Sweet Smell of Success

Kate Growney’s hit fragrance line, Saffron James, continues to evolve.

It was almost entirely circumstantial that Kate Growney became a pioneer in the beauty industry. With a passion for writing, local girl Growney—who grew up in Waimea—moved to New York after completing college. There, she worked at various magazines, eventually landing in ELLE‘s beauty department.

“I kind of fell into beauty a little sideways,” she says with a laugh.

Though not necessarily her forté, Growney’s passion for learning new things led her down a road of discovery that would later be the genesis for Saffron James.

“One of the things that I loved was interviewing perfumers, who were this really amazing mix of sort of mad scientists and poets all at the same time,” she says of her time as a beauty writer.

In speaking with perfumers, she soon discovered that many had never heard of (or experienced) the scents of Hawai’i’s unique flowers. A chance meeting with a perfumer, who inspired and assisted her in creating her own line, allowed Growney to launch Saffron James.

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“The goal of Saffron James, starting it, was to show people more of a local side or a local perspective to our culture and to our space,” she says.

Currently, six uniquely handcrafted scents are available in local boutiques REBECCA Beach, Red Pineapple and SoHa, and online. Among them are Nani (pikake), Le’a (plumeria), ‘Ume (ginger), Punono (puakenikeni) and Ipo (paka-lana)—all of which are popular among Saffron James fans around the world.

“I have always hoped for a clear winner,” she says. “What I’ve come to the conclusion of is [that] every place and every person has their own scent.”

The company’s name is a combination of two important aspects of Growney’s life. “Saffron,” was a penname Lucky’s beauty director gave to Growney while she was freelancing for the publication, and James is her father’s first name.

Growney, who is aware that most may expect a Hawaiian name for a company that was founded here, says she hopes to challenge stereotypes.

“I wanted to prove to people that I am Hawai’i,” she says. “I live in Hawai’i; my company is about the history of Hawai’i, and it doesn’t necessarily mean I have to have a Hawaiian name.

We have so many different cultures and so many different types of people that live here, and I didn’t really want to be stereotyped into that.”

Up next for Saffron James are a couple of new scents currently in development. The company also has a bevy of collaborations on the horizon, including those with QVC, Fred Segal and Athleta—some of which include more than perfume.

Still a writer at heart, Growney hopes to transform Saffron James’ web-site (saffronjames.com) with a blog to share some of what she learned about Hawai’i’s botanical history while developing the perfume line.

“We’re a little bit all over the place, but that’s the fun part of the job,” she says.


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