In 1998, Juniper Ridge founder Hall Newbegin set out on a mission to change the way people interact with nature. His mission was simple – bring the outdoors, indoors.
Juniper Ridge are the world’s only wild fragrance company. Every ingredient that goes into their products, from the earthy white sage of the South West coast to the sweet pinion sap from the Mojave Desert, is 100% natural. There are no hidden chemicals, no nasty burning agents, just pure, unapologetic, raw ingredients harvested from some of the most spectacular places on the West Coast of the US.
I recently caught up with Hall to discuss Juniper Ridge, their beginnings and why he spends so much of his time face down in the dirt.
Hi Hall. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few of our questions, it’s good to get an insight in to what makes Juniper Ridge tick. So I have to ask – how did it all begin?
I spent my childhood in the outdoors and I’ve spent my adult life in the wilderness – learning about plants, wild mushrooms, natural history, and using my senses to dig deep into place. Juniper Ridge is a labor of love that’s been gestating my whole life. I played in bands and worked my ass off on organic farms, and by 29, I decided it was time to get real. At that time, 1998, wildcrafting was way off the radar. Starting a company that makes purely wildcrafted products seemed impossible to me, but that impossibility didn’t matter as much as my passion did. It started 18 years ago, when I’d sell my bottles of wildcrafted Juniper Ridge soap out of coolers at Berkeley and San Francisco Farmers Markets. It’s been a hell of a ride since then.
When creating a new fragrance, what process do you go through?
I wish I could say there was some scientific rhyme or reason to it, but it’s just like everything else in my life – I follow my heart. I love wild places, deep nature. It’s the lens I see the world through; it’s where my heart is. When I’m thinking of a new incense or perfume or tea, it comes down to my relentless backpacking and daydreaming. I’m always out there, tasting the plants, getting my nose in the dirt, and the ideas just flow from nature itself.
Other than being the only company in the world that does what you guys do, it’s evident that Juniper Ride is more than just a fragrance company. What gives you that burning desire to put on your boots and spends days out in the wilderness?
The burning desire is nature itself. I’ve been helplessly, hopelessly in love with nature my whole life. I have no idea why nature grabs me the way it does. I suspect it could be that old E.O. Wilson concept of biophilia, that our DNA is hardwired to love nature. The motivation comes harder. Doing what we do is exhausting and difficult. We’re doing the harvesting, extracting and formulating fragrance from beginning to end. Ultimately, I’m still motivated by what sparked me first – the desire to go against the mainstream and their suffocating synthetics – the desire to make something real. It’s nearly impossible to find real fragrance – even harder to find real incense. I didn’t want to breathe that crap in, plus it never smelled true to me. I just wanted to bring a little slice of the mountains into my house and share that with my friends. So, I set out to make the real thing and I’ve never looked back.
It’s evident that your passion for nature stems deeper than just creating fragrance products, you guys are one of the most socially responsible companies I’ve come across. Can you tell us a bit more about what you guys do in terms of caring for the environment?
I’m so glad you noticed! We may not make a big fuss about it in our marketing, but we donate 10% of profits or 1% sales (whichever turns out to be greater) to groups who directly defend western wilderness. It didn’t start out as much; $50 here, $100 there. Now we’re making sizeable donations and it feels so good to make a bigger impact. We also do tons of volunteer work with the organizations we donate to. We do trail work with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance and Los Padres Forest Watch. Two years ago, we played a key role in helping to preserve the Snow Mountain wilderness in Lake Berryessa and were awarded Conservation Alliances Business Partner of the Year for our efforts.
These days, I think more of our power comes from our social networking strength. We have about 100,000 followers on social and can send out wilderness alerts and mobilize our ‘army’ of wilderness freaks to make some noise. It’s really satisfying to be able to use some of this momentum and market growth to defend the thing I love most in the world: the wilderness and deep biodiversity.
Your incense sticks are truly unique, the way you manage to capture the authentic scent of a campfire is wonderful. What is your favourite incense and why?
My favorite is Douglas Fir. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest so that smell resonates deep with me. I’m just so proud of that one. It’s real Douglas Fir wood and tree pitch, so when it’s burning, it evokes a campfire in the deep woods of the Northwest.
Finally, what’s next for Juniper Ridge?
What’s next is more of what we’re already doing — turning people on to the beauty of digging deep into nature, using your nose, taking in all that a place has to offer you. We have a lot of work to do; people are afraid to use their noses. Unfortunately, most of us are used to smelling gross, over-the-top synthetic fragrance. That stuff is overpowering, overpriced, over-marketed, and fake!
So, in a way, we’re swimming against the current, trying to debunk what it means to smell something real. Experiencing real fragrance, the aromatics extracted from plants and lichen and actual pieces of nature, is no different than taking a hike. It requires attention and reverence, and gives you something so beautiful in return. We’ve got a lot of work to do, inspiring people to tap into that primal sensory part of themselves. But we’re ready for the challenge.