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Mental health advocate and founder of fragrance brand Scent by Six, Jason Lee makes perfumes that lift the spirits

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 11 min read
Mental health advocate and founder of fragrance brand Scent by Six, Jason Lee makes perfumes that lift the spirits
Mental health advocate and founder of fragrance brand Scent by Six, Jason Lee makes perfumes that lift the spirit
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When Jason Lee proposed to his wife (then girlfriend), he did it by presenting her with a perfume that bottled all the memories of their wintry holiday to Hokkaido. It was filled with alluring notes of lavender, green tea and cedarwood. Not only did she say yes, the couple then bottled the same scent for all the guests at their wedding.

After numerous compliments and encouragement from loved ones, Lee — who developed a nose for fragrances while working at Swiss perfume house Givaudan — decided to bite the bullet and start Scent by Six. Launched officially in 2016, the brand’s clear purpose is centred around healing, soothing and delighting one’s mental wellness through an expanding collection of fine fragrances, DIY scent kits, and home scenting range.

The power of memories and emotions form the cornerstone of Scent by Six, which is a play on the words “scents” and “sense”. To him, the sixth sense refers to memories, which can be triggered with the mere whiff of a familiar smell.

Rather than make generic-smelling perfumes, Lee creates a positive difference by bottling stories and memories, such as in the case of his first three launches, 123 Tribeca, 1724 Puka and 27 °F Biei, which are inspired by his own travels. “The main ingredients behind each variant invoke the essence of its story, aiming to give the user an experience that’s immersive and of self-discovery,” says the 37-year-old father of four.

The premium ingredients used to make each product are credibly sourced from suppliers and sustainable farms around the world. Its exquisite zests of oils — distilled in the UK and Singapore — are a result of extensive research and data using systems such as Magnetiscent fragrance intelligence technology from Japanese fragrance house Takasago, and FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) from the Technical University of Dresden Medical School.

On the commercial front, Scent by Six is also renowned for creating ambient scents, private labels, and conducting scenting workshops for luxury brand names such as Piaget, Lexus and Ritz Carlton.

See also: Dr Eugene He of cosmeceutical brand Invity discusses NAD — the latest buzzword in skincare

Six created the world’s first Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perfume, Hush, using traditional herbs for Eu Yan Sang. And more recently, it developed Singapore Airlines’ signature scent, Batik Flora, which includes floral notes from six flowers in SIA’s batik motif. Customers will be able to enjoy this ambient scent at the SIA Service Centre at Ion Orchard and redeveloped SilverKris Lounge at Changi Airport Terminal 3. Batik Flora will also be sold exclusively on featuring a collection of reed diffusers, pillow mists and eau de toilette.

Addressing mental health

An active volunteer and member of the grassroots community, Lee shares a story of one of his experiences creating a scent for a lady with dementia. “This elderly lady was always grumpy and had a bad temper. Her caregivers asked me if I could do something with my perfumes to help her. They shared that she loved baking pandan cakes, drinking kopi-o kosong, and visiting the temple with her late husband to offer incense,” he shares.

See also: Multi-label fragrance boutiques like Amaris are perfuming Singapore’s olfactory scene with unique cult labels

“I put these all together and let her smell it, and what happened afterwards was really priceless. Her eyes widened, she blurted out her deceased husband’s name and started crying. It was then that I found my purpose: to heal emotions, to preserve memories, to bring people together.”

The Hiraku collection is infused with yuzu, known to uplift the senses

Over the last two years, Lee has been working very closely with clients and patients of the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) to raise awareness on mental health issues, in particular depression, with the co-creation of a yuzu-themed scent collection called Hikaru, which means “light” in Japanese. “I wanted to wrap 2020 with something positive but rather than develop a fragrance on my own, it would be more meaningful to co-create it with SAMH,” he explains.

Clients of SAMH were introduced to the basics of scent making in a workshop where they also create their own fragrance

“I remember when we went to the centre, we met three young Singaporeans suffering from severe depression. They looked very detached and disinterested. I was worried that this session wouldn’t be fruitful at all. I made extra effort to watch my body language and tonality. Slowly, they started to be more engaged. One of them even wrote to me after the session on how to improve the scent, and apparently, this youth has shown fewer episodes of depression,” he recalls.

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Tapping on the expertise of Japanese fragrance house Takasago, the Hikaru scent is infused with “fragrance intelligence” — a palette of ingredients scientifically tested and proven to influence certain moods and feelings — to trigger feelings of joy and happiness. The freshness of yuzu gives way to light floral notes of dandelion and jasmine and then a fresh green like morning dew segues into notes of neroli, musk and amber that wrap you in a warm hug.

Banking on better sleep

The collaboration with Takasago and SAMH continues with this year’s latest release, Sleep, Returns — a woody, aromatic and citrus fragrance to encourage a good night’s sleep. Similarly infused with fragrance intelligence, this calming scent has been proven to improve sleep quality and duration using notes of Japanese hinoki, sandalwood, cedar leaf and cedarwood, inspired by a whispering forest.

“Sleep is a fundamental human need and a good night’s rest is essential to maintaining our mental health. We understand the struggles of those who are not having a good night’s sleep. With our new scent col lection, we bring them hope for better sleep,” says Lee.

Sleep, Returns is infused with Sleep Accord notes from a fragrance intelligence system that determines the right ingredients to induce a better night’s sleep

The collection — inspired by the Six of Swords tarot card which depicts a state of transition — includes a reed diffuser, pillow mist, and mini nebuliser with aroma essence. As it did last year with Hikaru, Scent by Six will be donating $10 for every sale of Sleep, Returns (up to $10,000) and donating it to SAMH to help individuals with mental health issues.

In an interview with Options, Lee shares more on the science behind Sleep, Returns, digitalisation in the face of Covid-19, and the multi-sensorial journey one experiences at Scent by Six stores.

Can you share more about the science behind the Sleep, Returns collection?

The calming scent is infused with fragrance intelligence, Sleep Accord, by Japanese fragrance house, Takasago. Data from a global study of Sleep Accord indicates a positive experience for its panellists, with improvement in sleep quality and duration, based on Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Light Sleep stages — where memories are processed, and emotions and metabolism are regulated. The test spanned over two weeks where the panellists were given two jars, one with “Sleep Accord” on blotter paper and the other without any scent. Before going to sleep, they put on a Fitbit tracker and opened a new jar to smell the fragrance while counting slowly to 20. In the morning, the panellists filled out a sleep diary to record details of their sleep and mood.

The data recorded an additional four minutes each for the REM and Light Sleep stages, and they also felt more refreshed and happier upon waking up the next day. My wife who had difficulty sleeping, as she was in her last trimester with our fourth child, also slept better with this scent. By combining qualitative and quantitative data, we feel that this scent is actually very effective to improve the quality of sleep.

While retailers have been scaling back on expansions, you’ve expanded with a new scent bar at JEM.

There is no better time than now to take a leap of faith and expand the business. Moving forward, running a business in this climate will be the new normal. We have complete trust that our government will manage the situation well and continue to support local businesses. I’m very grateful for all the grants, relief packages and rental rebates. Personally, I’ve made some gains and losses in this pandemic but we all should view it as a catalyst to becoming a stronger business.

Can you explain the mindful approach to designing your stores?
Scent by Six is dedicated to providing a holistic multi-sensorial experience for customers in a safe and calming sanctuary-like space that taps onto different levels of consciousness. I took inspiration from a visit to a private mental health facility co-working space where they pay a lot of attention to texture, colour, shapes, lighting and even temperature to create a calming environment that’s conducive for counselling sessions.

We work with local artists Clara Yee and Gerald Leow from In The Wild, who are experts at playing with all these experiential components to create an immersive journey.

The latest scent bar is an open and fluid space with a porous boundary, allowing guests to stumble upon and wander through the space that sits at a busy intersection at the entrance of JEM. The palette of soft sandstone pink, textured stucco walls, and luxurious brass, balance earthly tactile comfort with a touch of sophistication. Just like the flagship at 313@Somerset, JEM exudes a home-like hosting experience, creating islands over which to have conversations, linger and discover the scents.

The scent bar at JEM offers various ergonomic touchpoints to give the customer a pleasant multi-sensorial journey

The flagship store at 313@Somerset builds on the elements of a mossy cave with different zones of consciousness

How is your scenting workshop different?

Shopping at Scent by Six’s outlets is a multi-sensorial treat for the senses. Even before stepping in, you’re lured in by the ambient scent of 27 °F Biei, which is also introduced during an intimate scenting workshop conducted on-site. During these workshops, customers will be able to understand the basics of perfumery and also take home a scent they’ve created.

Unbeknownst to many people, perfumes like 27 °F Biei contains about 300–400 ingredients and not just the few typically listed in marketing collateral. What we’ve done is to split these ingredients into three vials labelled “top, mid and dry” each containing about 100 ingredients. What the user gets to do is to modify or play around with these layers to arrive at a scent that they like. All the ingredients have IFRA (International Fragrance Association), MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), and Halal certifications.

How did you pivot during the Circuit Breaker?

Revenue plummeted 50% last April so we had to quickly adapt and started creating hand sanitisers for hotels that had SHN (Stay-Home-Notice) guests. During this time, we also took a grant as part of a government-led Go Digital initiative to improve our digitalisation capabilities by employing an SAP (Systems Applications and Products) software system to streamline business processes, and revamp our website to make it e-commerce ready. Thanks to this, revenue shot up by almost 50% and we’ve started to stabilise again.

Business has been good for you. People must really be in need of more self-care.

It surprised me, too. Before the pandemic, the ratio of our sales was 50% perfume and 50% home fragrance. Since the pandemic, it’s been 90%–95% home fragrance. I think it’s because most have little reason to wear perfume these days. Instead, because they stay home all the time, they want to be able to uplift their mood and set their mind right for the activities ahead. Or they simply want to feel calmer in a space they are forced to share with many for a prolonged time. The home scent can be an intangible positive force.

Has commercial ambient scenting helped support the business?

Our business model used to be 50% commercial 50% retail, but now it’s 30% commercial 70% retail, mostly because the tourism industry has been very soft, and hotels don’t want to invest until the time is right. I think we’re quite stable for now but we’re continually thinking about how else we can do better for our customers.

What’s in the pipeline for you?

We will continue to look at ways to strengthen our omnichannel retail ecosystem and look for a new store space. When social distancing restrictions are lifted, we will also be rolling out a self-service system powered by artificial intelligence where customers can discover our menu of scents through screens, tablets and nebulisers.

With people placing more priority on self-care, we definitely want to create more scents that improve well-being, whether it’s to help you focus better at work or make you feel more at ease. And to do this, we will continue to use fragrance intelligence to marry functionality with olfactive beauty.

We are also actively looking for more charitable organisations to collaborate with and empower. To me, success is not always about the money you make but the sense of purpose and duty, and the impact I’ve made on others; something I hope to pass on to my children, too.


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