Jo Malone CBE, founder of niche fragrance brand Jo Loves, was recently invited by Space NK to visit Shanghai for her brand’s official launch on Space NK’s Tmall Global store. At the event, Jo Malone demonstrated the Fragrance Tapas Bar experience, where she mixed different fragrance products to create unique ‘tapas’ of scents, followed by a signing session for her book.
Co-founder of The Luxury Conversation, Chloé Reuter, also held a fireside chat with Jo Malone, talking about her start in the world of fragrances, through to her 35-year journey in business and entrepreneurship.
Chloé Reuter: Let’s start at the beginning – how did this amazing journey begin?
Jo Malone: I grew up in a very poor family, my mum was in the beauty industry and my dad was a brilliant artist. From the age of 8 I would sit with plastic jugs and make face cream – so skincare was my first love! I struggled at school as I’m very dyslexic, so my academic skills are not as advanced as the creative, let’s say. But I noticed that I had this incredible sense of smell. I could tell all the ingredients of beauty products by sense of smell – I couldn’t read the ingredients on the label but my sense of smell was my trusted tool, so I would say it’s geranium, rose, camphor – I could smell everything. From there I became more and more interested in making fragrances, until I made my first batch of 100 bottles.
Did you ever know or imagine that it could turn into this life that you’ve created and the business worldwide?
Honestly and truly no, I set out in life to pay the rent – a lot of entrepreneurs do, just to survive. That was my real motive. When I saw the business take off, and amazing things would happen such as I would get calls and interest from people all over the world – well I didn’t expect that at all. This has changed my life in the most wonderful way, and I could never have predicted it.
Today we’re here to celebrate Jo Loves – before it was Jo Malone, and now it’s Jo Loves. What made you decide to do it all again?
Creativity is a journey – it’s really a relationship. That relationship with creativity has continued all the way through my life. So that brand is Jo Malone – and I am Jo Malone (laughs), but I sold the brand many years ago to Estée Lauder and left the brand in 2006. When I left, I had a five year non-compete, and rightly so. In that five years I learnt more about myself than I had ever known before. One vital aspect I learnt was that creating fragrance was not a business, it was who I was and what made me happy.
So when those five years was up I had to go again. I missed this! The international business and creativity. When you’ve had the taste of success and global hunger it never leaves you and I wanted it again. So when we set up Jo Loves it was the most natural thing in the world. This is about me telling you the story of my life through fragrances. It’s braver, stronger and much riskier than I ever was before, and I am very happy with it.
I love the fact that you enjoy the journey – and I want to point out for a moment that you’ve been recognised with a CBE – congratulations!
Thank you – indeed, I didn’t look for it, but to be recognised by your Queen and country is a true honour. When you receive it you get a beautifully written letter in the post – when I saw that letter I burst into tears. To be recognised was wonderful and an honour. The title CBE means I truly feel the need to do something for my country to warrant that, and I am very proud.
Your book has many great and real stories of challenges and how much work it takes to build up what you’ve achieved. Why did you write it?
It got to the point where everyone was asking me to write a book, as it is a real journey that I have been on, that we’ve been on. There are so many stories that I know inspire other people and they think if she can do it, I can do it. That’s very important to me. Someone told me they love the stories – if it’s powerful then it can change people and change a community – I had to be really real and truthful. I put in the tears, the struggles, the diagnosis with cancer and I talk about it in a very real way.
I know that doing that and coming through the other end is beacon of hope. It helps others and gives people hope. There are also lots of funny stories! Usually involving Gary – we’ve been married for 36 years. He’s my very best friend and my business partner and there are lots of funny stories at Gary’s expense.
My favourite is the birthday present story!
Yes! That story is about a special gift. In the beginning, my first job was in a florist shop in London when I as 16. I was just out of school and had no qualifications and I was even fired from my first job! Yet from then on, as I progressed through different roles, I always felt like a shopkeeper as part of my identity. Well on my 48th birthday, Gary handed me a little blue box – I thought oh diamonds! It was a key. I can’t drive so I knew it wasn’t a car. He told me to go and be a shopkeeper again. He took me to that very same shop, and put the key in the door. So my birthday present was the first place I’d ever worked in. It was a gift of real creativity.
And now, with such experience in seeing trends come and go, what do you see growing now and looking to be big for 2020?
I’m excited about more niche brands coming in – it used to be about the big boys, and small brands didn’t even get a look-in. I’m really proud – not only of myself but there are others – that there are niche brands using our voice in a very powerful way and that we opened up the market for niche brands to become what they are today. (addresses audience) When you do see a small niche brand growing, go and support them, go and tell them what you think. It has taken them a lot to get where they are.
The consumer is now so much more aware. It’s not about me selling the bottle, it’s about you knowing me, who am I, you want to trust me, you’re asking where the ingredients are from. So as a founder or owner, you need to have the answers for all things.
In China we are on the brink of something so amazing, so I am very happy to go on this journey and I am learning from you [Chinese consumers] as much as you are learning from me.
Space NK and Jo Malone started at the same time, both by young British women starting out. So our journey is a 35 year relationship. We approached Jo Loves by looking at retail in a very different way; the theatre and circus is just as important as what is in the bottle. Space NK got it right away and you have to have the same beliefs when you go to retail around the world. I love Shanghai – I love the opportunities that it brings.
So it was a very natural part of our relationship to come to China. It’s like what they’ve done to this space and it’s amazing. Not every retailer will do that for you, but it makes you feel welcome and that you want to go even further with them.
When you see Jo Loves I want you to imagine that you’ve walked into my imagination. This is a story to be treasured and enjoyed, and it comes with my love.