Pinrose Perfume Co-Founder Erika Shumate Explains Why She's Against Signature Scents

Perfume can be tricky.

While you want people to "ooh" and "ahh" every time you walk into a room, you also don't want them doing it for the wrong reasons. What if the scent is too overpowering for people around you? What if you end up disliking it a few hours into your day?

Pinrose—which has quickly become one of our latest go-tos in the world of aromas—is a San Francisco-based line of more than 10 playful and science-based luxury fragrances ($65 per bottle), ranging from citrus and floral notes, to woods and musk. With eye-catching packaging, feminine scents throughout, and stellar reviews at Sephora, it only makes sense we gravitated toward these vegan, cruelty/gluten/phthalate/paraben-free aromas quickly.

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While we've endorsed developing one go-to scent that suits you, Pinrose co-founder Erika Shumate strongly believes in having an array of options. The Yale grad—who created the line with business partner Christine Luby—chatted with Sweety High about the backstory of her brand, how she matches people to scents, why she refuses to wear just one fragrance and how she built a successful small business. Keep reading for Erika's scentsational insight.

Sweety High: How did you come up with the name Pinrose, and what inspired you to start the brand?

Erika Shumate: Pinrose is a word we made up that is a combination of our two favorite fractals: the Penrose and the pinwheel. Since fragrance is both an organic science and an art, we thought fractal images would be ideal representations of our fragrances. The artwork on our packaging exhibits parts of fractal-like patterns. Also, our approach to life and our company aligns with chaos theory. We iterate, take info on the current conditions, and move forward.


SH: How did you come up with your synesthesia quiz that matches people to one of your scents?

ES: Throughout college, I studied the psychology of smell and synesthesia—a neurological condition where colors, shapes, textures, sounds and other sensory preferences are interconnected. We gathered some of my old research, consulted a few leading olfactory scientists, and started collecting data from women on their sensory preferences. In 2013, we collected enough data from over 100 quiz questions that we reverse-engineered an algorithm for seven questions. We've worked on various forms of this test and tested a varied number of quiz outputs.

The way the algorithm works is fairly simple: Each answer a customer gives goes towards an overall score for each fragrance. If you respond "green" to a color question, multiple points are added to our fragrances that "smell green" to synesthetes based on research. At the end, we add up the final scores for each fragrance and show the top ranking fragrances that match the preference set. Our quiz algorithm is now built on over 300,000 responses.


SH: In your opinion, what is the importance of wearing a signature fragrance?

ES: We're trying to bring down the level of commitment that goes along with buying a fragrance. Scent should be something that women can play and experiment with. We're the anti-signature scent. We have so many choices in every aspect of our lives, why do we have that with fragrance? We believe perfume doesn't have to be stuffy or intimidating, and you shouldn't try to limit yourself to one. You should be fickle. You should play and have fun with your fragrance. You're allowed to change your taste depending on the day, season, moment or mood.


SH: Are there any popular perfumes that inspired the Pinrose scents?

ES: We were definitely inspired and look up to other fragrances, but none were direct inspirations.


SH: How did you come up with your intention kits, and what is the story behind their development?

ES: I've always used scents to help me remember things and boost my confidence, from using rose oil to study and take history exams to wearing Secret Genius on big meeting days. Since memory, emotion, and smell are processed in the same area of the brain, this process of pairing specific scents with feelings or memories is very natural. I thought it would be great to create a playful wellness tool that helps people pair positive intentions with fragrances. This way, when they smell the fragrance, they associate it with a positive [mission], like being compassionate, brave or optimistic.

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SH: Because you're in the beauty space, what are some of your go-to beauty products?

ES: Klorane Dry Shampoo, Sunday Riley Good Genes and Marc Jacobs Beauty Highliner gel eye crayon eyeliner.


SH: What's your best advice for anyone trying to start a small business?

ES: It's not easy—perseverance is essential to success; trust your intuition; build a team that'll help you win and don't be afraid to give them ownership and equity as long as there are four-year vesting schedules in place.


(via Pinrose)


Want to know more about the intention scenting kit we mentioned above? Find out about our experience trying it HERE!