The greatest companies seem to sprout out of a practical need in your life. That certainly was the case for co-founders of the TAJA Collection Annie Chapur and Annabelle DeGrazio when they couldn’t find the type of candle they were searching for during the holiday season. These Miami based candle entrepreneurs are taking the candle world by storm with customizable candles, and candle making classes in Wynwood. Read on to learn how these former lawyers made the switch to entrepreneurs.
1. How did two lawyers transition from the courtroom to making custom candles?
The transition was really an accident. Or maybe a more elegant way to describe the switch would be serendipitous. Either way, it was not my plan. I was on the partner-track at the law firm and I had no ambitions of ever leaving the firm, much less changing careers and becoming an entrepreneur. It was the holiday season and my TAJA Collection Co-founder Annabelle DeGrazio and I were looking for gifts for our assistants. Our assistants liked candles, but everything on the market seemed really impersonal. We were looking for ways to make the candles more thoughtful, by somehow including a personal message, but couldn’t find anything. Coincidentally, at that same time, I was working on a deal taking a client public. The client was in the electric candle business (think: all the electric candles used for concerts and large-scale events). Taking a company public involves a ton of consumer disclosures so I was learning so much about the candle industry: market-cap, risks, margins, consumer behavior, etc. At the same time, Annabelle and I couldn’t stop thinking about the opportunity: customizable candles. It started out as a hobby, making candles in our kitchen and soon enough we were giving notice to the firm.
2. What inspired the creation of TAJA and what does it stand for?
The name TAJA is literally our initials backwards (at least from our maiden names: Annie Jensen and Annabelle Torgman). But we like to think of TAJA as a synonym for being thoughtful. Our core value is thoughtfulness. People who want to become entrepreneurs often ask me, “How do I find my passion or how do I know what product to create or which industry to go into?” My answer is always the same: what are people constantly coming to you for? Annabelle and I were lucky in that the idea for TAJA came out of the need (or at least the desire) to solve a problem. But, if we had decided to start a company without being confronted with the problem, I still think we would have eventually ended up in the same place. That’s because we are both the people that our friends and family come to for help buying presents. Thoughtful gifting is our specialty as individuals, and now our core value as a company.
3. In addition to launching a new business, you’re also a new mom! Now that you have TWO babies how do you keep a balance in your life?
Well I’m 7.5 months pregnant so I’m not a mom (yet). But that time is inching closer and closer! I have three core philosophies that have really helped me find “balance”. The first is that you should always lean into your strengths. There is so much emphasis, especially in the U.S. to “fix your weaknesses.” I’m not saying that self-work is not important, because I think it’s critical. What I mean is, if you’re a night-owl that does your best work at night (like me), don’t force yourself to wake up early to fit some sort of mold or norm. I’m able to be so productive (which frees up time for my personal life) just by being self-aware and allowing myself to work the way that suits me best. This philosophy is also great when it comes to lifestyle. There is so much noise out there about different diets (high fat, low carb, vegan, fasting etc. etc.) and workout plans (low intensity, high intensity, interval training etc. etc.). There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but all the pressure, especially on social media, can feel confusing and overwhelming. Allowing yourself to lean into the things you are attracted to (for me, long walks in the morning) and not forcing yourself into things you are not drawn to (yoga) is so freeing and you will find yourself feeling so much more balanced once you become more in-tune with what speaks to you. The second philosophy is being present. This one is tough. It really doesn’t matter if I come home early to cook dinner (something I love to do) for my husband and I, if I’m looking at my phone the whole time to answer e-mails. It also isn’t particularly helpful if I go to work early but can’t concentrate because I’m too distracted by my personal to-do list that I didn’t finish the night before. Finally, I don’t know where this came from but for most of my life I’ve had the belief that you can’t be successful unless you’re working 24/7. This belief was, no surprise, self-actualizing. It took me way too long to realize that quality is so much more important than quantity. Forcing myself to work fewer hours and vacation more has not only improved my well-being (allowing me to find more balance) but it has actually improved my work-product and had a positive impact on our numbers.
4. In Miami, I saw you host candle-making classes. Can you tell us more about what these entail?
These are so fun. One of our key goals for 2018 was to move into a space where we could host candle-making classes, and our new store in Wynwood allows for just that. Our classes are intimate (8 people or less) and open to all ages (children too). We start by teaching you everything you would ever want to know about candle-making (fragrance, soy wax, wicks, why we don’t use parabens, phthalates or additives, etc.). From there, you choose your fragrance (you even get to re-name it if you want) and then hand-pour your own candle. While your candle dries, we help you brainstorm the personalizations you would like to engrave on the candle jar and wooden lid. Oh, we also include wine 😉 Attendees go home with a candle they hand-poured and personalized.
5. With all the fragrances you offer you have quite creative names like “Tall dark and handsome” where do you draw inspiration for the names and do you have any favorite fragrances?
Thank you! I think this is my way of living out a secret dream I had of naming nail polish colors. Am I the only one who has had this desire? Sometimes Annabelle and I will sit and brainstorm fragrance names as a treat to reward ourselves. Sometimes they just come to us out of the blue. We recently launched a new fragrance and had a naming contest, allowing our customers to name the new fragrance. When it comes to favorites I really love “Queen of Hearts” but the new fragrance we just launched, “Do Not Disturb” is really special and currently taking over my whole house.
For more information on Taja Collection Custom Candles:
Visit their website Taja Collection
Follow on Instagram at @TajaCollection