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Michelle Feeney Chats about her Iconic Brand History Before Founding Floral Street

This month, in honour of International Womens Day, Cohorted are championing leading #FemaleFounders in the industry. Throughout the month of March, we are bringing you exclusive content from the leading ladies themselves.

 

Our female founders series will discuss how brands were founded, the personal journeys of these inspirational women and sharing advice that will empower younger woman on their career paths.

Next in our #FemaleFounders series is Michelle Feeney, an industry expert for 30+ years who’s developed brands including St Tropez, Estée Lauder Companies, La Mer and MAC Cosmetics before founding Floral Street to change the fragrance industry.

Don’t worry, we wouldn’t just tease you because featured in our March FemaleFounders Beauty Box is the Floral Street Chypre Sublime scent; a scent for the sultry, exotic, mesmerising and captivating. 

1. Given that you’ve played a part in the development of so many iconic brands, which was your favourite to work for and why? 

During my thirty plus years in the Beauty industry, I have transformed several brands by communicating their story in an entirely new way to grow iconic cult products. Including St Tropez which I turned into a market leader and prestige global brand, by creating a $25m business in the USA and remaining committed to be socially responsible by partnering with The Princes Trust. Working for the Estée Lauder Companies in New York, I grew Crème de la Mer into an overnight success at the then unprecedented price point of $150 creating the first beauty ‘wait-list’. 

However, my proudest moment was when this business success secured me the position of Vice President, Global Communications of MAC Cosmetics. I was part of the senior management team that led its global growth to become the world’s biggest make-up brand. Launching into 40 countries, we grew it into a Billion-dollar brand! I created their Senior Artist program, introduced MAC Cosmetics backstage at fashion weeks around the world and took a lead role in the legendary MAC Aids Fund. It was also then that I realised that the beauty community could create broader social awareness and change. 

I believe that it’s down to ‘preparation meets opportunity’ and being brave enough to do things differently and to ‘take the leap’.

2. How does it feel to be labelled a ‘beauty powerhouse’ and what has been your pinch me career moment? 

I’m so proud to be labelled a ‘beauty powerhouse’! I have worked my way up from being an unpaid intern to a Vice President in the largest Beauty company in the world. Some might say I’ve been lucky, but I believe that it’s down to ‘preparation meets opportunity’ and being brave enough to do things differently and to ‘take the leap’. 

I’ve had many ‘pinch me’ moments in my career, but the one which resonates the most was when MAC presented a cheque to Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, to kick start their aids initiative in Africa. I had also signed Mary J Blige to the MAC aids fund, and she performed a Stevie Wonder song with just a pianist in the Assembly Hall at the UN. I felt as though I’d worked all my life to achieve that moment. It proved to me that a lipstick can really help save a life.

   

3. It’s no argument that you’ve had an extremely successful career – what do you think motivates you and drives your success? 

I am definitely not motivated by money, I am driven by passion and seeing my ideas put into action, it’s as simple as that. When you see things differently it can often be hard to realise those opportunities, but you can by being a challenger in life and using your position and power to do good things. When I founded my sustainable Floral Street brand, a lot of people said I was crazy, but I knew the fragrance world needed changing. Because of my lifelong commitment to Beauty people do listen and change is happening. Also I am really motivated to be a role model to my family and children and hopefully also inspire others to step into the Beauty Industry and do things differently.

We are a transparent, responsible brand, from the ingredients right through to the finished product. We are open about our practices and I believe that if you want consumers in the future you need to support the future of our planet.

4. How have you found the contrast between working for a global company vs. founding your own brand at Floral Street? 

The positive about being a Founder is that you don’t have to answer to anyone but then the negative can also be that you don’t have anyone to answer to!  There is no one to lean on to realise your vision! I’m focused on this but now I’m also building and guiding the structure company. Although being a Founder can be liberating you also have a huge responsibility, ‘giving’ to you employees and worrying about their security and happiness.  Owning my own company, however, does enable me to be agile and in control. It gives me the ability to choose the direction of my business and to respond quickly to the evolving marketplace and modern consumer demands. 

When you have a great idea in a large, global company you generally get it funded but it can be quite challenging supporting innovative ideas on a smaller brand. When we were growing the MAC business internationally, we had to morph and change but being part of a large organisation meant there was the ‘know how’ and funding to tap into.  However, being a founder short cuts me in some ways as I now know what not to do and can rapidly reassess to move on; this is not always possible in a big corporation. 

Large companies can often be like big ships that take time to turn and on important issues like sustainability, that’s not good enough.  With FLORAL STREET, I wanted to drive change in the fragrance industry, creating an ethical brand with eco-responsibility at its core. When you build a business being ethical does mean you can’t go as fast potentially but we focus on that at every stage. Brands are almost designed to be ‘more is more’, which is the old-fashioned model, that a lot of the large global companies build their beauty businesses on. My ethics are ‘less is more’, which is the modern way. What is incredible, is that I am still learning new things every day, and this keeps me motivated.  

  

5. What made you choose to launch a fragrance brand as opposed to cosmetics etc.? 

After successfully leading the global growth of some of the biggest beauty brands in the world, I took a step back and had a gap year aged 51.  I decided that if I was coming back into the industry, I wanted the products I created to have meaning and to be different. I had an uncompromising determination to create a business which excels in its field and which has a core belief in the importance of corporate social responsibility. 

I looked at the fragrance industry and noticed it hadn’t evolved in the same way that other beauty categories had. MAC, for example, makes make-up artistry a career and via its experts helps the consumer to be their own artist.  I realised no one had done that in fragrance. I saw a gap in the market for a British, brand that was modern, delivering fine fragrance in a sustainable and uniquely engaging way and all at an affordable price. 

Over my time in the beauty business, I have developed a knowledge of what is a great product, so I set out to help individuals appreciate and understand scent, what they are smelling and buying and where it originates from.  I realised in our modern society you can become connoisseurs of everything from wine through to chocolate, so I wanted to do the same for perfume.  Our FLORAL STREET perfumes are now multi award winning and loved and enjoyed by modern consumers globally.” 

  

6. Talk us through the sustainable focus within Floral Street and why this is important to you personally? 

When I first envisaged FLORAL STREET, I honestly doubted whether I should bring more product into our world. I observed the way the beauty industry was creating so much landfill and I felt our world had enough beauty stuff and far too much packaging! But then I decided I would make my brand a beacon for change. I felt it was an opportunity to make a statement, to do things differently in fragrance and put eco-responsibility at our heart. 

Being sustainable is a journey and we face new challenges every day, but we have proven that you can have fine fragrance, beautiful packaging, and long-lasting scents, all created in a considered way. We are a transparent, responsible brand, from the ingredients right through to the finished product. We are open about our practices and I believe that if you want consumers in the future you need to support the future of our planet.   

As a conscious company, we now apply 5 R’s to every aspect of our business including ‘rethink’ alongside reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle. We think about our total ‘package’ and how our fragrance is sold to the consumer.  We reduce fragrance usage by having a high 20% concentration of oil in our perfumes. Our packaging is recyclable, our glass candle pots are reusable, and we offer a fragrance refill service in our Covent Garden, London store. Our eco-hero pulp fragrance box can be repurposed to store keep sakes or even grow seeds in. It’s also 100% biodegradable so if it does end up in landfill, it will leave no trace!   

We are leading in responsible scent, looking at the whole sustainable cycle so that everything we do is as good for the environment at possible.  What we do well is educate the consumer, so they know exactly what they are buying, and we partner with those who share our ethos and principals. 

Our fragrance manufacturer, Robertet, are world leaders in sustainable, natural raw materials all traceable to source. They have an unparalleled approach to ethical practices including how they support the communities that are growing ingredients through to the actual plant manufacturing processes. However natural isn’t always the most sustainable so they also create nature identical alternatives for our fine fragrances. These can actually be more eco-friendly because certain crops such as rosewood are endangered and some perfumery ingredients such as sandalwood are overharvested.  Their CSR has recently won them a top 100 ranking of the most responsible French companies and we are proud to be supporting that.” 

As individuals, consumers should always delve into a product or the company to ensure they have the correct accreditation and can back-up what they say! We are proud at FLORAL STREET to have gained an international accreditation from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), for being vegan and cruelty free which enables us to use their globally recognised bunny logo.  The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) symbol on our packaging confirms that the paperboard we purchase is sourced from responsibly managed forests. Also, we are able to display the World Land Trust logo, due to our carbon balance which has helped to protect over 4,000m² of critically threatened rain forest. As a conscious company, we are making it easier for consumers to know what we stand for. 

7. Could you tell us more about your Scent School and how this came into play alongside the brand? 

My vision has always been to help people become connoisseurs of scent, in a fun, educational and responsible way. We are a dynamic brand based around individual lifestyles and being inspired to choose a fragrance centred around the way you feel each day. In this enlightened age of empowerment, we focus on motivating and inspirational words and engaging in an educational way with visual communication to connect scents and moods. Scent School is a modern fragrance concept centred around an engaging and interactive voyage of perfume discovery.   

We launched Scent School initially as an instore experience, where consumers are taken on a scented journey by our expert Floralistas to realising their favourite scents. But right from the beginning I was thinking digitally so now we have launched Scentschool™ in a Box. This has enabled us to engage with a much wider audience who are curious and want to know about the art of scent, sustainable ingredients, fun fragrance facts and inspirational storytelling. 

With the current trend for ‘insperiences‘ and people increasing seeking out vegan and sustainable products it has proved to be the perfect time to launch. It gives the opportunity to experience our interactive and educational scent immersion with smells and ingredients from the comfort of your own home. What’s wonderful about this launch is that at only £24 it is the perfect gift and can bring together friends and family from different locations or countries in a shared appreciation of sustainable perfumes.   It is also a great way to ‘try before you buy’. Our Discovery Set, with eight award winning mini sprays is included in the Box and allows you to play around and sample a whole collection of fragrances before spending money on a full-size perfume.   

   

8. Can you remember your first ever fragrance/scent? 

My first scent memory was when I was about three, smelling gardenias in my great grandmother’s cottage in Ireland. We used to visit every year, and I was captivated by that scent. When I pick up that particular ingredient now in some of our FLORAL STREET fragrances it instantly takes me back to those happy times. 

I think the first fragrance that inspired me was Charlie in the 1970’s. Not necessarily because of how it smelt but because of the freedom of spirit the TV advertising invoked.  It was revolutionary and showed a confident young woman striding through life, and I wanted to be her! I then fell in love with Anais Anais but this time for the actual fragrance rather than the lifestyle.

  

9. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 

That would be from one of the most successful beauty industry brand builders, Leonard Lauder. He once said, “Just when you are tired of seeing something remember someone, somewhere is seeing it for the first time”.  I keep this in mind constantly as our FLORAL STREET brand continues to evolve and grow globally engaging with modern and curious consumers.    

  

10. Who is your ultimate female inspiration and why? 

There are so many inspirational women in my life and in society at the moment, but I think that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be my ultimate female inspiration. A leading voice for gender equality, women’s interests and civil rights, she was such an inspiring character. I also admired her for overcoming all sorts of hurdles to get to the top in a man’s world. 

Join us in paying tribute to our female trailblazers and head over to the Cohorted Instagram, where you can delve deep into exclusive content and conversation from our founder community.

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