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A Whiff of Local Life

Sabrina Co, founder of proudly Philippine-made fragrance company ATIN, creates scents to inspire a nation. Here’s how.

Master perfumers live by one cardinal rule: trust your instincts and dare to step out of your comfort zone. The greatest scents in modern history were those that challenged the norm and broke boundaries. Chanel No. 5, for instance, was crafted to capture the “true scent of a woman.” Departing from the usual musk and heady notes of its time, the iconic perfume was a breath of fresh air. It was sparkling, lively and in true Chanel form, seductive and unexpected. 

When Sabrina Co began to seriously explore the world of scents she was a Visual Performing Arts major at Syracuse University. She remembers, “I actually created my first fragrance when I was in high school.” Young and eager to experiment with various fragrance families and essences, she concocted a distinct scent that she describes as “young, fresh, and naïve.” Interest in the craft led to several seminars on creating scents. “Back then it was hard for me to really get into fragrances because I was also studying.”


One Summer in Grasse

A three-month immersion in Grasse, the world’s perfume capital, determined her fate in fragrances. As an intern for a senior perfumer Isabelle Cutri at 350-year old perfumery house Charabot, Sabrina discovered the secret to making a successful scent. “I learned that creating scents doesn’t always have to make sense. Sometimes, you add something that is completely unexpected and it will work.”

Her experience with the perfume house developed an intuition for creating something special and unique. “Always listen to your gut,” Sabrina recalls of the biggest lesson learned while at the French Riviera. It also inspired her to build a brand that would be unlike any other. “I had an idea to create scents using our own flora, fruits, and spices. We have so much in our country and none of those are being utilized for fragrances.”


A 17-Year Old CEO

Sabrina was all of 17 years when she founded ATIN, a local fragrance company that also stands for “Aiming to Inspire A Nation.” Business runs deep in the entrepreneur’s DNA, and it manifested early on. “I knew one day I would go into business, but I always thought that I would first dabble in acting.” Training for stage life still proved helpful for the budding business woman. “Acting and entrepreneurship share a lot of things in common. You have to always be on your toes, disciplined and quick to improvise. In that sense, I’ve taken a lot of what I’ve studied to work.”

She admits that running a one-woman-show during the company’s fledging years was a challenge. The creator, founder and proprietor was front and center in all aspects of the business. “I also sometimes felt that because I was so young, I wasn’t being taken seriously. Just the same, there were those who were impressed.” she ponders. 

The lean team at ATIN also had very limited resources for an official launch. Sabrina details, “We instead devoted a full six months on focus group discussions.” Response from these exchanges would have typically discouraged a budding entrepreneur, but not Sabrina. “Respondents were saying they wanted lavender, lemongrass and other scents you typically find in most fragrances. That was definitely not what we were trying to do.” Despite that, Sabrina followed her gut. She went back to the lessons learned in Grasse and did the unexpected.


Coconut and Orange

First products from ATIN were reed diffusers, using essences from familiar Philippine ingredients like coconut and dalandan. Sabrina also created other fragrances inspired by popular destinations in the country like Intramuros, Boracay and Palawan. Her idea was to recreate a distinct experience of the country and to project the best of our culture through premium home fragrances. The brand’s first few clients were excited and saw value in home scents that gave them a whiff of local life. “Foreigners were interested to know more about Philippine culture and heritage. To them, ATIN was something fresh and new.”

Merchandising heads at Kultura, also saw the potential in Sabrina’s brainchild. “When I first launched at Kultura, fragrances were not part of the retail mix.” ATIN spearheaded the new product category for KULTURA stores. It was a fitting concept that captured something of the country through scents.


Filipino in Essence

The goal then and now is to be the Philippine signature in fragrances. New products have been developed since ATIN’s launch. Scented candles with variants like Paru-Paro, Salaguinto and Tutubi transport scenes to local gardens where butterflies, beetles and grasshoppers play.

ATIN has also created sublime body and massage oils that nourish mind, body and soul. Local essences of basil, ginger and green herbs recall the ancient Philippine healing tradition of hilot or deep tissue massage. Ylang-ylang, which was introduced by Filipinos to the world in the 1867 World Exposition in Paris, is an addition that captures the beauty of the flower of flowers.

Sabrina also decided that 2020 would be a good year to finally launch a new line of essential oils. “What better time than now when people are struggling with mental health, anxiety and stress?” she opined. The young fragrance maker hopes to make premium essential oils more accessible to the market. “I’ve always used essential oils ever since I was young. This line is something I’ve been wanting to do for the past two year. I wanted to provide a line that is super high quality, 100% pure and more affordable.”


Essential oils as a new range within the ATIN mix also aligned with the brand’s vision of mirroring Philippine life and culture. “Holistic healing has always been the preferred approach for the Filipino. Even in our history, plants and oils were integrated in Filipino medicinal practices,” explains Sabrina. “I would like to continue making more scents that tell the story of our culture and heritage.”   To date, Sabrina also creates and curates the scenting requirements of the top corporations in the country, including malls and hotels.

Plans for expansion here and abroad are in the pipeline. Sabrina ends, “From the get-go, our goal was to go global. We wanted to create something that would bring pride to Filipinos. ATIN was founded as something that we can all connect with—something everyone can call their own.” Translated in Philippine lingua franca, this is something that is ATIN

For more information and to discover the brand story even more, visit the website, and follow ATIN on social media at @ThisIsAtin on Instagram and @AtinPhilippines on Facebook.