In comparison to fragrance consumers of previous generations, like baby boomers, millennial and Gen-Z shoppers have increasingly embraced non-heritage fragrance brands, especially those that are BIPOC-founded. This is largely due to factors like shopping accessibility, brand awareness, and societal and financial support for BIPOC-founded fragrance companies.
A representative from consumer behavior analytics firm Circana noted that the distribution of Black-founded fragrance brands rose over 9% in unit sales across mass beauty retailers from 2021 to 2022, which was three times the overall fragrance market rate in the same time period. They owed that to more shelf space and retailer support.
According to consumer behavior research firm Spate, Asian-American-owned fragrance brands like Ellis Brooklyn, founded by Bee Shapiro in 2015, and Phlur, acquired by Chriselle Lim in 2021, are experiencing spikes in consumer interest. As of February 2023, Ellis Brooklyn had an average of 11,500 monthly searches on Google, a 19% year-over-year increase. Meanwhile, Phlur had an average of 59,800 monthly searches, a 205% YOY increase.
Jennifer Carlson, founder of cosmetics market research company Mintoiro, conducts a monthly study of the top 50 most-searched brands on Instagram. Carlson noted that the percentage of BIPOC-founded fragrance brands that placed in the top 50 list jumped from 18% to 26% in just six months, from September 2023 to March 2023.
There are a few factors behind the jump in BIPOC-founded fragrance brands in the U.S. beauty market, such as the dual combination of the rise of online fragrance sales and the escalation of #PerfumeTok and similar hashtags.
Where previous fragrance consumers were limited to brands that were available for purchase in beauty stores and major retail outlets, like Nordstrom or Sephora, today’s fragrance shopper has access to hundreds of brands via a few taps on the keyboard.
In a report released by NielsenIQ in March 2023, the online fragrance market was worth $3 billion in 2022, marking a 21.4% growth year-over-year. At the same time, the in-store fragrance market was worth $1 billion, with a growth rate of only 2.9% YOY.
Also, versus discovering a new perfume via a billboard or television advertisement, consumers these days find out about new perfumes via TikTok, including hashtags like #PerfumeTok which gather views in the millions to billions.
A representative from TikTok shared a recent view count for some of the trendiest fragrance-related hashtags: #PerfumeTok has 2.6 billion views, while #PerfumeTikTok has 6.1 billion, #FragranceTok has 654 million and #FragranceTikTok has 1.3 billion.
According to the 2022 Fragrance Consumer Report from The NPD Group, TikTok accounted for 45% of social media-driven fragrance purchases in the U.S., an increase of 15 points compared to 2021.
Even though online fragrance shoppers are unable to smell the perfumes firsthand, they are able to get an overall feel for how a perfume smells and who it may be suited for. Usually, that’s based on the influencer’s description of details like the fragrance’s notes and scent longevity. A few key influencers within the fragrance sphere of TikTok include Funmi Monet (@ funmimonet; 366,400 followers), Maiya Nicole of @blackgirlssmellgood (141,000 followers), and @Kudzi Chikumbu, who is the global head of creator marketing at TikTok and also known as @sircandleman (193,000 followers).
TikTok has become a wealthy source of information that allows consumers to discover new brands outside of the heritage brands traditionally advertised via billboards in Times Square or dramatic television ads.
According to Brianna Arps, founder of Moodeaux, the first Black-owned fragrance brand sold at Credo Beauty, “Gen Zers are fed up with an ad of this half-naked guy running around on the beach. It’s like, ‘What does it even mean? What does that tell me about this scent?’”
Su min Park and Wonny Lee, founders of South Korean-inspired fragrance brand Elorea, also believe that the modern fragrance consumer appreciates a more authentic approach in brand messaging and is simply not as strongly tied to the concept of a “signature fragrance” as previous generations.
“[Fragrance consumers] want to find something that is more personable than something already out in the market that reminds them of their mom’s perfume. What’s good about smaller brands is that we listen, we’re adaptable, and we’re able to introduce new things if we hear feedback from our customers,” said Park.
Lee added, “Trend-wise, the younger consumer wants variety — different fragrances for different times. … The older generation wanted a signature scent. I think it’s because of the prevalence of social media and more information.”
The 2022 Gen Z State of Beauty Report released by Gen Z-centered influencer incubator and content production company Kyra showed that over 60% of Gen-Z consumers own over three fragrances and 16% own six to nine fragrances. Versus sticking to one signature scent, the Gen-Z consumer would rather build a fragrance wardrobe.
Another major factor in the rise of BIPOC-founded fragrances is the overall rise of BIPOC-founded beauty brands, especially Black-founded brands, post major political and social events like the rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement of 2020. In addition, to incentivizing the need for social justice reforms, the BLM movement also led to the rise of “buying black,” or Black American citizens specifically purchasing from and supporting Black-owned businesses.
In a report released by the consumer market research company Insider Intelligence, six in 10 Black consumers, approximately one-third of Americans, are likely to pratronize Black-owned businesses. That’s especially notable considering that, from 2021-2026, Black consumers’ spending power is expected to surge over 25%, outpacing the spending power of white consumers by about four points.
Elle N., the founder of blackperfumers.com, an online resource guide for educating and promoting Black perfumers in the fragrance industry, said, “This generation is open to trying new things, experimenting and exploring. The [increased] interest in Black-owned fragrances brands is that it’s a response to what came to attention in 2020. Perfumery combines so many intersections between art, history, science and heritage, and Black people have always been involved in fragrance, from ancient Egypt to the present. The products we put on our skin, our body butters and oils, our hair products, our perfumes — we are fragranced from head to toe. And there is now a desire [among Black people] to not only be consumers, but also to engage more deeply in fragrance creation and production.”
According to The NPD Group, over 85% of Black and Hispanic consumers wear perfume and other fragrance products, in comparison to 78% of the total U.S. population. A study released by NielsenIQ in February 2023 revealed that 2022 omnichannel fragrance sales by Black consumers in the U.S. increased to $1.5 billion, marking a 32% boost in volume sales compared to the same period in 2021.
Since 2020, there have been several social initiatives in place that have led to the rise of BIPOC-owned and -founded fragrances, including the 15 Percent Pledge, created by Aurora James in 2020. In making the Pledge, retailers agree to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. There’s also been The Fragrance Foundation’s (TFF) launch of the #FragranceForwardTFF initiative, in October 2021. At the center of the initiative is the first-ever fragrance diversity scholarship program at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), providing $100,000 annually to undergrad and graduate students. TFF also launched a fragrance career development workshop series at HBCUs and similar minority-serving organizations across the U.S.
An additional example is the Sephora Accelerate, which was originally launched in 2016. The brand incubation program provides a six-month curriculum with mentorship, merchandising support and grants. The 2023 founders in the program include Brianna Arps, founder of fragrance brand Moodeaux and a grant initiative program for Black perfumers dubbed Black in Fragrance. There was also Malaika Jones, Tai Beauchamp and Nia Jones of Brown Girl Jane.