Home-based entrepreneur Cat Chen creates sophisticated natural perfumes for modern moms
By Robyn Paris
When Cat Chen returned to her job in operations at The Honest Company after maternity leave, she noticed that her infant daughter Anne was irritated by the fragrances she was wearing to work. Her daughter’s sensitivity inspired her to look around for natural perfumes, but she couldn’t find one that she liked. So she created her own.
Leaving the nine-to-five to follow her nose, Chen launched Skylar Body — a safe and natural, yet still sophisticated line of perfumes — in April. Skylar Body perfumes are mixed and bottled at a mom-and-pop boutique right here in L.A, using a base of organic, high-quality sugar cane alcohol from an eco-friendly farm in Oregon.
Chen sources her botanicals from all over the world, including Italy, India and Pacific islands. “The ingredients come from where they’re native and abundant,” she says, noting that her fragrances do not contain parabens, phthalates, or animal byproducts; they’re hypo-allergenic and have not been tested on animals.
Response so far has been enthusiastic, with sales coming in from all over the United States. Chen says the need for a natural alternative to traditional perfumes is resonating with women who ask themselves, ‘Why would I use a fragrance with harmful ingredients?’
“Most women just love smelling good. Scents help people feel happy and confident. They evoke memories, and they’re an easy part of a beauty routine,” she says.
Currently, Skylar Body sells four scents beautifully packaged in artistic reusable containers: the citrusy, fruity “Coral”; the fresh and beachy “Isle”; the spicy, bold “Arrow”; and the floral “Meadow.”
The watercolor artwork on each container and its packaging was created by L.A. artist Jeff Fontelera. Chen met Fontelera through a friend and was impressed by the “light, fresh, original, authentic, natural” feel of his watercolors. She asked him to design the packaging for each individual scent.
“Jeff let the emotions of the scents guide him” as he created the art for each perfume, she says. “Branding is so important because it impacts how you feel about a product.”
Chen wanted her products to feel good in buyers’ hands and look great on their counters. She also wanted her customers to feel good about the company’s impact on the environment, so all Skylar Body perfumes come in organic, 100%-recyclable packaging and are shipped with water-soluble and cruelty free packing peanuts.
Attracted to the community feel of Playa Vista, Chen and her husband Alex moved to the neighborhood in 2010, not realizing then that her bright and airy home would become a nest to nurture her child and a new business. She felt fortunate to meet a great group of
Playa Vista moms after Anne was born.
“The Playa Vista mom groups are tight and active,” she said — and also proved to be the perfect test subjects for Skylar. Before launching, Chen interviewed 100 women about what they wanted in a perfume and conducted blind tests of her scents alongside
name-brand perfumes at her Playa Vista home. “I kept testing until the Skylar scents out-tested the traditional luxury brands. That’s when I knew we had something.”
Chen says after entertaining hundreds of options for names, she thought “Skylar” best exemplified the natural yet modern vibe of her new fragrance company. Skylar is only available online right now, which allows Chen to offer it at a price ($78) that is much lower than many luxury perfumes. She encourages women to try her perfumes in their home by offering a $20 sample of all four scents. This $20 credit is then applied towards the purchase of a full bottle of perfume.
Being an entrepreneur is part of Chen’s DNA. Her father started a computer monitors business in Taiwan when computer technology was just beginning to grow. Now, Chen hopes to inspire her own daughter.
“For me, seeing that he was able to do it was very inspiring,” she said. “I want Anne to grow up knowing that anything is possible … that you can make something out of nothing.”
Find Chen’s natural scents at skylarbody.com.