Lots of creatives started hobbies during the pandemic, but not many have turned it into a successful business. Émeraude Domingos-Mbuku, creator of Toronto’s most hip candle brand, Catherine & Co. shares all about her challenges and about these buzz worthy candles that have Toronto hanging by a smell (haha!)
I’ve known Émeraude for a few years now, before her candle business, and something is safe to say, she just loves nonesense, she says it herself! She loves nonsense so much, that her latest collection has been one of the most true to her personality so far.
Some of the collection’s most eye catching candles hold very specific titles of locations, renowned in Toronto for memorable experiences to us all. Alongside delicious scent fusions like cedarwood + neroli, jasmine + orchid, and lemon + Lilac you’ll find these kind of names on the label: This candle smells like Sneaky Dee’s, This candle smells like Zellers, This candle smells like Midland station… and even a This candle smells like the Crews & Tangos’ second floor, specific enough?
Well, this self made business really took off in March 2020, even though Émeraude had been looking into candle making since November 2019, and when the pandemic hit she knew it was her opportunity to look really dive in and give this entrepreneurship life a real shot.
M: -What inspired your brand’s name?
É For a long time I was looking for names, and at that point my mother was working from home and we were spending a lot of time together. I was inspired by a few other mother / daughter businesses, so I told myself why don’t I do that, next thing you know I had boxes ordered in with the name ‘Catherine & Co’.
M: What’s the story behind the names you’ve been using in your latest collections?
É: You know I love silly things, nonsense is just funny to me. I find this collection is really ME. I was inspired by some GOOP & vintage YSL candles, and I started thinking, why don’t I make a collection dedicated to a city that I grew up in? I wanted to dedicate this to my city, and all the silly (yet memorable) things that happen in Toronto.
M: What’s it like being a young entrepreneur in a busy market like Toronto?
É: Its very difficult ! Getting the support of a city like Toronto is hard when you are not already on top. Also, Canada doesn’t manufacture many things, so we have limited local manufacturers and materials.
M: How has this business venture shaped you?
É: It’s been difficult, personally it’s made me a bit of everything. It’s a one woman show, so it’s a bit chaotic and takes a lot of organization. I’ve made mistakes along the way, but this business has made me a better person; having to understand when I make mistakes and take ownership of them.
For example, two weeks ago I couldn’t keep up, I was selling lots of candles, and some were not shipped properly. I would drive up to wherever they were, give them their correct order and I noticed clients really appreciated that. Look, I worked at McDonalds for about six years and something I’ve learned is to have great customer service skills. If you have a product and don’t have these skills, you won’t go anywhere.
M: What entrepreneurial tip could you share after your experiences?
É: I would advise not to do this alone, I’m learning the hard way. Don’t start any business that has a physical product alone. Products need shipping, brand needs expansion, strategic planning, marketing plan, photoshoots, etc. Oh and also, I advise to get a business bank account… you never want to mix your personal and business finances.
M: What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur yet?
É: Right now, my biggest challenge is trying to find an affordable space in Toronto. Realistically, for me and other candle makers, is not easy finding a space in the area, there’s always little things like even finding a spot that is fragrance allowed; plus you know… not going bankrupt in the process!
M: What’s a MUST have skill set for an entrepreneur?
É: Customer service skills! It’s a big plus if you’ve worked in retail, bars or restaurants. If you don’t know how to talk to your customer, do something else; it sounds harsh, but it’s something I see time and time again.
It’s difficult to support a business where the person is terrible, or when they are unwilling to help you or hang the up phone on you. Be customer friendly and forward facing, because it’s your business, and people are choosing to support you.
M: Do you have any favourite quotes or mantras you live by?
É: Not really, but my grandfather used to say ‘little by little grows the bananas’ at the time I was like HUH? But now I know it’s about being patient, and I’m learning how to handle that.
M: Which alpha women are you inspired by?
É: Obviously Beyonce! Her and Solange I think they are women to look up to. Also my mother, which my company is name after, and my friends as well, I see them doing amazing things all the time. Other women in the community that I see that uplift each other, black women have been some of my biggest supporters. It’s incredible having the support of women in general and specifically black women because I am black and I see them as sisters. When I see one doing well I’m also winning, and that translates to all women.
M: What does an ‘alpha woman’ mean to you?
É: I put women on a pedestal, so that’s difficult for me to answer. To be honest ‘alpha’ doesn’t mean anything to me – I think that a woman is independent, does her own thing, loving herself and others, finds help when she needs it, makes her way and betters herself. I guess that is what an alpha woman would mean to me.