Woodlot's Sonia Chhinji
It takes a lot of guts to dedicate time and energy to start your own company, and I’m continually blown away when I see people doing just that. Meet Sonia Chhinji, who together with her partner Fouad, own and operate Woodlot, a line of clean burning, coconut wax candles and soon to be soaps and other handmade goods. What began as a creative hobby for the couple got noticed, and as they started making them for friends they were soon flooded with requests. Their insanely-good smelling candles have been gaining buzz throughout Vancouver and beyond, and Woodlot was one of the local brands featured in a Kinfolk dinner held in Vancouver this past summer. I sat down with Sonia in her bright apartment-slash-studio (they've recently relocated their candle production to a larger space), where she delved into the details and challenges of launching a self-run business.
Can you describe both yours and Fouad's backgrounds and how Woodlot came to be?
"Fouad is from Lebanon, and grew up on the Mediterranean Coast. His backyard was home to olive trees, and he remembers visiting the olive press with his father and uncle, where they would save the last few batches of olive oil to make home-made soap bars. I have an Indian background and a celebration close to me is Diwali, Festival of Lights, as a child I would help my mother hand roll cotton wicks. Both of our parents have engrained the mentality of ‘if you can buy it, you can probably make it’ into us. Naturally our backgrounds came together to create the candles, since we had already been making our own things for awhile. Our intent was to focus on sustainable products because that is the way we live."
What fears went through your head when considering making Woodlot a full time job?
"I knew if I didn't take it full-time it would have become stagnant. It deserves my full heart & hustle. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I knew at one point or another, I'd be starting my own business, big or small. A quality that I feel has been good for the business is being naive - it’s a whole new industry I’m not familiar with (buying, retail, wholesale, manufacturing). If you have too much information about something it may prevent you from making the first move."
"I always think, what would I regret more? Doing it or not doing it? I would regret more not doing this than I would regret failing at it. However, failure is still a huge fear of mine."
Are there any challenges that have come up?
"One challenge I face is figuring out priorities and making sure I’m allotting the right amount of time to the right things. This is particularly crucial in the business that I'm in now since we're always waiting on something, whether it's packaging or raw materials. I also have to task my day - acknowledging that I need time for myself, to step out and also to be healthy."
What inspires you?
"There's a community of young entrepreneurs taking charge in Vancouver who I find to be super inspiring. I love bringing people together. I’ve always believed that we are meant to make things with our hands. Humans typically have a craft in them - creating is a part of our being."
What important things have you learned from running your business?
"It’s important to surround yourself with the right people - I have a lot of friends who are entrepreneurs. I've learned that it's incredibly important to understand all aspects of the business, even the parts you may not enjoy. You'll find me managing inventory count, pouring candles, designing labels to packing boxes. It's all a part of the process. It's okay if a store doesn't want to carry your products. The time spent wondering why could be put to better use, like compiling another list of shops. Also, if it feels icky, say no."