Josh Lee is living his childhood dream as a perfumer. He literally practices what he preaches, preserving his ‘heritage through scent.’
What’s your story?
When I was three, my father used to spray some of his cologne on me before we left the house. Since then, I have always been intrigued by the different scents that came through my nose. Moreover, I grew up in a family with a shop that sells cake-ingredients. It was always filled with the aroma of comfort flavours such as vanilla and chocolate. Equipped with over a decade of experience in the fragrance industry and trained at the prestigious perfumery institute, ISIPCA in France, I founded my own fragrance brand, Josh Lee Fragrances.
What excites you most about your industry?
I’m a dreamer who is passionate about scent and will always pick up scents and aromas around me from flowers to food wherever I go or travel to. All my fragrances are reflections of my life’s story; the places I have been and the cultures I have immersed myself in. I believe that we need to preserve our heritage in order to move forward into the new century and I am doing my part by preserving our heritage through scents. Hence, my tagline is ‘Heritage through scent.’
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in a Chinese family in Penang. Nevertheless, there are so many different cultures, heritage and food in Malaysia. In fact, there is a bit of everything; Malay, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Dutch, English and even Japanese. If you ask me, the capital of Asia would be Malaysia! And that’s why all my fragrances are inspired by the heritage, culture and nature of Asia and Malaysia. My current fragrance collections are called George Town, OUD and Nyonya. My next fragrance collection in 2016 will be based on the flowers of Asia and Malaysia.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Penang is becoming a popular tourist destination since George Town in Penang has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Moreover, we have so many international festivals here, in particular the George Town Festival which has encouraged many tourists and hence, it is a great platform to promote my fragrances to the world.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Everything is personal, from taste, beliefs and actions to preference. You can not please everyone but you can make their life a better place to live in if you choose to.
In addition, no matter how successful or popular you have become, always remember to have humility and be kind to others.
Who inspires you?
My 68-year mother is the most important person in my life. She always encouraged me to pursue my dream to become a perfumer, ever since I was young. She taught me a lot of personal skills such as leadership and management skills and she is the driving force in my father’s business. That’s why she is like my consultant for my business as she is standing behind me on my positive decisions in life and confronting me on the negative ones.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You need different sets of keys to open different doors. No matter how good you are, you still need good team members to do what they are good at and deliver the best results for you.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have added culinary chef to my bio. It is all about senses after all. Food triggers our memory while taste buds are as powerful as the sense of smell. But it is never too late to learn and I may join some short culinary classes in Penang such as the Nyonya food class by renowned Nyonya chef, Pearly Kee.
How do you unwind?
Most of the times, I enjoy a good swim to relax and clear my mind and sometimes it is a good time for me to put my thoughts together while swimming.
I am an avid chocoholic and a small chunk of dark chocolate is my daily dose to kick off my day.
I will always travel two to three times a year. My mind roams free when I travel to places that have diverse cultures, nature and food. Places like Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, Provence and the Côte d’Azur in France have intriguing scents of flowers and herbs such as lavender, lemongrass, frangipani, rose, jasmine and others.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I loved visiting Bangkok. It is a vibrant and dynamic city with a diverse arts scene as well as delicious food to feed the soul, especially the tom yum soup, phad thai and street food. You can also get a good brewed coffee at a reasonable price. I always feel rejuvenated with a relaxing spa and awesome Thai massage there. I am also inspired by the local designers who have such incredible creativity and skills.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business by Paul Downs.
It is a compelling memoir – not a manual – about life as a small business owner with honest reflections on failures and shortcomings. It is not just a story, but a page turner. I finished it in two days. This isn’t a tale of his business brilliance or financial success. It’s a story of trying to figure it out, day by day and all the mistakes and false starts every business runs into along the way. It is definitely a good learning curve for new start-up entrepreneurs.
Shameless plug for your business
Josh Lee’s fragrances are personally created and concocted by award-winning fragrance designer, Josh Lee. Born in Penang and trained at the prestigious perfumery institute, ISIPCA in France, Josh’s fragrances are inspired by the heritage, culture and nature of Malaysia and Asia.
All fragrances are certified HALAL by Jakim Malaysia with international quality certification by IFRA (The International Fragrance Association). We strive to promote Malaysia and Asia to the world with our tagline: ‘Heritage through scent.’
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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