Interview with Holly Singer of Milk Jar Candle Co.
Holly Singer is the founder of Milk Jar Candle Company— beautifully scented, hand-poured soy candles with natural wooden wicks, free of harmful waxes and harsh chemicals.
Not only do these candles make the perfect gift and treat for yourself, but they’re gifts you can feel good about —$1 from each candle sale is donated to special needs programs for youth in Calgary.
We chatted with Holly about how she started Milk Jar Co., taking the leap from hobbyist to entrepreneur, and how to choose organizations to partner with when it comes to aligning your brand with a cause or charity.
Have you always been a DIY person? What prompted you to start experimenting with candle making?
I’ve always loved learning new things and making things with my hands. I played musical instruments and loved arts and crafts growing up, but I never got too serious into it.
Candle making started because I was looking for clean-burning candles. I couldn’t afford to buy soy candles, so I learned how to make them as a hobby. When I started, I never intend on making a business out of it, it was just something that I loved learning and perfecting.
What made you take the step from hobbyist to an entrepreneur?
I was making batches of 8 or so candles and would give them out to friends. A friend of mine, Carolyn — who works for Kit and Ace — asked if I wanted to sell my candles at a pop-up shop hosted by Kit and Ace to raise funds for the Fort McMurray forest fire victims that had lost their homes and belongings.
At the time, I had no brand or business at all, but I love the idea of a candle company that gives back to the community. I couldn’t very well sell a blank candle, so that was my first moments where I thought about branding, created labels, and registered my business.
You select a donation partnership to give part of your proceeds to every year. How do you choose the organisations you want to work with?
I do a lot of research and have been exposed to tons of great organizations in my field (in healthcare) who put together incredible programs.
My background is in Kinesiology. For 10 years, I have worked with kids with special needs who have benefitted from organizations that put together recreational programs for kids to move around, have fun, connect, and feel able-bodied.
One that resonated with me is the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing (CADS). I worked with a family that loved the sit ski program they offered and they became my first donation partnership with Milk Jar.
Last year we partnered with Between Friends, who offer social and recreational programs, and this year we are donating to PaceKids, who provide education-based programs for special needs kids from pre-school and earlier grades for public school integration.
I love that my business is able to give back and bring awareness to programs like these. Working with not-for-profit’s gives my brand more purpose and reason. I’ve always imagined my career rooted in helping people. Now that I’ve taken Milk Jar on full-time, I want my business to tie into my values. If I can support programs that help kids be kids, I consider it major victory for my business.
You’re originally from Victoria, B.C. What made you move to Calgary, and what’s your favourite thing about living in Calgary?
I was itching to try a new city and get out of my hometown. I moved here when I was 20. I transferred from UVic to U of C for Kinesiology and had dreams of becoming an Occupational Therapist.
It is the mountains and people I have met in Calgary that have kept me here— they’re really warm, kind and passionate people.
The maker world has been up and coming in the last few years. We’re being recognized for more than oil and gas, because the maker world is bringing something new to offer. I find that Calgarians want to spend money here and support it, and it’s growing. I really do feel like Calgary is still a city of opportunity and I am grateful to have started my business here.
What is a challenge you’ve learned/or currently learning to overcome as an entrepreneur?
I launched Milk Jar in November 2016, 2 months after starting Nursing school. I did a pop-up with other makers, got on social media, built a website, and it caught traction!
I think my brand resonates with people, and I really hit a niche with the wooden-wick soy candles.
I’m learning to adjust and be okay with the instability that comes with starting a business. I took a year off Nursing school to see where I could push Milk Jar to be, and the uncertainty was scary!
Most of my family members work in healthcare, so I don’t come from an entrepreneurship background—my brain is wired to want something secure in terms of a salary, benefits, etc. With Milk Jar, the security and knowns of working for someone else aren’t there, but the personal joy I have every single day from offering something to the world that people enjoy is more than worth the unknowns.
What’s something that has surprised you about yourself in the pursuit of growing Milk Jar?
I’m actually good at it!
I don’t like calling myself an entrepreneur, but when I do look back at everything—I know I made this happen!
I haven’t really had a team until this last Fall when I hired my first full time employee. All the marketing, social media, and branding inspiration has been from my ideas. It’s cool to see all these ideas I had come to life and see that people like it.
It makes me think, that if Milk Jar isn’t forever, I probably won’t go back into healthcare because I really enjoy doing all of this. Entrepreneurship with Milk Jar has allowed me to keep engaged with the Calgary community.
What’s a piece of advice you struggle to put into practice even though you know you should?
In the beginning, it was really difficult because I felt like I had no direction. I found it challenging to stay disciplined to the work because you can make your schedule freely.
Now that I’ve grown in momentum, I know my routine more and know what needs to get done and when.
I’ve also outsourced bookkeeping because it’s so important to how you measure growth. I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t super on top of money in the beginning. It’s definitely something I’ve struggled with and am now putting a lot of attention to, especially when it comes to growing my business.
Do you have any exciting projects in the works you’d be willing to share with us for 2019?
We’re looking to move into a space for our workshop! We need more space to create more products, and I would love a storefront where people can pick up candles and return used containers. We currently have a recycle candle program at a few retailer locations.
Do you have any advice for something thinking of pursuing their passion project as a full-time gig?
You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles in the beginning, and you’re not going to know if it’s going to work out until you try.
This is what worked for me:
Engage with the community as much as you can and work with other companies to get out there.
Use free social media tools like Instagram. I highly recommend investing in nice photography from the beginning because it elevates the product that much sooner and gives you content to post regularly.
Be a nice person! I’ve gotten the impression from some people who think that in order to succeed, you need to be cut-throat. I’m sure it works in some businesses, but if you put a lot of love into your craft and do it for more than just the money, it will show.
I want to work with genuine people, and I think people enjoy working with me because I’m not shoving my product down people’s throats or undercutting anyone for money. I’ve met and worked with people like that, and I’m not working with them now.
My favourite takeaway...
There was so much in my conversation with Holly that really resonated with me. First off, I think it’s admirable that Holly created a path through creative entrepreneurship that stays true to her values of helping others.
If I had to narrow it down to one takeaway, it would be Holly’s advice on engaging with your community. Holly started her business in a local pop-up shop, and the momentum grew from there because her message resonated with people.
It’s incredibly important when starting a business to find the right people to work with. They not only keep you motivated and cheer you on, but the right community can open new opportunities for you.