When Ilsa Manning’s daughter was born, her entire view of herself changed. Though she had worked in the fragrance industry for years, she had never considered branching out on her own until the unconditional love of her daughter made her recognize her full potential. So she took the plunge and started her luxury fragrance line, Ilsa Fragrances. Her scents are carefully crafted to make women feel strong and beautiful, but it was important to Manning to extend this mission statement to her community at large. The Phoenix, Arizona-based entrepreneur donates 5% of her profits to Girls on the Run. Today Manning is proud to have built a successful company with a great team who she can count on as she navigates being a CEO and a mother to two daughters.
Manning’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
It was quite serendipitous, actually! I fell into the fragrance industry when I was living in the UK, having gotten a role at the largest fragrance and flavor supplier in the world, Givaudan. Eventually I needed a change from the English rain and brought my husband back to where I’m from, sunny Phoenix, Arizona. When we moved back, I was fortunate enough to work for Coty on their Philosophy skin care brand, and then I moved onto a beauty start-up headed by Cristina Carlino (the founder of Philosophy skin care!). I was moving along in my career in fragrance and had never thought of going out on my own until after the birth of my first daughter.
She was about 3 months old, and I was really in the thick of being a ‘new mom’ and all that comes with it. I really wanted (and was trying!) to be the best person I could be for her, and what she gifted me in return was belief in myself through her unconditional love. In some magical way, her love and faith in me shined a mirror in my direction and showed me I was a strong and courageous person – I had never seen this in myself or believed this of myself before this moment. And once I had the amazing feeling of self-belief, I wanted every woman out there to have it!
I want every woman out there to feel and know that they are strong and courageous and can do and be anything they dream. I started Ilsa Fragrances to give women this message, and the way that I knew how to do it best was through my passion – fine fragrances.
How do you define success?
This is a difficult question because traditionally success is defined by data and numbers. Success can, and sometimes is, all about the numbers, but not always. For me, I see success as bringing something beautiful to the world and watching how that beautiful thing changes the world for the better.
So, I see my fine fragrances as a success. They are this object of beauty that I created with the intent to change the lives of women, and indirectly, girls. Every woman who is introduced to Ilsa Fragrances receives the message of self-worth, self-love, self-belief, inner strength, inner beauty – the message that they are generally a badass mama jama…oh, and they smell fabulous, too!
Girls’ worlds are changed for the better because with each sale we donate to the nonprofit Girls on the Run, which strives through their 10-week program to teach every girl her potential is limitless. Not only that, but we’ve also been a sponsor of the Girls on the Run 5K in Phoenix since 2017.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Looking at my definition of success, my successes are my two outstanding fine fragrances. I am so proud of the fine fragrances, these gorgeous scents I’ve created that are intended to make women smell and feel beautiful, strong, and confident. My sense of pride comes from the fine fragrance, but it’s more than that – it’s from their positive impact on women and the way we have been able to contribute to Girls on the Run and to empower girls to become empowered women. It makes my heart sing!
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My top challenges focus on business and finance and a lot of that is because I come from a marketing and sales background. I recognize that these areas are where I am lacking, so I definitely have an accountant, for example! I also have mentors and colleagues that I have worked with over the years. I trust these people (who are in my tribe) to ask my questions, listen to their answers and use them as a guide for decision making.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
My second daughter was meant to arrive after the launch of my first fragrance, but due to life threatening pregnancy complications she arrived a month early… which was three days before the launch party for the fragrance! I wasn’t able to be at the launch (and am so grateful I have and had a crew I could trust to lead the event) and spent the next three years recovering my health. I had to grant myself kindness and grace and allow the business to grow slowly and steadily so that my health recovered and so I was around and able to be present and active with my baby and her older sister.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
My biggest tip is to build your tribe. Surround yourself with people more experienced than you so that you have people to ask questions, and surround yourself with people who are at the same stage in the start up process as you, so you can share hot tips you discover with one another, and of course commiserate together.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
In dark days I find inspiration from my daughters and my tribe. My daughters make me laugh and remind me why I am doing all this; my tribe to chat with, bounce ideas off of and realize this (whatever is going on) is all part of the process – no matter what stage of the game you are at!
Who is your most important role model?
A role model I’ve had my entire life is my mother. She taught me to never give up on my dreams, to keep going in the face of adversity, and to be kind and compassionate to others.