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Career Ladder

Career Ladder: Hannah Follis

This formulation chemist turned cosmetics entrepreneur whips up bold fragrances and daring lip colors

by Melissa Gilden
November 3, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 44


A photo of Hannah Follis as a child wearing makeup, with a blue sash that reads "USA."
Credit: Courtesy of Hannah Follis
A photo of Follis as a child, one of her first experiences with makeup.


Fun with fragrances

Growing up in the small town of Brule, Wis., Hannah Follis always had an interest in science, makeup, and fragrance. “One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to make potpourri,” she says. Follis says she would gather flowers and weeds to create her concoctions. “That’s probably the earliest memory I have of something related to fragrance,” she says. “I had no idea what I was doing.” As she moved into high school, Follis found that biology and chemistry were the subjects that came most naturally to her. “They were easier to me than a class like English,” she says.


Headed to the Twin Cities

A photo of Hannah Follis and two friends wearing University of Minnesota gear at a game.
Credit: Courtesy of Hannah Follis
Follis (left) wearing college gear at her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Follis attended the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where she studied for a bachelor’s degree in biology. She initially wanted to be a dentist, but after an internship in a dental clinic, she realized that career was not for her. After graduation, Follis decided she was going to look for a job that was really in her wheelhouse. She got her first fragrance gig since her potpourri days at Illume, a candle and fragrance company, as a formulation chemist. She spent a couple of years in the lab mixing up scents before transitioning to work in the cleaning products and floor-coatings industry, “which was completely different,” she says. While the work was more challenging, she missed her first love of beauty products and fragrance.


Covert development

While still holding down her day job, Follis began to sow the seeds for her start-up in the wee hours. “I would get home from work and start formulating my own little concoctions,” she says. Follis began to make lip balms, perfumes, and other skin products for family and friends in the spare bedroom of her apartment. Her gifts grew in popularity, and she started to get suggestions and requests. Eventually, her hobby became a part-time job, which then became a full-time job. That’s when Follis knew it was time to go out on her own.


A photo of Hannah Follis with her lab blurred in the background.
Credit: Courtesy of Hannah Follis
Follis in her Aromi lab.

A colorful career

Follis founded Aromi in 2013, and the brand now boasts over 60 lipstick shades and two dozen fragrances, all of which are made in-house at the Aromi lab. She makes all her products, including her signature matte liquid lipstick, out of plant-based materials that are not tested on animals. “Formulating products is one of my biggest passions,” she says. “People ask me how I got started with Aromi. I went with something I was interested in.”


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