Wildcats@Work with Ilsa Manning

After graduating from the UA, Ilsa Manning '01 worked as a nanny in the suburbs of Paris. Today, she is the proud business owner of Ilsa Fragrances, aiming to create high-quality products that empower women.


Tell us about your journey from a UA history student to a proud business owner of a fragrance company?

When I started at the University of Arizona in the fall of 1997, I was undecided and had a rough semester. I came from high school where I was really involved, got straight A’s and was in honors classes. Despite all that, college was a huge shock to my system, but I couldn’t let it get the best of me, so, loving history, I declared a major in history with a minor in French and really got down to business in my studying. I reached out to my Resident Assistant for help and she got me involved with volunteering at the Center for Disability Resources and Spring Fling.

After graduating in 2001, I took a job as a nanny in the suburbs of Paris! Loving living abroad and after my time in Paris ended, I got certified to teach English as a foreign language and taught English in Poland. I had met an Englishman during my time in Paris and we were doing long distance at the time so, wanting to be in the same place and wanting to advance my knowledge in history, I began a master’s degree in England at Royal Holloway, University of London.

After graduation, I wanted to continue with a Ph.D. in the history of imperialism, but the expense of pursuing another degree was too much. It was time to get a ‘real’ job! After about a year of temp work, I landed an administrative role in the UK sales office of Givaudan, the largest fragrance and flavor manufacturer in the world. When I started I knew nothing about the industry, but my English and French skills set me up for success to work with French and American development centers, and to learn all about perfumery!

In 2011, my husband (the Englishman!) and I moved back to Arizona for more sunshine. I worked at Coty on the philosophy brand, then at Beauty Incubator Group, a startup beauty company. I had my first daughter around that time and her birth really pushed me to be the best version of myself. I also wanted to express a more creative side and was inspired by my daughter and my creativity to start my own business, Ilsa Fragrances. Part of why I started this business is because I want every woman to have that confidence and understanding of success. I am using my knowledge, love and passion for fragrance to empower women. My aim is to create high-quality products that make women feel beautiful and give them that extra boost of confidence to take on their day!


What advice do you have for someone majoring in a field they might not end up working in?

The biggest thing is to have transferable skills. How can you use the skills you learn in your program to answer big questions in the workforce? For history students, we do research and data analytics to make conclusions. Those skills are absolutely necessary in sales and marketing for answering questions like - where do we go next? What is selling now and how can we do better?

As a researcher, you have to analyze all the data available to understand the gaps and complete the full picture of history, and one of my favorite parts of sales is finding those merchandise gaps to create a killer product and increase sales.

What are you passionate about?

As a business owner, I make a point to give back to the community to causes that I am passionate about. One of them is an organization called Girls on the Run, which is a body-mind-spirit program for girls 8-12. The girls train to run a 5K, but it’s more about setting and achieving goals than about running. They can walk it or even cartwheel it! The focus is really about crossing that finish line while learning about how to believe in themselves, have healthy relationships and reach their goals. A portion of each sale at Ilsa Fragrances goes towards Girls on the Run, and we were a sponsor of the 2018 5K here in Phoenix as well.

Furthermore, in September, on my second daughter’s birthday, we donate to Every Mother Counts, a non-profit that strives to eliminate maternal mortality. Out of developed nations, the United States is ranked as the most dangerous place to give birth. There are more details on this in a recent USA Today investigation. I was blissfully unaware that in the U.S. in the 21st century, pregnancy could result in death until my second pregnancy when I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening liver disorder related to preeclampsia.

Thankfully, I survived, the baby was healthy and my delivery team was amazing. However, the aftercare I received was less than stellar. It is for these reasons that we donate to Every Mother Counts, and we donate on September 12 because it is the day I survived and my daughter was born.