One sunny afternoon in Amsterdam, our social media intern Ugne took a stroll from our store in De Pijp to the home of candle maker, student and entrepreneur Tatjana. From the day we first met her we were impressed by her go-getter attitude and passion for making stuff. Have a read of our candid interview below.
Q.We just love to support women on a mission. Take us through your story, what drives you daily and why you started your candle label.
A.First off, I want to thank you for including Ílla in your shop. I am beyond grateful to form part of such a diverse and sustainable community!
It all started in summer 2020. I was in Switzerland with my parents and spent most of the time studying online and missing my uni life and friends that had scattered all over the world due to Covid-19. I wanted to treat myself and splurge on a candle when I suddenly realized that I could simply try to make my own. After watching a few videos on Youtube, I had a detailed list of supplies that I could not wait to get my hands on. Instead of buying wax, I went to the attic and found a huge box filled with old, ugly candles (some were probably older than me).
The candle mould that caught my attention first was Calliope. After patiently waiting for several weeks, I finally received it – I was thrilled! That same night I melted old candles with my little brother and made my first candle. It was wobbly, had bubbles and looked a bit odd but for me it was perfect. Back in Amsterdam, I bought wax for the first time (of course, it was the wrong type of wax but I didn’t know yet). My kitchen turned into a little factory, and I poured and poured for hours. I also had creative nights with my close friend Julie where we made candles together to lighten up the dark November days. She was the first person that heard about my dream of starting a small candle business, and by then it still seemed so far away.
After only a few days, I already had a small army of Calliope’s on my shelves, but something was missing. With my range I wanted to embrace womanhood in all its glory, and I missed the beautiful features like a round tummy and rolls. That’s when I found Athena and Aphrodite. I fell in love with them and felt like they completed my collection. Slowly, the army of female torso’s started growing with over 30 in my small apartment. My friends thought it was slowly necessary for me to start selling them to avoid people being ‘weirded out’ if they entered my apartment lol
Ílla was born in my tiny kitchen in De Pijp in December of 2020. I started with the wrong wax that made the candles way too hard and their color was almost a hospital white. I had no experience in sales. No experience with marketing or starting a business. But I had a plan: to trust the process. Slowly I began to learn about the complexities of making candles (its not easy as social media makes it seem!) and I learned so much! My only aim was for my range to embrace femininity, and for it to be as sustainable as possible. Slowly, I gathered a small community on my Instagram which supported me like no other (I am so grateful for it!).
What keeps me going each day is knowing that somewhere in the world, my candles will light up someone’s day, either just by shining in dark days, or by reminding them how beautiful their body is regardless of the beauty standards. During these uncertain times, I hope that my candles can offer comfort and hope as they do to me.
Q.Where did you come up with this name?
A.For me it was important to choose a name that connects me to my roots: Ecuador. It’s the country I grew up in and to which I feel most connected to. My mom and brothers still live there, and I miss them every day. The indigenous language of Ecuador is Quechua. It is so beautiful and different to any other language I’ve heard. Ílla, stands for ‘light’ in Quechua, and I think there is no name more fitting than that!
Q.What is the development process for the creation of your candles? I guess it’s a craft that requires patience, tell us a little more.
A.As described above, the process took months and I’m still learning something new about candle-making every day. The hardest part was STARTING! Every day that I thought I had it figured out, life taught me that I didn’t. Either the wax didn’t work, or the dye had clumps, or the wick was too thick, or the mold too sticky. But with the help and support of my friend Julie (who was also starting a candle business at the same time) + A LOT of patience, I was able to pull through and learn from each mistake.
Making candles requires knowledge and a steady hand to avoid getting wax all over the surface of your kitchen. But if you persevere, the wait will be well worth it (Just get used to cleaning your kitchen twice a day and it still being messy)
Q.Describe yourself in 5 words.
Purpose-driven, spontaneous, hard-working, funny (at least I think so :p) and confident.
A.Where do you see yourself in 10 years, what is your ultimate goal?
In 10 years, I see myself working in the development sector. My dream is to somehow contribute to this world by promoting sustainability and decreasing global inequality. I would absolutely love to have a little Atelier for Ílla, where I can offer workshops and create a safe and inclusive space where women can explore their creativity. I love promoting the idea that creativity is NOT perfection! We often have such high expectations of our artwork, but, it does not have to be perfect (or good), it just has to be fun to make! If Ílla taught me something, it’s that creativity can be so beneficial for your mental health – it has been such a lifesaver for me during the pandemic.
Q.Being a young hustler must be hard to manager, are there any notable setbacks that you can recall and how do you get past these times.
A.Managing a small business alongside university studies can be quite challenging. The first hurdle was to learn how to set up a small business from scratch, starting with product development, marketing, product photography and forging client relations. For me the hardest (and most rewarding) part was developing my own website. I had a vision of how it should look like and went straight to work. After a few late nights watching tutorials and learning the basics of coding, I finished the website. I am happy with how the website reflects the vibe of Ílla!
Now that I am more advanced in my small business journey, I encountered another conflict. Small businesses continuously launch new products to keep the ‘hype’ going. Often, small businesses feel pressured to launch new collections and products every month for their audience to continue to engage with their business. The pressure to produce and produce can lead to a burnout and a feeling of guilt. I faced these feelings of guilt when comparing myself to other businesses that always had a new collection up their sleeve. What helped me work through these feelings was to remember my vision with Ílla: for it to be a slow and sustainable business. I acknowledged that constantly launching new products is not sustainable for me OR the planet. I often still have to remind myself to rest and act in tune with how I feel.
Q.How do you incorporate sustainability into your brand?
A.I try to make each aspect of Ílla as sustainable as possible, ranging from the materials used up to the packaging. Sustainability guided my choices of wax, dye, and packaging. That’s the reason why I use 100% soy wax and mineral dyes. I also use biodegradable packaging chips and ensure that my business and thank you cards are printed on recycled paper. Finally, I also offer the pick-up option in Amsterdam to avoid extra shipping fees (and less CO2 emissions!). Pick-ups also allow me to forge human connections which I LOVE!
Q.How do you envision Ílla growing in the coming years? Any new projects on the horizon?
A.In the future I hope I can bring together a community that is inclusive, supportive and empowering. With Ílla I hope to continue forging connections with small sustainable shops, other small businesses and artists all around the world! Currently I am working on the nude collection with a variety of skin tones to pick from. I also want to add more details to my candles such as stretch marks and eczema because it’s completely natural! Other projects include future collaborations with other small businesses and shops in Europe.
Q.Your commitment to body positivity and self-love through your Muse Collection is inspiring. What inspired you to create candles with differently shaped bodies?
A.Thank you so much! The first candle I saw was Calliope. And while I really like the shape, it is no secret that it is a body shape that is rarely attained. What I want to transmit with my candles is more than an (often unattainable) idea of beauty. I want to empower women of all shapes and sizes to own and be proud of the body they have! As women, we have enough people telling us what to look like, and what to eat to get the “perfect beach body”. I’ve had enough of it, and I want current and future generations to know that they are enough as they are. They do not have to change anything of themselves to be beautiful, and I hope my candles can be a reminder of that.
Q.Tell us about your favourite spots in Amsterdam. We are curious
A.De Pijp has my heart. I love Sarphatipark and the cute little streets and bars. My favorite spot is the Versegood street, I love how many lovely businesses I can find there (with my favorite of course being Versegood store)! Now that shops and bars have re-opened, seeing so many people enjoy their afternoons makes me happy
Q.Which products from Verse most connect with you
A.Besides the candles, I absolutely love the sustainable skincare products that Verse has to offer. In Ecuador, I never had much access to well-known skincare brands like I do here. Once I came to Amsterdam, I immersed myself in the world of skincare and makeup. I was thrilled with the access I have to skincare brands here in Europe. After going nuts and buying a whole 12-step skincare routine, I noticed that I did not take the environment into account. I started doing my research about the harmful effects of skincare on the earth and was shocked. Since then, I live by the phrase ‘less is more’ in skincare.
Q.What is your personal style.
A.I can never fully commit to one style. Sometimes I look like a potato sack, wearing extremely oversized hoodies (let’s be honest here, that is the true lockdown look). Other times I look put together until I step out of my house and the Amsterdam weather ruins my hair and fogs up my huge glasses. Okay now seriously. My style is a mix of nude tones in winter and pastel tones during the warmer months. I like to wear casual clothes with a pop of color and I looove straight-leg jeans or my beloved balloon pants (are they even called like that?). With Ílla, my current style is soft pastels. While at first, I didn’t want my feed to be too colourful, I (clearly) could not resist. Now my feed is full of flowers, soft golden hour light and pastel colours all the way It’s my way of manifesting Summer to FINALLY come to Amsterdam.
Check out the full collection of candles by Ílla here