natural perfumes, room sprays, candles, massage oils

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Being a natural perfumer in Vietnam

I received last week a phone call from Alain Chevallier who asked me to write an article as a cultural introduction about essential oils in Vietnam. Alain chevallier is organising Lifestyle Vietnam, a handicraft exhibition for traders who want to export Vetnamese handicraft. Dame clemence participated to the event 2 years ago. it was an interesting and rich experience, but we have decided that we are still too small to participate again this year. Alain hevallier is designing a catalogue with some articles as an introduction to vietnamese culture and traditions for the Visitors. He already wrote an article about Pho, and another one about rice. He asked me to write something about Perfume and Essential oils in Vietnam. So I did a first draft about my experience as natural perfumer in Vietnam. Then I figured out that it was not very relevant for Alain's purpose and I decided to write something about traditional medicine.
So today, as my draft about essential oils will not be published, i have decided to share it with you...

My experience as a natural perfumer in Vietnam : How easy is it to find my raw materials in Vietnam?

1-      Vietnam is an exporter of some essential oils, that are produced mainly for traditional medicine : citronella, Basil –ocimum basilicum and ocimum gratissimum, cinnamum cassia, ginger, black pepper, peppermint…

We can find very good quality of these oils in Vietnam.

2-      Vietnam has a knowledge in traditional medicine using a wide range of plants that were successfully used during the wars. Traditional doctors continue to use these plants mainly in tablets or decoctions.

3-      Vietnam offers as well a wide range of specific spices used by minorities; they are mainly wild plants from the mountains.

Scientific studies of these raw materials would be interesting.

4-      Vietnam has a potential in essential oils extracted for essences that are more specific for perfumes : Vietnam grows or can grow the precious ambret and agarwood. They extract it trough distillation, but the actual  methods are not sustainable. Vietnam also can grow Sambac jasmine, osmanthus, ylang ylang as we can see these trees in the pagoda. Vietnam produces as well tuberose or more specifically lotus flower or pomelo flower that are the favorite smells of Vietnamese people. Unfortunately no one does the extraction of these plants in a sustainable way.

      And personally I have to import some of these essential oils and extract. So frustrating !

         Unfortunately these plants are not extracted in an industrial way, by lack of knowledge, expertise or lack of opportunities.

6-      Even for the formulation of natural cosmetics, I have difficulties to find locally virgin oils of soya, or fractionated coconut oils.

7-      I believe that if the know-how is brought to Vietnam with investment and expertise to buy alembics, extractors with solvent or supercritical CO2, Vietnam has a real potential and could be a serious actor in the field, concurrence to India or China. Vietnamese have shown that when they investigate a market, they can become quickly a world actor, like with the coffee, the rice.

9-      The other challenge that manufacturers encounters when they grow organic farming is the corruption of the workers who would buy cheap Chinese crap to make the yield. It is very important to train the workers, give them good conditions and make them understand the value of organic farming.

10-   Developping a sustainable “filiere”for a new raw materials is a big challenge in Vietnam but it seems possible, there are successful attempts to sustainabily extract specific Vietnamese plants like the SAPA essential oil project.

       Another good example of a medicinal plant that is extracted in a sustainable way is Crila with extraction of Crinum latifolium.  Due to the know-how and the hard work of Dr Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tram.

I encourage you to read the story of Dr Tram. It is engaging and inspiring!