How the Co-Founders of LOHN Transitioned from Chemical Engineering to Candle-Making?

How the Co-Founders of LOHN Transitioned from Chemical Engineering to Candle-Making?

As most of the globe remains confined to their houses, it’s easy to get dissatisfied with your surroundings. LOHN allows you to go on a journey without ever leaving your house.

LOHN, founded in 2018 by Katerina Juskey and Victoria Mierzwa, is the result of the co-founders’ enthusiasm for fragrance and product creation.

While studying chemical engineering at Queen’s University, Juskey and Mierzwa planned to take slightly unconventional courses for their fields: Juskey in fragrance and Mierzwa in the manufacturing of hotel amenities. They chose to collaborate after gaining experience and insight from various sectors in order to develop their own endeavour: Candles.

LOHN candles are totally inspired by historical voyages, and Mierzwa hopes that the smells will take clients on their own trips. 

“That’s basically what we wanted to build: fragrances that transport you to a moment or place in your mind that you do not know where it is.”

LOHN has developed a strong online community and devoted fans in just two years. What began with them pouring wax in their kitchens has evolved into a 2100-square-foot warehouse that generates over 15 distinct smells and includes a bespoke scent creation lab.

“Given our expertise with suppliers and raw materials, as well as building a product from the bottom up, we felt in our hearts that we could produce something that was exceptionally high quality and beautifully designed. We thought that customers would appreciate our brand’s backstory and our industry background. We believe there are many candle companies out there, but not many individuals have the backgrounds that we actually have.”

Juskey and Mierzwa are poised to continue their goal to perfume people’s journeys with clean-burning candles, thanks to their backgrounds, creativity, and enthusiasm. CanadianSME sat down with Katerina Juskey and Victoria to know about their entire journey from being chemical engineering students to candle makers and how they intend to continue scenting people’s daily lives.

What motivated both of you to take the path of entrepreneurship?

Katerina: Juskey and I both studied chemical engineering at Queen’s University and attended the same high school, although we graduated two years apart. We pursued jobs in fragrance and cosmetics after receiving our chemical engineering degrees. We didn’t feel like we fit in the conventional chemical engineering route of gas and oil and heading up to Calgary and we wanted to try something new and work in an area that we were enthusiastic about. So I travelled to France in order to study perfumes and cosmetics, where I also earned a master’s degree in science and a master’s degree in business management. I also worked in research and development quality assurance at Estee Lauder. I worked in their innovation lab, developing lipstick and foundation formulations.

Victoria: After graduation, I happened to meet someone who was searching for someone to start working at a firm that manufactures hotel goods. They handled the whole manufacture of the little shampoos and conditioners seen in hotels, from start to end. We did a lot of co-branded initiatives when I first started. So I was exposed to the full process of designing a product, sourcing packaging, filling it, what occurs on the production line, as well as everything in between. I was instantly hooked. Aside from being a frequent cosmetic and candle user, I just enjoyed learning about the body from the inside out. Then I worked in sales for L’Oreal, where I learnt about the opposite side of the industry. So it was extremely nice. Kat and I then reunited.

What were you thinking when you planned to quit your ideal job paths to pursue something else that you are more enthused about?

Katerina: Both of our fathers run their respective modest businesses. I’d always known I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working for someone else, and I believe Kat felt the same way. Given our expertise with suppliers and raw materials, as well as building a product from the ground up, we felt in our hearts that we could create something of exceptional quality and design. We anticipated that customers would be interested in our brand’s backstory and our professional credentials. I believe there are many candle companies out there, but few individuals have the backgrounds that we have.

That’s when our conversation with each other began back in 2014.  It’s critical to convey that tale now, especially with COVID-19. People are spending more time on their phones, and they engage with a company through the founders rather than simply the product picture. So, especially in the past eight months or so, we’ve tried to focus on communicating to our consumers and building that community, so that people can see where we’re coming from.

It was difficult to accomplish that [build a community] while still working full-time. In the summer of 2019, I began working on the brand full-time, and Victoria began in February, and when we gave it our all, things really took off.

As women in STEM who chose a non-traditional career route in the business, do you have any words of advice for others in STEM who are interested in following a career path similar to yours?

Victoria: You might believe that there is just one traditional career route in engineering, but there are many others, many of which you never hear about. It is critical to network in order to learn about these changes, especially if you are in the first or second year. Getting a job at a firm like Estee Lauder or L’Oreal might be tough since there are so few openings for new employees. However, there are several start-up independent beauty and candle firms. People should network and get to know such brands, in my opinion. Begin building your résumé right away, whether it’s through an internship or long-term networking.

That is where Katrina and I were quite fortunate: we had all of those industry relationships while working for those firms. If you can begin developing your CV sooner, it will be much simpler for people to find work once they graduate. 

Katrina: A free internship with a cosmetic distributor was one of my first jobs after graduating from university. I had to inform my parents that I had a bachelor’s degree in engineering and was working for free. My parents were quite dissatisfied hearing I was working for free. But I just listened to my heart, knowing that every single step, no matter what the job is, will take you in the correct direction, and that brought me to Estee Lauder.

Conduct a lot of research as well. When it came to my master’s program, there were not many programs in Canada that focused on cosmetics and scent. So I did a lot of research and searched for all the colleges that offered this sort of degree, and that brought me to Europe. I went for it by applying for a student loan. Travelling to Paris taught me a lot about scent. Guerlain founded the institution, so having that experience and making relationships with the individuals I encountered, whether it was the fellow students or my teachers, was great.

Tell us about the process of producing the first LOHN Candles. What happened behind the curtains?

Victoria: I’m not going to lie, that was pretty amusing. We felt like scientists combining things on the cooktop, thinking it was more difficult than it actually is, but we were so thorough and careful because we are engineers. We purchased a large number of different materials from a variety of different vendors and kept careful notes on every single thing we were experimenting with at the time. We distributed samples to relatives and friends to be burned. We kept candles burning around the clock to verify whether the wick and wax mixture was perfect and if the aroma travelled through the room, and let me tell you, we still do that even now.

May be an image of candle

So, sure, we had a lot of candles all over the place. Every cabinet in my condo was crammed with glasses and wax. As a result, we relocated the candle production to my parent’s basement, where we were able to ramp up production significantly. Thank goodness we had the backing of both of our parents, as well as our partners because establishing a business on your own can be quite difficult.

What inspires LOHN’s scents?

Victoria: We compared our backgrounds, which were fairly similar due to the fact that we attended the same high school and university. We looked at our real ethnicities then: me being Polish, and Katerina being Estonian and Lithuanian. So we went into that European past to find a way to connect both of us and create a perfume tale.

We discovered a historic road known as the Amber Road. It was used to transport Amber, which is petrified resin, from the Baltic Sea to the rest of Europe. It was a type of currency. And we planned to design candle collections inspired by those old trips. So we started looking into what else was available. There is the Tea Horse Road, which was used to trade horses from Tibet in exchange for tea from China. Then we discovered the Spice Road, which was the route taken to move spices and silk from China to Sri Lanka via India. These, according to us, are amazing sources of inspiration.

We’ve never taken any of these routes before. As a result, we’re wondering what the fragrances might be like on these excursions. That’s precisely what we intended to create: fragrances that transport you to a place or time in your mind, but you don’t know where it is. LOHN’s entire purpose is to fragrance your journey. We aim to create smells that you can carry with you as you go about your day.

Have you experienced any significant learning curves or life lessons while beginning LOHN?

Katerina: We are a small business that’s just getting started, and we are fully self-funded. So, I believe we’ve mastered the art of setting limits. We may wish to collaborate with a certain customer on 500 unique candles or a new project, but we must ensure at the end of the day that we’re not under-delivering or over-promising. I believe that males, like women, have a natural tendency to be carers. Victoria and I have a habit of saying yes to everything. We want to say yes because we want to look after everyone and do everything. So that was definitely a lesson for me.

Victoria: Since we determine our own schedules, the biggest learning curve has been figuring out how to better plan and prepare. We could work 24/7 and there are definitely days when we do—but knowing when we needed to employ more assistance and being good with employing new people onto the team was a significant learning curve since, for so long, everything was done solely by us was a big learning curve. We’re both self-sufficient, do-it-all types of individuals. However, after we hired help, we were able to increase our business dramatically in terms of how much we produced and how much we sold.

You must grow comfortable with sharing what you’ve developed with others and then learn how to manage it effectively. It will be a continual adventure. You can accomplish it all, but you won’t be able to scale that way.

How the Co-Founders of LOHN Transitioned from Chemical Engineering to Candle-Making? Share on X

You two had obviously known one other for a long time, from high school to the same university. What made you think that you are going to be good business partners? What should individuals think about before agreeing to work together in business?

Katerina: Making sure you have complementary skill sets is one of them. Victoria is a really creative person who has a vision for the brand. I’m more interested in the supply chain, behind-the-scenes, operations, and problem-solving. I believe our skill sets have miraculously melded together in some way, but we didn’t realize it at the time because we both came from technical backgrounds. So, I’d say figure out what you’re good at and what you’re awful at, and then talk about how you can create the brand and company together because it’s crucial. When your time as co-founders is limited, you don’t want to stomp on each other’s toes by completing comparable activities.

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Victoria: Our desks face one other, and we communicate all the time, but it’s excellent because there’s a clear difference between our job connection and our personal relationship. When we are out with friends, we do not talk about business; work remains at work, which is terrific.

How has your company changed to the present COVID-19 climate, and how have your customers reacted?

Katerina: Since the pandemic, we’ve had to pivot the business and come up with new strategies to prosper. One way we’ve adapted is by hosting a Virtual Natural Perfumery Workshop. We provided each registrant with a package with all of the necessary materials (including rollerball packaging, essential oils, and a personalized label), and both of us had the opportunity to teach them about the delights of perfumery through Zoom. It has been incredible to electronically meet many new faces, and we are thrilled to be able to communicate and create with brilliant individuals near and far.

What advice would you provide to an ambitious entrepreneur looking to transform a hobby into a full-time career?

Katerina: “Put in the time” was some advice I got from someone. It does not matter if it is just 30 minutes a day or even five minutes; the important thing is that you are devoted to attaining and accomplishing that objective. When we are working full-time, some days we only squeeze in five minutes of social media posting, while others we put in two hours. As long as you are putting in the effort, it will lead you to your desired outcome. It will be worthwhile. You just need to make time for your ambition.

Victoria: Stay faithful to your vision, in my opinion. In this day and age, when you’re bombarded with commercials on social media and see what businesses are launching every minute, it might be overwhelming to think that your brand isn’t good enough to compete with this other company. As an entrepreneur, you must be adaptive and flexible, but it is critical to be true to what you want for your brand so that it does not become bogged down, trapped, or afraid of what move to make. Maybe it involves putting down your brand’s vision so you can refer to it from time to time.

What distinguishes a LOHN candle from others in the market?

Victoria: Our candles are clean, created with soy wax and organic coconut, and packaged in recyclable materials. Every item is handmade, and the smells are intended to transport your imagination on a journey.

For more information on Katerina and Victoria, you can follow @lohnofficial on Instagram and visit their official website to get in touch.

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