t force your personal style or voice — it will emerge organically, and it will grow and change as you continue to nurture it. “No” doesn’t mean “never.” Keep swimming.
For indie fragrance and beauty specifically — All of the above, plus: Take your time to learn as much as you can about your materials and the science behind them before you let a product leave your hands and go into the wild. Test absolutely everything, and test multiple versions of everything before you call something finished…and then test it some more. Don’t settle for “good enough.” Never stop accepting feedback. Treat your customers with respect.