When Charlene Koh, a former tech entrepreneur, was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer at the age of 35, her immediate focus was on treatment and recovery. But as it turned out, her cancer experience became the driving force behind the creation of her aromatherapy label Breathe Essentials.
At the time, she needed help to sleep and soothe the treatment’s side effects but didn’t want to pump more drugs into her body. Essential oils like lavender and rosemary – said to help with pain relief and hair growth – worked for her, and she wanted to make high-quality aromatherapy products available and affordable to others facing challenging times.
During the last few months of her year-long therapy, which concluded in April 2020, she began sourcing for organic ingredients – partnering with a French fragrance house that has extremely strict standards – and formulating her scented candles and oils. In October last year, Breathe Essentials hit the market.
Feedback has been positive and organisations have come knocking. Within three months, the brand had accrued corporate clients such as luxury watch brand IWC, insurance company AIA, KKH, and private members’ club, 1880.
“My brand represents hope, and it gives me a lot of joy to know that people find comfort in the products and scents I create,” she says. “A lot of people thought I was crazy to launch my business last October, but there really was no better time. It was breast cancer awareness month, and there was the pandemic, and the brand is all about providing comfort to people in times of need.”
Koh is also active on Instagram (@chupachupchar), where she has documented her cancer journey. “People asked why I wanted to be so open with my cancer story. But I am the face of my brand and besides, I didn’t choose cancer, it chose me – there’s no shame in that. So I hope my story can shed more light on mental wellness, not just for cancer patients, but those facing adversity and difficult times too. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and better days will come.”