From the fresh scent of flowers to the new car smell, our sense of smell has an evocative quality that can bring up memories and emotions. Yet, most Singaporeans think of perfumes as an occasional indulgence, only dabbed on for special occasions. In fact, most of us associate perfumes with global cosmetic and beauty conglomerates (think Chanel, Guerlain, Dior, etc) or boutique fragrances (like Maison Margiela/ Replica, Diptyque, Le Labo, etc). However, few may realise that there is already a boutique perfume brand present in Singapore: Scent Journer, founded by Joyce Lian.
Finding The Passion For Perfume
Some people know what they want to do from a young age, but most of us would never think of being a perfumer as our childhood dream. Artistically inclined, Joyce dabbled in many creative pursuits such as dance, music and art as a child. Troubled with skin concerns, she developed an interest in cosmetic applications and enrolled in Singapore Polytechnic’s Perfumery and Cosmetic Science course.
For Joyce, it was a case of finding her passion by accident and “knowing that this is the thing (she) wanted to do; (she) can’t imagine doing anything else”.
An unintended last-minute change in her internship led to her to a stint with one of the leading fragrance houses in the world, International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) which crystallised her passion for fragrance and perfumery. Exposed to different scent profiles through raw materials smelling sessions with senior perfumers, Joyce refined her sense of smell and appreciation for perfume artistry during her fragrance internship. One internship led to another, and she quickly clocked more than 2 years of internship experience.
Entrepreneurship Was Not A First Choice
After graduating with a chemistry degree from NUS, Joyce soon found herself in the same position as many fresh graduates. Despite her extensive internship experience, open entry-level positions in the fragrance industry are few and far between. She eventually ended up in a corporate position in a local bank, a complete departure from her fragrance and chemistry background.
However, fragrance and perfumery were never far from Joyce’s mind and when she chanced upon the NUS Venture Building Program during the pandemic. This was an entrepreneurship programme under the Startup SG Founder Grant by Enterprise Singapore. Deciding to go with her dream of setting up a fragrance and perfumery brand, Joyce took the plunge and joined the programme in January 2021.
Pandemic Was An Opportunity
In times of crisis comes opportunity. During this period, the Startup SG Founder Grant by Enterprise Singapore was enhanced to include the provision of a modest monthly stipend during the 3-month training period under the NUS Venture Building Program. Being able to learn and not worry about basic expenses allowed Joyce to fully deep-dive and immerse herself in the building and refining her dream. The program also paired her with a mentor who encouraged her through the tough periods and help her refine her pitch.
The isolated lockdown during the various safe management periods was also an accidental boon for Joyce and her co-founders as she describes that period, “we didn’t meet our friends, so we spend less and because we were just in our own space, there wasn’t any room for comparison. We’re just fully focused on building and refining the brand”.
Successfully pitching and winning the Startup SG Founder Grant allowed Joyce and her team to fully dive into the business. The grant requirement that the founders work full-time on the business also instilled in them the drive to succeed because as Joyce says, “We cannot work part-time. It was 100% into Scent Journer”.
Quality Is Scent Journer’s Signature
One thing that stood out during this interview with Joyce was her commitment to quality and excellence. Having worked in an international fragrance house under master perfumers, she is keenly aware that blending perfumes is more than just mixing raw materials together. A perfumer has to balance the chemistry between the different compounds while formulating a blend that paints a beautiful scent story, “blending Science and Art”.
Joyce’s chemistry training not only gives her the technical skills to back up her vision of creating mood-enhancing perfumes, but it also enables to add depth to her creations through quality active ingredients.
During the pandemic, Joyce realised that while many people have improved hand hygiene with more hand sanitiser use, they also suffered from more skin problems (such as cracked skin or eczema irritation). Scent Journer’s signature Microbiome Hydration Hand Sanitiser tackled this pain point with the incorporation of Fensebiome™ Peptide (an active ingredient usually used in facial/eye creams). This prebiotic ingredient improves the skin’s microbiota and reinforces the skin’s physical barrier function, soothing and hydrating skin while protecting from harmful bacteria.
Sustainable And Mindful At Its Base
Joyce also differentiates Scent Journer from other fragrance brands with a focus on mindfulness and sustainability.
One key difference in Scent Journer’s perfume is in the base of perfume: the alcohol. As this forms between 85% to 92% of Eau de Parfum, having the right alcohol is important. Most alcohol bases available in the market are denatured with methanol which can cause sensitivity or trigger headaches. This was echoed in the consumer studies Joyce and her team conducted when users surfaced issues with headache/nausea when using perfume.
To tackle this, Scent Journer uses sugarcane-derived alcohol which is more sustainable as it cuts one step in the process (sugar to alcohol, instead of processing grain to sugar to alcohol). It is denatured with a naturally derived ingredient: Bitrex which is the bitterest substance in the world.
About 85% of Scent Journer’s perfume formulation is naturally derived. Joyce actively sources sustainable and “upcycled” ingredients. For example, typically clove buds are collected as raw fragrance materials while their leaves are discarded. Scent Journer’s A Starlit Spell perfume uses upcycled clove leaf oil in its formulation.
Confidence In Facing Challenges
In spite of her young age, 27-year-old Joyce is quietly confident of her ability to formulate and create beautiful perfumes. She is also committed to “giving value to customers” and this is where her experience in the fragrance industry comes into play. Joyce says, “I’m so confident about the quality of my fragrances, because I source my fragrances from them (international fragrance houses).”
While the road has been tough, Joyce is looking forward and dreaming of even greater plans for Scent Journer with new product development, new markets and expansion plans. As a fragrance lover, I look forward to Joyce’s next Scent Journer creation!