• Stephanie Drax

FoundHer: Kate Crofton-Atkins, Cochine

Kate Crofton-Atkins is the founder of Cochine, a luxury sustainable fragrance brand inspired by the heady scents of Vietnam. After working in skincare at L’Oreal in London for several years, Kate moved to Saigon with her husband and imagined a line of products infused with the romance and exotic aromas of her new environment. Launched in 2008, the elegant range includes perfumes, candles, and indulgent creams and washes for the bath and body. Cochine is found online and in stores across the world, as well as in several discerning hotels.

What does your typical day look like?

I live in Hong Kong, where I seem to find myself waking up to either baking heat or torrential rain - not much in between! I have 3 daughters, so the first part of the day is about getting the two eldest off to school - something which never seems to get faster the more we do it - and as soon as that’s done, I head into our office. I try and plan any team catch-ups or meetings for the morning - not only does everyone seem to be more on their game, but it also frees up the rest of the day to focus on getting things done. We manufacture most of our products in Vietnam (where we source lots of the ingredients for our fragrances such as Water Hyacinth, Champa Jasmine and Agarwood), we work with factories in the South of France on our new bath and body range, and other stores around the world as well, so there can be quite a few balls in the air! Although, one of the things I love about what I do is that no day is ever the same. I try to get home in time to help the girls with their homework and put them to bed, before doing calls with the UK or US teams in the evening. Running your own business means that it is hard to switch off, but I am also grateful that it affords some flexibility, and I try very hard to make the most of that.

What is/are your biggest success/es to date?

I think that being able to create a luxury fragrance brand with real roots in Vietnam - in its culture, charm, elegance, and extraordinary natural resources - and bring that to a global audience definitely gives me a sense of achievement. The idea for launching Cochine came to me when I moved to Saigon ten years ago. It’s taken time and a lot of hard work but I feel we have a wonderful range of products that are unlike any others thanks to their roots, craftsmanship and inspiration. And now our products can be found in hotels, department stores and boutiques from New York to LA, Hong Kong to London, Saigon to Singapore. The surprise I get when I spot Cochine in someone’s home or in a new store never ceases to feel rewarding. It’s even more so for my family - my father nearly passed out when someone gave him a Cochine candle for the first time!

Which tools can't you live without?

I have to travel quite a bit for work, visiting our factories in Vietnam and working with retailers that stock our range, so my phone and on-the-go tech support (laptop, remote access etc) is vital. And, whilst I’d love to say that I try as hard as I can to stay off my phone when I can, being able to snatch five minutes here and there helps me stay on top of things. The other support system I could not manage without is brilliant and reliable childcare. It’s something I often feel we’re not meant to talk about, that, as if by magic, we’re meant to be in the office all day and look after children at the same time, but with two working parents it would be impossible to run Cochine without good childcare and it’s something I’m grateful for every day.

Where do you hope to see yourself in 5 years time?

We are building our brand all the time. There are new products and formulations in the pipeline, and new fragrances, too. We are deeply committed to developing products that are as sustainable as they can possibly be, from the ingredients to the packaging, and this is something I find very exciting. I see us growing our global presence, spreading a brand still rooted in the charm and romance of Vietnam that has a really significant reach.

What would you tell your younger self at the beginning of your career?

I think that getting hands-on experience on someone else’s dime is invaluable. I worked at L’Oreal in London for several years and before that as an analyst, and without this experience, getting Cochine off the ground would have been a very different story. There comes a time when you need to be brave and just go for it, but the more skills you can arm yourself with before then, the better. I would tell my younger self to have listened more carefully in accounting classes!

Is there anything you’ve had to sacrifice for your career?

Honestly, I feel I’ve been quite lucky on this front. My eldest daughter, Cleo, was born two years after I launched Cochine, and since then Bea, who is 5, and Martha who is 9 months have arrived, and all the while Cochine has grown alongside them. Yes, there have been times when I’ve felt very squeezed - and pretty stressed - but we’ve muddled through and I feel proud of the fact that I haven’t compromised too much on work or family. My social life - well, that’s another story!

What are the biggest surprises you’ve experienced in motherhood?

As someone who likes to plan things and keep quite tight control, I’ve definitely had to learn to go with the flow a bit more. The all-consuming nature of being a mother - both the brilliant bits and the less brilliant bits - took me by surprise. I thought things would be easier once the girls started school but this comes with all new challenges like homework, parent participation and generally being responsible for helping them grow up to be the happy, rounded people we want them to be. I find this responsibility bigger than I thought it would be. But I think our general capacity, as mothers, to dig deep in the face of sleepless nights and a mountain of things to get done is pretty impressive.

Do you have any tips for new founders?

I think that now, more than ever before, with all the opportunities afforded by online retail, consumers are keen to find brands with integrity and meaning. It’s wonderful to be able to connect to those customers via social media etc, and there is so much scope for new ideas. I also think there is a real movement, particularly in the UK, for homegrown brands with unique stories - so now is a great time to start something. My advice would be to really develop your own story and tell it well. Find your point of difference, stay true to it, be passionate about it and never, ever scrimp on quality.

Finally, what quote do you live by?

Just the other day, I read a quote, “the comeback is always more powerful than the setback.” Being the founder of a business, by definition, means that you cannot have all of the answers all of the time, I definitely don’t. But I’ve learnt as much (probably more) from the stumbling blocks we’ve met and had to work around, than the successes. My advice would be to keep calm, find the solution, and carry on stronger with that knowledge. And try not to make the same mistakes twice.