As a recent university graduate who had just started her first nine-to-five role, Melody Lim did what many resourceful young professionals do to make some extra cash and flex their creative muscles: launched a side hustle. Putting her love for DIY, hands-on projects to good use, she started making her own candles out of a makeshift studio in her parents’ home, picking up new skills on the fly after learning the basics from a candlemaker she had met in Greece.
“I conceptualized the candle idea while studying abroad in Berlin, Germany. I met a candlemaker in Greece, and he taught my friend and me the basics of candle-making, so I thought I would go home and try to make my own,” Lim explains.
Starting small, she began experimenting with her scented candles upon returning home, posting photos of the products to her Instagram account. Early on, it became clear to Lim that her boss disapproved of the idea, so she and the skincare company she had been working for parted ways so she could put 100 per cent of her focus into her own business.
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Melody Lim’s Leap of Faith
“I decided to post a few photos on Instagram and see what I could do with them. I had always dreamed of doing it on my own, but my boss didn’t really see eye-to-eye with me having my side hustle, so he let me go about a month after,” Lim says. “So, I thought, I’ll give myself a few months with this—and that’s when COVID happened.”
Having studied communications at school, the young entrepreneur didn’t have a formal business background, but she knew a thing or two about the power of networking and community building. And with the pandemic creating the perfect atmosphere for e-commerce businesses to thrive, Lim saw a golden opportunity to grow her brand.
She hired her mother as her first official employee and named the company Mala the Brand.
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The Story Behind Mala the Brand
“Technically, the name came from an ex-boyfriend. He was Croatian and gave me the nickname ‘Mala,’ which means kiddo in Croatian. I liked that name, and I couldn’t think of anything better at the time,” she says.
The childlike connotations of the name turned out to be a fitting moniker for the Brand—for Lim, the scented candles represent nostalgia for her childhood when her aunt would burn scented candles at her family home. Since scent is one of the five senses most closely linked with memory, Lim believes scented candles can provide a sense of comfort while being a reminder of simpler times.
“The self-care component is a big thing, and just the nostalgia of the scent itself,” she explains. “Scent is a personal thing for everyone and invokes memories, so we try to bring that to life with all our scents.”
For example, one of the Brand’s best-selling candles is Cereal, which offers a “whiff of childhood” with its sweet, fruity scent.
“Nostalgia in a jar,” the product description reads. “With a perfect balance of light lemon, citrus and berries, this candle will take you back to your best childhood memories: Saturday morning cartoons in your pyjamas with a big bowl of your favourite cereal. Dare we say it smells like fruit loops…?”
The Power of Scent
In addition to Cereal, the Brand’s year-round scents include: Milk and Sugar, Silk, Rosebud, Sundays, Chai, Fireside and Cabin Fever—which was inspired by the aromas of evergreen and moss Lim was surrounded by as a child growing up near a Whistler skin town.
“Every scent has a little memory associated with it,” she says.
In addition to evoking self-care rituals and nostalgic moments, the Brand is dedicated to using safe, clean, non-toxic ingredients and prioritizing sustainability. Mala plants a tree somewhere around the globe for every purchase of a full-size candle.
“Growing up, I was always a huge environmental person,” Lim says. “My family has spent a lot of weekends hiking and camping, so I think that’s where my passion for the environment started. The impact of mindless consumerism can take a toll on our planet, and I wanted to think of a way to give back.”
Since launching the brand, Lim says the community response has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only have they built a solid community of devoted fans, but large retailers like Indigo and Nordstrom have also approached Mala. Lim believes that part of the reason the brand has seen so much success quickly is her fierce dedication to building a strong sense of community.
Melody Lim on Prioritizing Community
“Community is the biggest thing–it’s been so important for me from the beginning,” she says. “I’ve been very reflective about how we’ve built our online presence, continually creating and innovating and learning. We have one-on-one, personal relationships with our customers. Initially, I had no followers, so I started garnering a community through one-on-one DM conversations. I would message them back as a human instead of a company, and that transparency and authenticity shone through.”
The brand’s simple yet warm aesthetic has also played a key role in its success. Lim says when she first began researching the vessels she would use for the candles, she knew she wanted them to look different and unique while keeping sustainability at the top of her mind.
“I hadn’t seen any candle companies using the signature silver tins we’ve used, and they’re made from sustainable materials,” she says. “In terms of style, every customer has their unique aesthetic, but the candles tend to work well in anyone’s home.”
Sustainability is Always in Style
Mala the Brand has already seen so much success as a burgeoning candle company, but Lim says they’re just getting started. She and her team are working hard on new goals for the year, including expanding their product line and planting more trees.
“We want to hit our goal of planting 100,000 trees by next year, but aside from that, we’re working on new product categories,” she says. “We’re incorporating a lot of customer feedback about different scents and thinking about different product development ideas like perfume, diffusers and home sprays.”
Lim says she’s proud of the work she and Mala the Brand have done so far to continue growing and making connections with their customers, but sharing in the excitement with her mom has been one of the most priceless highlights of the journey.
“It’s been unreal to share that excitement with my mom, who has been with me from the beginning.”
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