Meet Beth Nonte Russell, Founder of Potentia, a fragrance house that focuses on achieving your highest potential through aromas. Read her riveting story of how the psychological theorists Carl Jung and Abraham Maslow influence her ethos and how she finds solace on her alpaca farm in Virginia.
Q: From being a clinical psychologist to starting a fragrance business, how are they different and how are they the same?
I view my fragrance business, Potentia, as a way to encourage and support people in reaching for their highest potential in all areas of life; and for me, that was exactly the goal of therapy as well. As a psychologist, the main tool a therapist has at her disposal is ‘talk’. Most times, that just doesn’t go far enough in reaching underlying dimensions of experience that are impacting people on a daily basis. I believe that Potentia can speak to people about their lives in a new way, using some of the language of psychology but moving beyond that traditional talk therapy mode.
Q: What was the hardest part about starting your business? What obstacles did you face and how did you conquer them?
Creating a brand, products and business structure from scratch is not an easy thing to do. We started with just a tiny kernel of an idea…’what if a perfume could help you reach your highest potential?’ We had to hone in on what exactly that meant; how do we talk about that, what language will we use? There was no template or example for what we were envisioning. Then, how do we create fragrances that capture this process? And then, what do the products look like?
And on and on; the whole process has been like trying to read Braille with gloves on! The development phase was very long and drawn out because we felt such a responsibility to get this right; we took our time, which was frustrating for some involved. Layer over all that the business aspects of this endeavor….financials, long term strategy, distribution…none of which is my expertise. All along I took things at my own pace and tried to figure it out step by step. I’m a ‘big picture’ person, but in this case, it was too overwhelming to think about this project from that perspective. I took it one thing at a time.
Q: How have the theorists in psychology, like Jung and Maslow, influenced how you see aromas and their influence over our moods and behaviors? The work of Abraham Maslow was highly influential in my work on the Potentia concept, because of his theories on self-actualization and identifying personal growth as a human need, which deeply resonates with me. Though he didn’t speak about the senses and their role in this, I made the link as I explored my own personal understanding of life experiences.
Carl Jung was influential in that he made the leap beyond cognitive psychology and into the realm of the collective unconscious, where symbols and archetypes which influence us all are accessed. I believe that aromas and scent also act very much like a ‘collective’ experience, a shared space that is very powerful, yet hard to articulate. We also brought symbols into our branding for Potentia as a way to capture their subconscious power.
Q: Your philosophy is that aromas can help us reach your highest potential. Can you tell us more about that?
Because of the unparalleled power of our olfactive sense, it seemed to me to be highly underutilized as a strategic tool in affecting mood and cognition. Ordinarily, we allow the linkage between scent, memory and emotion to happen randomly; what Potentia is encouraging is proactively using scent to act as a trigger when linked to a positive intention. It also can be used to stimulate a deeper and deeper awareness of our thoughts and emotions, which leads to self-understanding. Self understanding is the basis for expanding potential in all areas of life.
Q: You raise alpacas on your farm in Virginia. So cool! How did that come to be?
We found a beautiful piece of property in 2014 and set about renovating some historic buildings on the site. At first, it wasn’t our intention to create a working farm, but I happened to see an ad for a farm that produced alpaca products. I was captivated by the beauty of these creatures and instantly could envision them on our new property. My daughter and I visited an alpaca farm in Colorado, fell in love with them and decided to take the plunge. We now have 26 alpacas on our farm! It has been an absolute joy to work with and learn about these animals; I feel blessed and privileged to have this experience.
Q: Do you remember the first perfume/cologne you wore? How old were you? Tell us about it!
The first perfume I truly loved was Jovan Musk, from way back in the ‘70’s. I must have been 11 or 12 years old when I found it, at the local Hook’s drug store. I would ride my bike there and spend hours in the corner where they had all the fragrances, soaps and lotions. Jovan musk was warm, comforting and classic, not ‘perfumey’ or overpowering. I didn’t know anything about perfume at the time, but I was obsessed with finding the ‘perfect’ scent for me….I’m still looking!
Q: What is next for you and your brand?
We are working on three additional collections that will round out the Potentia experience. Cognitas, our first collection, will be joined by Naturias, Amoratas and Divinitas. The Potentia fragrance collection will offer 20 scents that encompass the entirety of the human experience.
We are also focused on building a community of people who share a commitment to honoring a meaningful, deep, growth-focused journey through life. We don’t think of Potentia as simply a fragrance collection; it is a tool for life navigation, for self- care, for personal growth. We see Potentia as evolving into a platform for our customers to curate, share and enhance an inner perspective that is moving toward wholeness. Social media initiatives, podcasts, online tutorials, and in-person special events will all play a role in this.
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