Our Indie-stry Gurus series highlights people who are paving the way where no one previously has, walking a path much less traveled, or building a legacy totally different than the rest. They are thought leaders and provokers from all different industries - beauty, wellness and beyond. They’re the people who ask not just “How?” but “Why?”, and most of all, they’re empowering others with knowledge, education and inspiration.
This month we're talking to Cat Chen, founder and CEO of Skylar, a clean and conscious fragrance brand. We cover her journey to launch Skylar, as well as her favorite wellness practices and biggest guilty pleasures.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. As a self-proclaimed “no makeup” gal, my scent (and perfume) has always been my signature. As I dug into the ingredients, I realized my favorite scented products contained toxic ingredients. In fact, when I had my daughter, I found out that she was allergic to my traditional perfumes. Shortly after that realization, I went on a quest for fragrance that did not contain allergens and harmful chemicals but still smelled beautiful and made me feel great. I couldn’t find one.
That’s when the idea of Skylar was born. After many months of working with world-class perfumers – and testing scents with my community – we created a collection of perfumes that gave us the answer we were all looking for. Beautiful, artisanal, hypoallergenic fragrances with clean, natural ingredients.
We view you as an Indie-stry guru of your field, which means you've paved a way no one previously had, or you're paving a way much different than the rest. What is your path or your journey, and what does it represent? My journey started off a bit non-traditional, especially because I didn’t start out in beauty or fashion. A lot of the head players in the beauty industry grew up in beauty, and for me it was just a different launch pad - I like to think of myself as a beauty outsider even!
I attended MIT and so a lot of my studies and experiences were in a more technical field, but I feel strongly that my background ignited a more intellectually curious outlook on the world. I felt empowered that I could learn things quickly and was always interested in learning about unfamiliar topics. Becoming a mom has also been impactful, and it’s contributed with my desires to participate in something that is truly innovative and could also solve a problem.
If there was one thing you could tell someone about their conventional fragrance, what would it be? Conventional fragrance/perfume is tricky - a lot of consumers don’t realize that the perfume industry is not regulated well. There are so many hidden chemicals in fragrances, phthalate being one of the most significant ones. That chemical is actually a hormone disruptor! When I first started my research, it was shocking to discover that almost all perfumes cause allergies and about 15% of people are sensitive to fragrance.
Was there a pivotal point in your life that changed the trajectory of your journey, or the path you thought you should be on? When I joined the Honest Company, that was a major moment both professionally and personally. Prior to joining, I had worked in larger and more traditional organizations, but having that incredible opportunity to help launch Honest (I was 1 of 10 employees at the time) truly changed the way I thought about building a business. I learned that it was possible to build a large and successful business based on a mission and an idea. We were trying to solve a problem, and together with a group of passionate & talented individuals, we made it work.
What does empowerment mean to you? When I think about the word empowerment, I feel that it allows us to make mistakes and also learn from them. It allows you to take ownership and make decisions because you understand what your role is. Suddenly you feel comfortable and confident to step forward, make decisions, and even mistakes!
How do you define wellness? What does your wellness practice look like? I like to define wellness as feeling good about yourself. Maybe it’s mental, or even physical. For myself, it’s a combination that helps me feel at my best. If I’m being honest, my wellness practice used to be pretty terrible. My life was almost 100% dedicated to work and I left no room for self love & self care. I’ve learned a lot about the importance of taking a step back sometimes and to take care of myself - it’s been much better now that our team has grown! I try my best to attend hot yoga classes 3x a week and in general, move around when I can.
In addition to working less and exercising, I focus on spending intentional and quality time with my daughter. Just the other day I took her to the beach, one of her favorite activities. I feel incredibly blessed and loved when I can spend time with my family and friends whenever possible.
Who is a mentor or someone in your field that you look up to and why? I highly respect and look up to Brian Lee, the founder of The Honest company. Brian is well-known for starting many large start-ups and he’s someone who I learn from almost every day. He is a genuine and passionate person who, when he believes in a project, is never scared to go 100%. He’s encouraged and empowered to pursue growth in areas that other people have not set foot in before - for example, starting a diaper subscription at The Honest Company. I’ve learned so much from him, and still continue to do so.
What advice would you give your younger self? If I had to give advice to my younger self, I would honestly tell her to relax and to not be so obsessive! I think obsession can lead you down a path of working too hard on something to the point where you can miss out on other opportunities in life.
A few just for fun - What’s your guilty pleasure? One of my biggest guilty pleasures is that I love watching hilarious videos on YouTube - it sounds silly but I find a lot of joy in discovering funny videos and sometimes watching them together with my daughter. I’m also a Netflix binger and am currently obsessed with a Korean drama titled “The Abyss.”
What’s something that you wish more people knew about you? I think some people might find this surprising but I’m actually quite introverted. I feel more energized when I can have time to myself. My job involves a lot of interaction with a variety of different people, which I do enjoy and love, but I’ve learned the importance of recharging before moving on to the next meeting. When it’s “me time”, I find so much value in focusing on what makes me happy, such as eating delicious meals, exercising, and spending time with my close friends!
What’s your mantra you’d like to share with others? My mantra from day one has been to work hard, choose positivity, and focus on “team” over “me”. I share this with all of our employees and I love seeing them live this out every day at the Skylar offices. It’s a simple and straightforward mantra, but it’s worked out well for myself and for my team!