Eliana Fragrance is a Vancouver-based candle company that produces beautifully scented, small batch soy candles. Founded in 2019 by Laetitia Mfamobani, a blind entrepreneur, Eliana takes a different approach to many of their competitors. While other candle companies increasingly court a male demographic, Eliana leans into the fact that 80% of candle purchases are made by women. They market their products specifically towards this group, producing unique scents that celebrate the feminine spirit.
Laetitia’s entrepreneurial story is an inspiring one, using her small business journey to overcome depression and bring direction to her life. We are massively grateful to her for taking time out of her busy day to share this story with us.
What’s the story behind Eliana Fragrance?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a scent lover. Incense was always part of my life and we would burn it every night after dinner when people were having a cup of tea. I suppose I always associated scents with relaxation so I’ve always loved perfumes and other smells that remind me of that time.
When I first moved to Vancouver, I had zero English. I didn’t understand the language and I had nobody to talk to. For a few months, I was literally alone and I felt this deep loneliness I hadn’t experienced before. Alongside this, I lost a scholarship to go to UBC. This meant I lost all my income and I was on assistance, which isn’t a lot of money. This led to me falling into depression and struggling with my mental health.
One day, I was in the London Drugs in Kitsilano. While walking around, I smelled the incense they sell and it instantly took me back to my home. I started burning the incense at home and realized that these scents had the power to lift my mood. That’s when I got interested in scented candles and learning how to make them.
How difficult was it to learn the skills needed to make candles?
I contacted a few places I found online that taught classes in candle making but I was turned down because I am blind. People didn’t think it was possible to teach a blind person how to make a candle. I didn’t let this put me off. I’m used to learning how to do things on my own.
I started by going on YouTube to find videos of people describing the candle making process. Even though I couldn’t see what they were doing, I was determined to learn. I picked up enough to buy my first pack of materials on eBay and got started. Of course, my first candle was a mess. The second wasn’t much better but I was starting to improve.
Eventually, I got good enough that I would share the candles with friends and gradually perfected the art on my own. My friends were encouraging me to keep going but at the time I had no idea I could turn it into a business. What was important was that the process of making really helped with my emotions and gave me that fulfillment that I was doing something worthwhile and not letting blindness stop me.
What makes Eliana Fragrance different from other candle companies?
The market for scented candles was already saturated when I started out. I knew I needed to find a gap in the market. During this research, I discovered 70-80% of the people who buy candles in Canada are women. These figures are similar in other markets too. I realized that candle companies were taking women for granted in their marketing. They kept making efforts to attract men by creating more masculine scents.
Women are the ones buying candles. If you take them out of the picture, the whole industry would collapse. I thought, ‘how come there isn’t a candle company dedicated to women?’ I knew then that I wanted to design candles to celebrate the feminine spirit. Of course, it took a lot of work to find the right scents. I needed to find smells that evoked certain feelings in people; smells that reminded them of certain times or places.
You can even see it in the name of the company. In good grammar it should be Eliana Fragrances, right? I believe each woman, each Eliana, has that unique fragrance that speaks to them – that’s why I named it Eliana Fragrance.
Where can people buy your candles?
Right now, the best place to buy my candles is on my Eliana Fragrance website. We ship across Canada, so please check the website out for more info. I’m working to get my products on to the Amazon Handmade store, and on the Walmart website but that process is taking time. I hope we will be live on both places by the end of 2022.
How has your blindness impacted upon your experiences as an entrepreneur?
My disability means I have to overcome a lot of barriers just to get the candles produced. The process of candle making has so many inputs – you need to understand the temperature in the room, the pouring temperature, manually measuring how much you are pouring – there is so much to the process. Unfortunately, many of these things require sight, they aren’t designed for the mind. I get around it by hiring people to help me but this eats into my profit margin. It also can lead to delays – what if that person is out sick, for example. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a worry you always have in your mind.
In terms of big picture as an entrepreneur, I’ve found that people view entrepreneurs with disabilities differently and it can hurt your business. A friend of mine reached out to a business here in Vancouver who were interested in my products. They tested them and they loved them. When that person went online, read my story and discovered I was blind, their opinion changed instantly. They had so many questions, and suddenly my product wasn’t good any more. I knew the deal was over at that point.
The second big barrier as an entrepreneur is the lack of funding. There are grants and loans for so many different groups, and I love to see them getting that money, but nothing exists for entrepreneurs with disabilities. We have organizations like Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP) that can help but look at my situation. I am woman of colour with a disability, so I have these barriers I need to get over.
In practice, this has massively slowed down my potential to grow. I can’t take on large orders because it has always been a struggled to get the funding I need to fulfill those orders. I’ve had to slow my expansion down so much and it’s a daily reminder that I’m operating as an entrepreneur with a disability in an area that doesn’t really try to help me in any way.
What can business owners do to make their businesses more accessible for those with disabilities?
I love this question because this is the type of work I do full-time while I work on Eliana Fragrance in my spare time. It’s so easy for business owners to make small changes that don’t cost too much.
If you have a business that has a physical location, look at your environment. Make sure your space is wheelchair accessible. Not just your entry and exit, but things like chairs blocking passageways are unfriendly for those in wheelchairs. Next, look at your counter. Do you have part of your counter where people in a wheelchair can come to pay?
As a blind person, point of sale terminals in stores have become really inaccessible in the last few years. A lot of them are touch screens now without any buttons. I can’t use those terminals. I have to give my pin number to the cashier to complete my purchase. That isn’t fair for blind people.
Next, train your staff. Make sure they know how to respectfully handle customers with disabilities. It’s important they know how to accommodate these people and make them feel welcome. This can even make the money more business, as people with disabilities have money to spend same as anyone else. If you’re a restaurant owner, they might come to dine with a larger party that you will miss out on.
Finally, look at your website. Is it accessible? Do you have alt text on your images? These are so many small things you can do that will make all the difference.