Melody Lim’s earliest scent memory is of a sweet chai candle. Her aunt—who she lived with at the time—was always burning candles in their home. That nostalgic comfort—the crackle of the wick, the warm glow, the intoxicating scent—has stayed with her ever since. “Candles became a part of my everyday self-care routine that I turned to when I had difficult days or became anxious over school or work and just life in general. That’s how I became one with candles,” says the 25-year-old founder and CEO of Mala.
The Vancouver-based, eco-friendly soy candle company has amassed a dedicated following on Instagram since their launch in 2019 for many reasons: their reusable and recyclable metal tins, non-toxic soy wax, wood wicks (made from post-consumer waste) that crackle like a fireplace, minimalist packaging—and because Lim still answers every DM herself. “I have a really personal relationship with a lot of the customers,” she says. “I treat every single person as someone that’s part of the community.” That’s one of the many reasons why Lim has been able to set Mala apart from all of the other candle companies (and there’s a lot out there). After all, brand loyalty can’t be bought.
Mala has joined forces with local businesses and influencers in Vancouver (“Once you support other people, they’ll support you back. It’s a very uplifting community.”), but their latest launch might just be the most exciting one yet (we are just a wee bit biased). Mala created a custom candle with Girlboss called “Do Not Disturb.” With notes of sweet rose, warm vanilla, and golden sandalwood, it’s made for unwinding after work, when all of your notifications have been muted and you’re soaking in every second of “you” time. “I’ve always really admired [Girlboss] and loved what it was about, so this is a really, really awesome collab because I’ve literally been an OG Girlboss fan since the beginning. It’s really quite a dream,” says Lim.
Lim’s entrepreneurial spirit has always been there. She became a founder and CEO while completing her communications degree at Simon Fraser University. But it wasn’t with Mala, it was with her first company, Balm Bay Collective, where she sold lip balm and body scrub. “I don’t even think I knew what I was doing at the time,” says Lim with a laugh. Then, a trip abroad changed everything. She put her biz to bed and set off to Milos, Greece, where she met a candle maker who taught her the ropes of candle making. “That was my moment where I was like ‘I can do this—I’ve made lip balm, I’ve made sugar scrubs, I can do candles too.’ I decided right then and there: I want to take a swing at making candles, maybe this is my thing.” For three years, she played around with different concoctions and scents, all while finishing school, and later, working full-time at a skincare start-up. Everything was going great, until her boss fired her because of her growing side hustle. “That was the push that made me do it full-time. What better time than now to try it out and see if I can do something with it?” asks Lim.
“Candles became a part of my everyday self-care routine that I turned to when I had difficult days or became anxious over school or work and just life in general. That’s how I became one with candles.”
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise: Lim went from making candles with her mom in their basement to a 2,300-square-foot warehouse in Richmond, British Columbia, with 10 employees. And on top of a booming e-commerce site, Mala’s candles are sold in over 200 retail stores across North America, including Nordstrom, Indigo, and Bloomingdale’s. The brand has also helped plant over 36,000 trees around the world, through their partnership with Trees for the Future (1 candle purchased = 1 tree planted). “It was really important for me to create something that gave back to the environment or just respected it—mindfully creating,” says Lim.
That’s a lot of accomplishments for anyone, let alone a 25 year old who is leading a team for the first time in her career. “I was never a manager. I’m learning as much as everyone else here, and I think we’re just growing together and navigating all of these things for the first time together, so that’s been really nice. And everyone has been super understanding and helpful. I’m doing performance reviews with them, but I’m like ‘Hey, do a performance review on me. Let me know how I’m doing. Give me feedback too.’” And that might just be the best leadership advice of all.
Who are you inspired by?
“Recently, I would say Sara Blakely—she’s the founder of Spanx. From listening to her stories via podcasts and her own social channels, I can feel how genuine and kind-hearted she is just by the way she seems to carry herself, lead her team, and give back. She started Spanx with a little bit of savings, she bootstrapped it with zero background in business, but continues her mission to elevate women in the start-up space.”
How do you unwind?
“Netflix, a bath, and candles. I love rewatching shows, so I’m over here rewatching Suits for the third time.”
How many unread emails do you have right now?
“I have 2,600 right now. I just have a bunch of marketing emails that I don’t open and I don’t delete them.”
What do you look for in an employee?
“Reliability, punctuality, and a positive attitude.”
Best piece of advice you ever got?
“Get an accountant early on.”
Worst piece of advice you ever got?
“‘Fake it ‘til you make it.’ Come up with a strategic business plan instead.”