Cat Chen’s Fresh Take on the Fragrance Industry

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As a former executive at The Honest Company, Cat Chen, mother to a 2-year-old daughter and CEO and founder of Skylar, has always been an advocate for natural products. But after she found out she was pregnant with her daughter, safe ingredients went from being a responsibility to a necessity.

“I became a lot more aware of everything I put on my body, and perfume has always been my go-to beauty item. When I realized my daughter was allergic to my perfumes, I searched for a cleaner alternative, but couldn’t find one that still smelled sophisticated enough for everyday wear,” Chen says.

Chen knew there had to be a better alternative, so she got to work on founding Skylar, a clean fragrance line that would offer the fresh scents we all love, but without the artificial ingredients and animal testing that are found in most other products in the perfume industry. Skylar officially launched in April 2017, just two years after the birth of her daughter.

Chen talks to about the importance of all-natural ingredients and how she balances building her company while raising her daughter.

As a mother as well as the founder and CEO of Skylar, how do you make it all work?

It’s very hard. Skylar is my business (and my second baby), so it’s hard for me to detach myself from work sometimes. I constantly need to make an effort to balance everything and I’m getting better at it over time. One thing I’ve learned to do over time is to have certain times of the day where I’m phone-free (I literally hide my phone from myself because it’s too tempting) and can focus on my family. Another thing I often remind myself of is to not sweat the little things and focus on the big goals—otherwise, work can get out of control and be a total time suck.

What was the process of going from the concept of Skylar to launch like?

Definitely not a straightforward one. I encountered a lot of obstacles, and it was an amazing and humbling learning experience. First, I talked to over 10 fragrance houses about what I wanted and didn’t want in a fragrance, and most of them told me “hypoallergenic perfume” was an oxymoron. When I did manage to find samples, most of them did not pass the “smell test.” I explored a lot of supplier options and went through countless iterations on scent formulation. Luckily, along the way I met a lot of amazingly helpful people and had the full support of my family and friends. I still remember the moment when I had a focus group of 10 women in my home doing blind smell tests on Skylar scents vs. designer brands. When Skylar outperformed the market leaders, I knew we had something good that was worthy of introducing to the world.

What is the process of curating high-quality ingredients from around the world like?

It’s really interesting. First of all, when I asked for natural ingredients to be included in my formulation, many fragrance houses were surprised. It was then when I realized most perfumes were not scented by natural ingredients. There is such a lack of transparency in ingredients and such a lack of emphasis on using high-quality ingredients in the fragrance industry, and it is important for Skylar to do better. We source the base of our perfumes, an organic sugar cane alcohol, from an eco-friendly distillery in Oregon. We use over 20 natural ingredients, all sustainably harvested from all over the world. For example, our bergamot comes from Italy, our rose comes from Morocco and our sandalwood comes from New Caledonia. The very cool thing about natural ingredients is that they blend with each person’s body chemistry, so our perfumes smell unique on everyone.

Why is using natural products important to you and why do you think it should be important to others?

I want to provide the healthiest possible lifestyle for me and my family. Just like eating healthy makes you feel good, using natural products gives me peace of mind that I’m not putting harmful ingredients on my skin. Just like anything, using natural products is a personal choice. It is my hope that by providing Skylar as a healthy fragrance choice for consumers, more people can be informed and make the best choice for themselves.


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