Laurie Arbuthnot’s life-long dream came true when she opened Wild Coast Perfumery in Cowichan Bay in 2017.
Wild Coast Perfumery, the only business of its kind on the Island outside Victoria, is an artisan perfumery that prides itself on making totally natural, plant-based perfumes without using synthetic and chemical-based ingredients or animal products, which Arbuthnot refers to as the “dark side” of the industry.
Arbuthnot grew up on Vancouver Island, and was involved with running a number of other businesses over the years, including the Antique Barn in Chemainus and a boutique fishing lodge.
She said she visited a perfume shop while on a trip to Italy in 1988, and the experience changed her life.
“It was so charming and wonderful and I started to develop big dreams to open my own shop, but you had to speak French because the only perfume school at the time was in France,” Arbuthnot said.
“The idea rattled around in my head until the mid-1990s when I did an online course on perfumes from Thailand. I completed the program, but I still didn’t do anything with the knowledge I gained.”
Arbuthnot said she began studying what others in the industry were doing, and took further classes on the subject in San Francisco before finally finding an ocean-front location in Cowichan Bay and opening Wild Coast Perfumery three years ago.
“I felt it was time to finally move forward with my dream after 30 years,” she said. “My family was so sick of me talking about it over such a long time that I finally had to do it.”
Arbuthnot said the business is currently producing 12 fragrances, with such familiar names as Pender Island eau de parfum and Cowichan Rose eau de parfum, and is currently working on new lines and collaborations.
The store’s website said that the making of each perfume involves traditionally blending pure plant-based, precious essential oils and wild harvested tinctures, including needles, leaves, flowers, lichen, fungi and moss from local forests.
“Our botanical perfumes will evoke a sense of Island calm that is inspired by the ancient rain forests, mountains and the Salish Sea that surrounds us,” the website says.
Arbuthnot said each of her perfumes has between 25 and 35 ingredients, with at least one being local, including cottonwood, cedar and Douglas fir.
“Most of the other ingredients are not indigenous and don’t grow here, like citrus, or there isn’t enough grown locally to cover our needs, like rose petals,” she said.
“All the ingredients are natural and plant-based, and we list them online on our website. People with allergies to some chemicals in other perfumes don’t have to worry about that with our products, unless they have allergies to specific plants. We make the perfumes in small batches and it takes four to six weeks to age and allow the ingredients time to melt and blend together.”
Arbuthnot said Wild Coast Perfumery’s sales are generally split three ways between online, personal sales at the shop and the other shops and spas that use and sell her perfumes.
She said that when she first opened the shop, she believed most of her business would come from tourists, but she was pleasantly surprised that she has huge support from the local community, other parts of the Island as well as the Lower Mainland.
Arbuthnot said she does have expansion plans for Wild Coast Perfumery, but it will likely be centred on online sales at this time.
“We do need more space, but there’s not much more room for expansion at the store, so I’m looking at reconfiguring it,” she said.
“I also plan to increase my staff by two this year, plus someone who will help in marketing and would be the shop’s creative director. I’m living my dream and my thanks go out to the people of Cowichan Bay who have been so supportive of me since I opened the store.”