Bonded in love and business: Dayton sisters look to transform perfume industry

“For us, the story of the scent comes first,” Keta Burke-Williams said.

Credit: Tina B Foto

Credit: Tina B Foto

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Oakwood natives Keta and Kaja Burke-Williams traveled back to Dayton to stay with their mother. At the time, Keta was attending Harvard Business School and Kaja was pursuing a career in theater. Like so many others during the pandemic, the sisters spent time re-examining their purpose and came to a life-altering conclusion - they were ready to go into business together.

While most of the beauty industry had transformed to meet the demands of customers who were more inclined to purchase non-toxic and eco-friendly products, the sisters noticed one portion of the industry had not altered in any way to market to this new kind of customer - the perfume industry. Not only that, but the pair felt as though the perfume industry did not work to amplify women of color at all.

“We thought there should be something better out there,” Keta said. “So we did some research. Fragrance as a category really needs transformation. We thought this is what we want to do, so we went ahead and did it.”

Prior to teaming up to create their perfume brand, Aspen Apothecary, the sisters had been cognizant of the way scent can transform and transcend any experience. According to the sisters, the origin story of their brand began with a story told to them by their mother, Trish, who emigrated from Jamaica. Trish told them a story about a trip she took to Tunisia as a backup dancer, and, though the story was interesting in itself, the sisters found the most interesting portion of the story to be their mother’s description of the way the night-blooming jasmine smelled in this garden she happened upon during the trip.

With this inspiration in tow, Keta and Kaja began crafting scents that would allow their customers to simultaneously resuscitate old memories and create new memories with a series of non-toxic scents.

“I am a big daydreamer,” Keta said. “I’m someone who could sit on my chair and close my eyes and take myself into a different world. And for us, the story of the scent comes first. The creation of our Moon Dust scent, for example, was part experience and part dream. We imagined what it would be like to be in that moment and that’s how we started to develop the notes that we wanted in the fragrance.”

Credit: Keta Burke-Williams

Credit: Keta Burke-Williams

The sisters also wanted to transform the way consumers interacted with their perfume and had the idea to infuse their products with CBD.

“CBD was an important addition because it’s like an act of self-care,” Keta said. “I think scent and fragrance can be such an act like that. With the CBD infusion, we just felt like you can do something that makes you feel good and confident because of the scent itself.”

As an added bonus, Aspen Apothecary’s products are also vegan, cruelty-free and made in the United States.

Since launching its products in December of 2020, Aspen Apothecary has been featured in numerous beauty publications such as InStyle Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine and Byrdie.

Though Aspen Apothecary is only currently selling their Moon Dust scent, the sisters are planning to release discovery kits with three sampler scents in the mid-to-late fall so that customers can find their favorite scent before committing to a larger bottle.

In the meantime, Keta and Kaja will be working to amplify other women of color through their Aspen Amplifies interview series. The series is intended to spotlight other women of color doing exciting things in various fields.

When it comes to Keta’s favorite scents in Dayton, she becomes nostalgic as she recounts the smells of honeysuckle and grilling hot dogs in the summer.

To learn more about Aspen Apothecary, visit their website or Instagram page.

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