SME Spotlight

A nose for creating perfumes

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the fact that many want to look and feel better creates business opportunities, as Jeremy Koh finds out from Freda D Parfum's perfume designer Faridah Yusuf.

Q What does the company do?

A We manufacture perfumes under the brand Freda D. I come up with the formulas and make them myself. The perfumes are made at our factory in Kaki Bukit.

Q How did you get started?

A I have been playing around with making my own perfume concoctions at my dad's store - which makes perfumes for men - since I was seven years old.

At the age of 14 or 15, my dad realised that my nose is actually very sensitive, and that is when he got me more involved in making perfumes for his shop according to his formulas. He and his perfumer friends trained me to make perfume.

From 2009 to 2013, I was an air stewardess and would still make perfume as a pastime. I made the perfumes such that they cater to Asian climates and retain their scents even when the individual sweats.

I gave these out to my flight passengers and friends and I got a lot of compliments. They also told me the scent of my perfume "sticks" to them even after they sweat or take a shower. Upon encouragement from my fiance and passengers, I decided to try selling perfume as a business.

Q What was it like starting your own business from scratch?

A I started out making perfume in a small little office in Pagoda Street that we rented.

My father provided us with the filtered raw ingredients with which to make perfume.

We could use these to make perfume in the office, but we had to keep the premises very clean and maintain the temperature at around 18 to 20 deg C.

We tried to approach reputable department stores to stock our perfumes, but were told they take in only perfumes recognised internationally.

For local perfume brands to be considered department store-worthy, we have to sell outside of Singapore and prove to them we are a strong brand that can bring in sales.

It's been a barrier to us increasing our revenue here.

Q How did you overcome these obstacles?

A When we started out, we sold online and at temporary booths in places such as Suntec City, Red Dot Museum and Marina Bay Sands.

We also marketed our products by giving out free samples at fashion and charity events, and selling in smaller 2ml or 5ml bottles at discounted introductory prices so the product was cheaper. We also decided to approach smaller concept stores instead of department stores to stock our products.

These are stores that carry products from different local artisanal brands. Threadbare & Squirrel at Wheelock Place and Soozip at Orchard Central are the concept stores now carrying our products. Soon, they will be available on Zalora, an online retailer.

We are at temporary booths normally twice a month over the weekend, though the number and duration of such events can vary. We also sell online on our own website. Some people order a bigger bottle online after finding they like the smaller bottles bought at our booth.

Now about 60 per cent of our sales are made online and at temporary booths. Some 20 per cent are from concept stores. The remaining 20 per cent are from miscellaneous sources.

Q How has the company grown?

A Over April to September this year, we have tripled our sales compared with the same period last year.Two and a half months ago we rented a larger place at Kaki Bukit. It is 1,200 sq ft so we can produce and store more products there. Now when I make perfume, I don't do it just in 1-litre batches, I do it in 5-litre batches. We will also filter some raw materials in that factory and not have to obtain these filtered raw materials from my dad.

We are selling 30ml bottles that come with packaging for $57. A 5ml bottle is now sold for $12.

Q How do you make your perfume?

A I get ideas on new formulations pretty much out of the blue. It can happen at any point in the day.

Friends who are into perfume also give me suggestions on new scents they would like to see.

I initially come up with my perfume formula by smell. I will smell what I have made and think: "Hmm... I think I need another 2 per cent of this." Then I will make adjustments until I'm satisfied.

There is a 5 to 10 per cent difference in the components in every batch because I will make minor adjustments at the end based on how each batch smells.

Q How many staff do you have?

A I am the perfume designer and maker and my partner is the operations manager. We recently brought in a marketing manager. She started out working part-time but she is starting to become very active, because the company is growing. We hire part-timers to package our products.

Q What are your plans?

A We are in discussions with a few parties on creating perfume for them. Our brand will be printed on that product. We also want to expand internationally. We are starting to enter Korea and hoping to enter Indonesia and Malaysia soon.

We will also make a wider range of products. With the raw materials of the perfume, we can also make reed diffusers, foam fragrance, soaps and candles.

For now, though, these are only available during the Christmas season. This is because our hands are tied. The orders for the perfume are overwhelming and we also have the renovation of the new factory to handle, so we are just focusing on the perfume for now.

Q What would be the biggest challenge you have overcome?

A People think we are a very big company, but it has only been the two of us, so imagine the workload .

We work nonstop because we want to be at more events. Imagine after producing the perfume you rest for a while (and then) you pack up for the event, you stand there the whole day selling to people, talking to people.

You go back, you see what is finished and replenish your stock, you take rest, you turn on the computer and you still have to do your company profile, you still have to reply to e-mail, you still have to do research on how to grow the company - it's a lot of work.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'A nose for creating perfumes'. Print Edition | Subscribe