October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but the fact is that the disease can happen to anyone at any time.
Which is why founder Charlene Koh has dedicated 10 percent of Breathe Essential Co’s sale proceeds to the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF), all year round. A cancer survivor who was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer at 35, Koh came up with the idea of the brand when she experienced first-hand how aromatherapy alleviated the tremendous side effects of traditional cancer treatment, and realised that Singapore was missing a homegrown label that was accessible to everyone.
“Through Breathe Essentials, I want to encourage and empower people who are in a vulnerable and difficult position I once found myself in,” says Koh, who also founded dating app Paktor . In the toughest period of my cancer treatment, I found that aromatherapy and essential oils helped me greatly in coping mentally, I want to bring this solace to Singaporeans who can benefit through my brand.”
Breathe Essentials launched this month with a range of aromatherapy products, including organic essential oils sourced and distilled in the French Riviera, hand-poured cocosoy candles that are co-developed with a 200 year-old European fragrance house, and a couple of yoga mat sprays. Because they’re all made with top-notch ingredients and strict regulatory practices, a little goes a long way in getting you into a clearer, calmer state of mind.
Ahead, Koh shares her cancer journey, advice for those in struggle, and what’s next for her socially-conscious brand.
Name: Charlene Koh
Profession: Founder of Breathe Essentials Co
Industry: Lifestyle & Wellness
Start up since: December 2019
Company size: 3
Tell us about your business. What do you do?
Breathe Essentials Co is a homegrown lifestyle wellness company that specialises in pure organic essential oils and scented hand-poured coco-soy candles. We also create products such as yoga mat sprays and linen sprays that are locally-formulated and produced.
How did the idea come to mind?
Breathe Essentials Co was born from the toughest days of my cancer treatment: chemotherapy. I remember tossing and turning almost every night trying to fall asleep, but I would wake up multiple times due the severe hot flushes I was feeling, a side effect of chemotherapy.
This went on for weeks until I discovered the wonders of lavender essential oil, which helped me go through those difficult nights. I benefited greatly from rosemary essential oil, which helped aid my hair growth post-chemotherapy. (Do note that these experiences are personal, and are not indicative of the health benefits and healing factors of essential oils).
This spurred me on to create Breathe Essentials Co — to bring essentials oils and scented candles to those who need them.
Can you share with us your breast cancer experience and the lessons you’ve gleaned from it?
I never expected to be diagnosed at such a young age of 35. I was young, confident and a very successful entrepreneur. I was travelling a lot and trying to figure out what my next challenge was. I did not expect it to be breast cancer. After this experience, I learned to be more present in the moment and to live life more purposely. Whichever path I take as an entrepreneur, I want to give back to society, and I hope someone can benefit from however much I can give.
What was your career before you started Breathe Essentials Co?
I was a co-founder of the dating app Paktor. After selling my stake at Paktor, I was training to be a barre instructor and spin instructor. I also freelanced as an eyebrow embroidery artist.
What would you tell someone who is struggling with a personal crisis right now?
Better days will always come. Stay positive. A positive attitude attracts positive things. Always keep your head up and push on.
What is the most encouraging thing someone said to you when you’re struggling?
That I can always choose myself and begin again no matter what life throws at me.
What advice would you give someone looking to start up?
Don’t be afraid to try, but know when to cut your losses when it doesn’t have a good outlook after trying a few times.
What has been your biggest hurdle in starting Breathe Essentials Co and how did you overcome it?
My biggest hurdle was trying to find the right suppliers that fit the brand and also vendors that could turn my vision into a reality. It didn’t help that the Covid-19 pandemic was ongoing and a lot of suppliers were quite hard to contact.
What other things are you passionate about?
I’m really passionate about voiceovers. I am also a voiceover artist and I lend my voice to help others in need. I worked on a project titled The Perfect Voiceovers which helped dogs in shelters to get revoked or adopted. I did the voiceover for a dog which had cancer and was left in the shelter for 3 years due to its condition.
I am also passionate about advocating for cancer support. Nobody deserves to journey alone while battling cancer.
If you were to start another business, which would it be?
It would definitely be setting up a business that specialises in helping cancer patients. I realised throughout my cancer journey that I really wanted to feel useful and productive. I didn’t want to be treated like I was disabled or handicapped. I hope my business can help them feel better about themselves.
What’s next for Breathe Essentials Co?
We have more products in the pipeline and also a new project titled “Project Heartcore” which will focus on helping stay-home mums from lower income families make money from home.
(All images: Breathe Essentials Co)