MEDIUM interview: on disruption and the perfume resistance ...


Nick - founder GALLIVANT

Meet The Disruptors: Nick Steward Of GALLIVANT On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Steward.

As the founder of slow perfume brand, GALLIVANT , Nick Steward proves he is not only an original, inspired alchemist, but also a bona fide leader of the “perfume resistance”.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

studied Arabic at university, so certainly have an atypical, outsider’s background for perfumery — but was lucky enough to fall into it, almost by fluke (the beauty of chance meetings!) — and have never looked back. I consider myself blessed to be in an industry with clever, curious, creative people.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The dominant business and entrepreneurial culture of our era is ‘move fast and break things’ so I consider that I’m swimming against the grain, swimming in my own lane; as my craft is about going slowly and respecting what’s come before me, respecting above all the materials and then the techniques honed and perfected over the years. The decision to go slow and steady under our own steam, that definitely feels very disruptive today, going against the big BS machine, and their ‘start-up’ ethos of raising investment, launching something (doesn’t really matter what) and cashing out quickly as quickly as possible.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One lesson for any entrepreneur : make your mistakes on someone else’s dime — isn’t that what they say ? years ago I did a perfume inspired by the metallic heat and adrenaline of a roller-coaster ride. Very conceptual and avant-garde, but it was not a commercial success, so that taught me that perfume needs to be spark joy, it should be a pleasure to wear.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Before I went out on my own and started GALLIVANT, I worked for L’Artisan Parfumeur, the original ‘niche’ fragrance house in Paris and had two great mentors: the famous Master Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, who taught me to focus on your own creativity, ignore the ambient noise, the trends and everything else going on around you, and my boss Sarah ( now the CEO of CREED ), from whom I learnt that the important thing is to keep moving forward and trust your own instincts.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disrupting an industry can be a positive when we’re talking about genuine innovation — but that comes along very rarely in any industry. And possibly we need to wait years before we can judge whether something is having a good or bad impact. Perhaps we need to be a little less ready to buy into whatever the hype machine is selling us ?

Certainly less positive is when Big Corporations use this ‘disruptive’ discourse, and their considerable resources and financial muscle to destroy smaller independent businesses, destroying and displacing other people’s livelihoods ( people who earn considerably less than those clever investment bankers) in order to maximise their own return on investment.

Can you please share 5 ideas one needs to shake up their industry? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1 . Be an original. Don’t follow the trends, don’t go along with what everyone else is saying is the next big thing. ‘Make your own kind of music’ is my daily mantra. There’s always a counter-culture, so don’t be afraid to be different.

2 . Be thoughtful and considered. Again, so much of ‘start-up culture’ tells us to ‘break things, go fast’ — can we slow down and build something better, with a respect for what has been done before we came along? that would feel genuinely disruptive in business at the moment.

3 . Build something authentic from the bottom-up. I’m so bored of reading about these overnight success stories. WeWorkeconomics, zombie businesses bloated on debt. That’s a narrative which badly needs to be disrupted.

4 . Keep it human and personal. So many of the ‘entrepreneur’ stories we hear about are all about technology, big data and scaling up, fast. It feels very disruptive to me to be building a human-scale product business from the ground up. I know my customers by name. As we’re all overwhelmed by Tech, AI, automation, it feels counter-cultural to be doing something so human, so analogue, physical manufacturing, on a boutique scale.

5 . Make something of quality, something timeless. Again, it feels disruptive now to set out to make something beautiful which will last, stand the test of time. So much of what I see is just fast consumption, an attempt to monetise everything as quickly as possible and move on, ignoring the consequences of what’s left in its wake — I’m not sure that’s good for any of us, never mind for our planet.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I have new perfumes in the works, but it takes us between two and four years to design and manufacture. Slow perfume indeed — but maybe that explains all the various awards we’ve won ! and I’m also working on perfumed products for the home.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you ?

There’s a brilliant perfume podcast I listen to, La Parfumerie, sadly only available in French. Those guys are the real rebels — they call out the bullshit of the perfume industry. A reminder that what perfume lovers are looking for is beauty and authenticity. Promoting a true perfume culture — not just following the PR-fed hype train. Honest perfumery, not in thrall to the business plan money-making schemes.

I don’t read business books, I find them boringly hubristic — but one book I go back to read is Vasily Grossman’s epic Life & Fate, which illustrates the strength of the human spirit to me. Being an entrepreneur demands perseverance and resilience.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

From Shakespeare: “Truth needs no colour; beauty, no pencil.

Keep it simple, and create something honest, that will prevail.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I think turning off social media would be a good place to start. On balance, are we sure it’s adding to the sum of human knowledge, human happiness ? That would certainly be a disruptive moment !

How can our readers follow you online?




This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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