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Conversations with Bayyana Davis of IFF and @LipScents

by BlackPerfumers.com ~ March 2022

     Bayyana Davis, is the Category Marketing Lead at IFF based out of New Jersey. IFF is a respected force in the flavors and fragrance industry and although located in the United States, the work done at IFF by people like Bayyana Davis, who works in beverages, has global reach---influencing trends, consumer satisfaction, and brand sustainability.  

     In the beverages division of Flavors, Bayyana brings her background in business and marketing to work early in the process with the customer where she analyzes trends such as botanicals, florals, and herbs---helping customers find what they want to know and how to apply this information in the creation of new products or enhance ones that already exist. 

    

     In a process that involves developing reports and presentations, collaborating with a technical team to build concepts, flavor samples, and testing---the stages to development for flavors isn’t so different than how fragrance companies produce scents---although productions for beverages are created much faster.

     In the past seven years at IFF, Bayyana has been fortunate to grow in her career through multiple promotions and as a leader within their Black Excellence colleague community.    

    

     Recently, Bayyana’s appreciation and exploration of fragrance and creating moods, has also led her to creating @LipScents, a unique online experience where she pairs her favorite lipsticks with her favorite perfumes.

BP: Bayyana, can you share a bit of your interest in fragrance and perfumery? 

Bayyana: Well, I think I’ve always loved fragrance. I have memories like many people of what their parents used. My mom was a big fan of White Linen and Bijan. There were a few others as I got older, but if I smell those, I will immediately think of her. I think that alone is fascinating. I really got into wearing perfumes in the early 90s. I remember I was a big fan of CK OneNew West, SunflowersGap Dream and Gap Heaven, and those damn Victoria Secret scents. It was crazy like if you wore Pear Glace that told something about your personality vs. a Strawberries and Champagne person. Then there were several years where I was bored with perfume---like nothing was doing it for me. 

    Then, in the early 2000s I remember getting Sexy Graffiti from Escada and for whatever reason it reignited my love for scents. And from then onward, I was all about having signature scents. 

     

     At some point, my husband and I were always trying to find something fun to do. We found a little perfume making shop in NYC where we went and made our first perfumes. I loved the idea of creating something new. From then, I have gone to various perfume making shops in my travels and have made a number of scents. 

     What I started to notice is that there are certain fragrance notes that are always present in anything I make or like from the store. I tend to like scents that feel like closeness or comfort to me. I find I’m drawn to gourmands. Fruity and warm florals. Ambers. Most of the things I like have vanilla, caramel, violet, neroli/orange blossom, sandalwood, strawberry, jasmine, peony---which made me start down a path asking--- well, why are those always present? Why are they the most appealing to me?

BP: Bayyana, your role at IFF brings to my mind the life of the writer in the publishing process. Coming up with concepts for clients—it’s storytelling in a way. How do you get yourself mentally ready for this process? And then, able to do it again and again? 

Bayyana: Sometimes it’s just a quick chat with friends and family that we find new ways of thinking and new ways to bring something to the table. And really for me, flavors and fragrances go hand in hand. 

     Often you smell something, before you taste it. To me, they’re both key to really preserving memory. It’s all about refining your own personal senses, and tying that to storytelling. 

     

     Start by writing down what you’re tasting and smelling. What elements call to you? How does it make you feel? Where does it transport you? What does it remind you of? What colors do you see? And really start to make those connections for yourself. Try to do some blind smelling and tasting, as our eyes can influence our thoughts---and then building that over time helps to create these different stories and concepts over and over again.

BP: Your @LipScents is also a type of story. Sort of like flash fiction. Can you tell us the moment that inspired you to start? Were you wearing a favorite perfume and had the idea? Or did it start when you were picking out a lipstick?

Bayyana: I wish that’s what happened---that’s a better story. As with many of us, my interests on social media are so divergent. I go from Harry Potter nerd-dom, cocktails, desserts, books, travel wanderlust, to fragrance and beauty. 

     I wanted to join the fragrance community, but I didn’t know how. So, I put my marketing hat on and immediately thought---ok---what could I do that would be different? And I realized how much I love both fragrance and makeup and how I could pair them together. 

    

      I love a killer lipstick and what that means for me. Especially when you’re having days where you’re not feeling too good, but the right lipstick and the right scent will really put you in a different mind frame. I like to highlight all sorts of brands. Mass, niche, luxury, up and comers. Brands that we may not have access to from different parts of the world.  

     One of the best things that’s come out of this experience and going down this path, is learning how much is really happening in the independent space. So many creators, so many minorities, so much talent. It’s really breaking down some of the stereotypes that I see in the marketplace and very eye opening.

BP: With your rich marketing background, what advice would you give to up-and-coming Black perfume brands on how to deliver compelling, authentic product stories to reach a particular audience? 

     To be more specific, in the ocean of fragrances, the community of Black perfumers could be considered small---technically it is, but it’s also global and growing at a rapid rate. And there’s a lot of diversity---none are exactly the same, which is a good thing. Everyone has their unique angle and spin. So, I’m curious---what advice would you give to an up-and-coming perfume brand by a Black perfumer in this moment?

Bayyana: So, having a clear understanding of the audience you’re intending to reach can bring tremendous value to the brand. The goal of having a brand and expansion is to bring in new audience members. But who is your core?

      Your brand and messaging are consumers first interaction and gateway in learning more about the company. So simple things like your logos, your bottle design---need to have a way to break through the clutter that many consumers see. Similar to wine, people will pick up a bottle based off of the packaging before even getting a chance to taste or smell it. 

     Regarding Black cultural significance, we really come from oral traditions in storytelling. A rich history and legacy that many have lost due to it not being written down. But, in our oral storytelling it’s so full of imagery, rhythm, and movement that draws people in. Makes them want to hear more but also memorize it. Bringing this unique approach to how we communicate with our audience adds to a level of authenticity that is deeply rooted and intrinsically linked to the Black diaspora. 

    So, one of the things we’ve seen out of the Black Lives Matter movement is a lot of stores having more Black brands on their shelves. But what you notice, is that those brands are makeup, hair care, body care, and food products, like seasonings, sauces. But where’s perfume in that? Where is scent in that besides candles? It took a while, but now we are finally starting to see some Black owned fragrance companies launching in retail and I’m excited to see the brands get exposure, grow, and flourish. However, we still have a long way to go.  

BP: In thinking about cultural gems that we can bring to product, and coming from your experience with beverages, do you see any trends reflecting Black cuisine, such as with spices, particular dishes or desserts, herbals or fruits? Are there any particular flavors you’d like to see that aren’t currently popular or maybe even known?

Bayyana:  Absolutely! For a recent example, when has there ever been a shortage for Oxtails? – thanks TikTok. 

     In America, the notion of Black cuisine is not new but may be called different things regionally from Soul Food or Southern Cuisines like Creole and Cajun. The Netflix docuseries High on the Hog did an outstanding job tracing Black cuisine to roots in West Africa through the slave trade and in pockets throughout the US. If you have never watched, I highly recommend it. Similar to the oral tradition of storytelling, Black cooking also mirrors a watch and learn method.   

     

     Most things that people know how to cook you watched someone else in the kitchen make over and over. Those weren’t recipes written down. There are a lot of amazing chefs who were self-taught, while others have gone to prestigious culinary institutions around the world. Historically, many of the dishes were heavy, comfort foods. Heavily seasoned to mask the quality of meats and ingredients. However, now there are so many new techniques and healthy alternatives, but still sticking to having those elements of authenticity. 

     

     There are so many staple dishes like macaroni and cheese, peach cobbler, fried catfish, and sweet potato pies that can be found from birthday parties, Thanksgiving, and cookouts. 

     Today we are seeing more West African and Caribbean cuisines permeating menus out here in the US. With that comes more tropical fruits like Guava, and Plantains to spices and florals like Hibiscus or Sorrel, Allspice, Clove, Ginger, Mint, Tiger Nut, and the Kola Nut. Which actually originated in West Africa and arrived in America via West African slaves, who used them to make stale water drinkable on the long voyage across the Atlantic. 

    The kola nut went on to become a key ingredient in---you guessed it---Coca-Cola. Everything’s connected.

     

     I’m excited to see that we are moving beyond Jerk and Curry being the only things people think of for the Caribbean and we’re getting other types of stews and pepper pots. We’re also seeing more West African dishes like Jollof Rice, Egusi Soup, and Yassa--a Senegalese staple. Also, other beverages like palm wine, Bissap (hibiscus tea), Assana (made from fermented corn and caramelized sugar). So, it’s happening and really exciting. 

BP: Bayyana, in the past decade with fragrance---we’ve really seen consumers seeking transparency from manufacturers. New fragrances are marketing natural, wholistic, sustainable, organic, fair trade, and clean products. Do you think these trends have carried over from the flavors industry, or do you think this is where the fragrance industry was already headed?


Bayyana: I think this was where the fragrance industry was already headed. The flavor and fragrance industries are constantly influencing each other and it’s been amazing to see. I think the most recognizable influence was with the birth of the gourmand category for fragrance. Which is really the family of edible notes or foodie fragrances like honey, vanilla, chocolate, and candy which began back in 1992. 

      In general, consumers are demanding and expecting more from the companies they are giving their money to. They want quality products and experiences, but are also really interested in the way companies are structured. Their ethical practices, their diversity of employees, their board, their CEO’s, and if a company’s values align with a consumer’s personal values. I think the industry is moving to where consumers are as well. Everything’s kind of running parallel together.

BP: In a similar vein, thinking of consumer expectations, transparency, and branding trends, we often see fruit snacks with both artificial and natural ingredients, while some brands that once were completely artificial now have all natural options. What are your thoughts on this in relation to marketing? Are these brands losing audiences or maintaining them? I’m thinking of when the typical types of fragrances available in predominately Black neighborhoods by retailers were those brightly colored, extra sweet scents from the flea market or gas station and when it was a big conversation within the Black community whether you had natural hair or a relaxer or a curl and when dreadlocks were considered unprofessional. How can Black perfumers prevent dogmatism with these trends and judgement? In your opinion, is there room for both natural and synthetic fragrance products to exist, as there is in the flavors market? Or should there be a hard line?

Bayyana: Okay that was like ten questions [laughing].

BP: [laughing] I know!

Bayyana: To answer the first part about relation to marketing, more than anything else, there is just overall product saturation. There are so many choices of what to buy in any food and beverage category. How do you find new ways to stand out in the crowd?

      And now with so many people shopping online for everything---how do you break through the clutter of people scrolling past your products?

      

     The same can be said for the fragrance industry. No one wants to smell like the next person. Everyone is always on the hunt for their new signature scent. That kind of marketing will always sort of be there. 

     I think the challenge for many Black professionals in general, in the flavor and fragrance industry, is really just getting in the door. 

     For many years, we have been boxed out of an industry that we have tremendous buying power---especially on the finished product. Many of the larger companies are aware of the challenges and are looking to fill more positions with Black talent here in the US and overseas which has been great to see over the past few years, but we have a long way to go. It’s also important to lean in on those sights and smells of predominately Black communities and be a voice at the table in these companies to propose new ways to elevate and celebrate these nuances. 

    

      In terms of having both natural and synthetic fragrances, there is absolutely room for both. Given certain ingredients exorbitant costs due to failed crops, inflation, and limited sourcing, natural fragrances are going to be a precious commodity. The amounts of roses needed to make an ounce of liquid is insane. I’m surely a proponent of synthetic flavors and fragrances as it lets us really use our imagination to push the boundaries and limits of where scent can go. There are spaces for all; and I think it really ties back to the storytelling. Who’s driving the narrative that’s being pushed forward?

BP: Bayyana, you have seen a lot of professional success during your time at IFF, but do you recall any barriers of entry for Black people within these industries of flavors and perfumes? Can you share any insights---as to maybe what’s changed?

Bayyana: Well, I think there’s more awareness. So, depending on the path you were taking---the flavors or fragrance side---a lot of people who had those career paths were STEM students, chemists, biologists, or they’re second or third generation in this career path, in that they’ve always known about it.  

     Then someone like myself---I’m based in New Jersey, I had no idea that so many of the headquarters of the flavors side of the industry are here in New Jersey. It’s back to that awareness level. You don’t even know it’s happening, but it’s around you. Now we’re seeing more businesses open to asking how they can tap into this community of talent, because they exist. 

     They may not have gone to a professional perfumery school, but this doesn’t mean a company can’t take them on. 

BP: Do you have any ideas on how perfumers might link what they do with Black students and STEM education?

Bayyana: Yes. Outreach to schools and career days, let them know this is a whole other path they can take. Had I heard of something like this as a kid I would have jumped on it a long time ago. But I just didn’t know it existed. 

     There can be a lot more being done at the elementary school level, especially the middle school level---to bring awareness to kids that this is a whole pathway that you can take. 

     

     It’s important to have more diversity in these spaces, so we get unique experiences, and we’re getting different profiles for what we smell, since a lot of it is from a European approach. That’s what many perfumers have been inspired by. I would love to have a perfumer that was from Africa and from other places who ties into things that intrinsically I don’t know---but are deep in my roots---so when I smell it, I don’t know why I’m connected to it, but I am. 

     

      You don’t get that unless you’re bringing in perfumers from diverse backgrounds, bringing new experiences out for people to have.


BP: Thanks so much for your wealth of information and perspective, Bayyana. Do you have any upcoming plans for @LipScents?

Bayyana: Not at the time being. But who knows? I meet all sorts of amazing people all the time through it, and I’m on a path to see where it goes. 

BP: Thank you so much Bayyana for your time! I’m looking forward to seeing more from you with @LipScents and your valuable work with IFF!

Learn more about @LipScents

Learn more about IFF at IFF.com