Interview with Sophia Fannon-Howell, founder of Deco London

Find out how Sophia Fannon-Howell blended her love of history, cosmetics formulation and perfumery to create Deco London, exclusive, luxury fragrances for men and for women that evoke a sentimental nostalgia in a modern world.

What’s your career background?

I obtained a PhD in Geology from Manchester University and started work in the oil and gas industry in 1997. I was supposed to be a Geologist, but the downturn in the industry meant there were no jobs, so I had to think quickly and do something else. I went into oil and gas data management, which was very ‘uncool’ at the time.

How did your career change after having children?

When I had children, I was working full-time for an oil industry services company. I didn’t want to work five days a week with a young baby. They offered three days per week with my salary pro-rata down, but I knew that I would still be expected to do the same job, but for far less money, so I left.

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I went back to work onsite for oil and gas companies as a consultant under contract. That way, I was in control of the number of days I worked and the pay was far better.

Where did the idea for Deco London come from?

The idea for Deco London evolved over a 10-year period. Originally, I wanted to blend my love of history, fragrance and therapeutic essential oils and create a range of history-inspired beauty products, harking back to the days of glamour and the ‘dressing table’.

I had become very interested in cosmetics formulation and perfumery so I created a natural product range with beautiful historically-inspired fragrance. However, I was using wide range of high quality natural ingredients and they were very expensive to manufacture.

Cosmetics have a relatively short shelf life and the natural product market is a very busy space, so I struggled to create a feasible business plan.

I thought about how I could take the concept and change it slightly, creating vintage-inspired fragrances instead of skincare. It kept the concept and the vision and used my love of high quality essential oils and my passion for perfumes. Until that point I had never dreamed I could create a perfume range.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I had to bring in the experts to help me. I worked with professional perfumers to perfect the fragrances and I found a manufacturer who was able to work with me and do small product runs so I wasn’t carrying too much financial risk.

What’s your USP?

Deco London represents a lifestyle that is inspired by London during the Art Deco era. We use high quality natural ingredients that are sustainable and traceable from ‘seed to scent’ and our products are made and manufactured in Britain.

Who’s your target audience?

Men and Women aged 25-55 who have a passion for British nostalgia

How do you spread the word about what you do?

We target the national press and luxury titles and we have an active social media campaign across Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Getting into the national press always boosts sales and brand profile, but that is quite hard to do as we are still a small brand and we are up against the big brands with their large advertising budgets. Therefore, we are constantly trying different things.

This year we are exhibiting at Goodwood Revival, which is very exciting as it is attended by 150,000 people and it will help us understand our target audience better.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Negativity from others and realising that not everyone will like me or what I have created.

And your proudest moment so far?

Oh, there are so many! Obviously, getting into the national press is always a proud moment, but to be honest I am still thrilled every time someone buys one of my perfumes from my website. I feel so honoured and proud.

Why is work so important to you?

I love to make a difference – as a consultant I enjoy bringing positive change to companies. As a brand owner, I love to think my product and brand is making people happy.

Who inspires you?

In the large companies in which I work, I am constantly inspired by all women who are taking the lead, who are unafraid to stand up and make their mark in a workplace traditionally dominated by men.

I am also inspired by small business owners who are doing ‘their’ thing and taking a risk to follow their dream.

How do you balance your business with your family?

Sometimes with difficulty. I bring in help when I need it and admit when I can’t do it all on my own.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Make sure you have enough cash flow to support the business through the early years.
  2. Bring in the experts to help you.
  3. Don’t listen to the ‘haters’.

You can find out more about Deco London on their website.