When Weston graduate Michael Fensterstock and his wife Melissa went on a trip to southeast Asia, they were intrigued by a good-smelling fragrance that locals were applying to themselves.
It turns out the fragrance was a natural bug repellent spray, handcrafted by Burmese women to protect themselves from mosquitos. The Fensterstocks started using the spray and had no problem with mosquitos or other insects for the rest of their trip.
They were so impressed with the effectiveness of the spray, its natural qualities, and its good fragrance, that they decided to bring it to America and are now marketing it under the name Aromaflage — a botanical fragrance and insect repellent.
They are selling Aromaflage at outlets across the country, including several near Weston, as well as abroad.
“Aromaflage works remarkably well as a bug repellent and has been tested at rice paddies in southeast Asia,” Mr. Fensterstock said.
The chief ingredients in Aromaflage are vanilla, citrus, and cedarwood. “That’s exactly what it smells like — silken vanilla, sweet orange, and warm cedarwood,” Mr. Fensterstock said.
He said Aromaflage spray is a great natural alternative to commercial insect repellents that contain the chemical DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). “Thousands of years ago people didn’t have access to the chemicals that are used today. Tribal cultures burned fruits and exotic plants to naturally repel bugs. Things like DEET are unhealthy. We believe we have the natural solution to that problem,” he said.
In addition to spray form, Aromaflage also comes in candles. “The candles are made with essential oils, 100% natural soy wax, and a clean-burning cotton wick. They’re a great alternative to citronella,” Mr. Fensterstock said.
The couple launched Aromaflage a year ago. The brand has a complicated supply chain that crosses Asia, Europe and the United States. “Every bottle of Aromaflage is carefully assembled here in the United States to ensure the highest quality finished product,” Mr. Fensterstock said.
It’s very important to the couple that their company has a social impact.
According to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of State, there are roughly 150,000 Burmese refugees in nine official camps on the Thai-Burma border, and more than two million Burmese migrants living primarily in urban areas of Thailand. Refugees have been living in the Thai-Burma border camps for more than 25 years.
According to Thai law, undocumented Burmese found outside of the camps are subject to arrest and deportation and refugees have no legal right to employment.
Aromaflage’s partner in southeast Asia works to help legalize the Burmese refugee women, employ them with artisan skills, and provide them with housing and education.
“Our business supports women in a work environment that encourages self-expression, learning, and collaboration,” Mr. Fensterstock said.
The couple has a long-term plan to build a daycare facility for the workers, and Mr. Fensterstock said they would like to do more for the refugees. “It may cost more to have our work done this way, but it’s worth it. We believe in doing well by doing good,” he said.
Every company has its own strategy, its own DNA, Mr. Fensterstock said. “The things that are important to us are different from those that are important to some others,” he said.
Launching a start-up business that crosses several continents is not for the faint of heart. There are many regulations, procedures, and protocols that must be followed in order to import a product into the United States and then sell it.
Aromaflage is not Mr. Fensterstock’s first start-up. He has tried to launch five other consumer products in the past, but this is the first one that has had some success.
“You have to be relentlessly persistent and patient to do this. Every day I get punched in the face and I have to get back into the ring. I call it the bounce back factor. How hard are you going to fight to get back in?” Mr. Fensterstock said.
A medical issue Mr. Fensterstock suffered a couple years ago motivated him to take on the challenge. “Two years ago, I had an aneurysm and had to have open heart surgery. After that, I decided to do something I was passionate about,” he said.
Mr. Fensterstock’s family moved to Weston when he was in eighth grade. He attended Weston schools, where he was the captain of the high school baseball team. He also played varsity basketball, was a member of student government, and was in the National Honor Society. His mother still lives in Weston and he visits her every month.
After graduating from Weston High School in 2000, he attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where he received a degree in psychology. He recently completed his master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University.
For a time, he was a professional squash player and a pro at the Southport Racquet Club.
When Mr. Fensterstock was 15, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He gives talks and speaks to people about it. “It’s motivating for people to see someone bounce back from Crohn’s. To be human is to have human problems. What are you going to do in the face of those problems?” he said.
Mr. Fensterstock has been married to his wife Melissa for two years. He met her at a party she was hosting in New York City and was so taken with her that he told a friend that night that he was going to marry her.
The couple are not only life partners, but are partners in the Aromaflage business, too.
“The biggest decision you make in business is who your partner is going to be. It is a challenge having your wife as your business partner, but we trust each other with the decisions we make,” Mr. Fensterstock said.
Aromaflage products are safe for adults and children, Mr. Fensterstock said. Candles are $40, a purse bottle is $30, a big bottle is $65. The products can be found locally at Terrain in Westport, Renaissance Beauty in Wilton, La Moda in Fairfield, La Suite in Greenwich, Merle Norman Cosmetics in New Canaan, and the Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington.
They may also be ordered online at aromaflage.com.