In conversation with Khadija ben J.
Interview by Mighzal.
Photography by Murtaza A.T.
Khadija Jafferjee founded and runs Stardrop Candles. She’s based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, has a baby boy, a previous business and gained over 2,300 followers on the old ‘gram in under 6 months. She also has a Bachelors Degree in Science for Visual Effects and Animation, a massive sweet tooth and a Harry Potter obsession. We sat down with her for coffee and candles (it was actually tea).
Tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you know you wanted to start your own business?
Well, I have done graphic designing as my major in animation and I really enjoyed it. But I didn’t have the patience for it, as interesting as it was, I did my specialisation in animation, but I couldn’t go ahead with it. I learned a lot and that’s where I got my love for colours. My mom is a designer, so colours have always been something that have really inspired me. I knew I wanted to start my own business, basically, because of my grandfather, my Nana, he was a businessman, my mom had her own business. I just knew that it’s something I want to have on my own because it gives us immense satisfaction, when there are certain things that you do. The main thing for me was I knew that I wanted to do things my way and not listen to someone else. So that’s why I knew that I wanted to start my own business.
What is a typical day in your life like? What is it like balancing work and everything else?
Until 6pm its basically Burhanuddin, my 13-month-old. As soon as he wakes up and is ready, he goes to the garden, while he’s in the garden I do my packing and dispatching for that day’s candle orders. Then the whole day is just him. I spend some of my time replying to inquiries I get and then once Abba Ammi and Salman are home, I do my candles from as soon as they’re home to 8.00 or 8.30pm. Then I have one hour in the day I dedicate to my mom’s rida business, because I handle her social media for her. Night-time is just relaxing, right after dinner.
So, you started Stardrop because you love candles and there’s a gap for well-scented candles in your domestic market (Sri Lanka). But you had a business before this one: what was Al Wajd, where did it come from and why is it no longer your focus?
I started Stardrop because yes, I saw a gap in the market where I saw that you get very standard scents. I noticed that gap because I have this immense love for candles, like I’m obsessed with candles. I love unique scents, scents that are strong, and not candles that are just sitting on the side and they’re lit, but you can’t smell anything. So that’s what made me want to start Stardrop because I wanted good candles for myself. I was like, why not, let’s just give it a try. It gives you this leeway to be very colourful; you can get very creative with the way you design your labels, with the way you can make your candles look, with the way your packaging works. Everything needs creativity. I knew I wanted to do something like that. So that’s how Stardrop started.
Al Wajd was something I started with three other people. [When] we started off we wanted to do mobile covers. Then, eventually, we separated, and it was just me. I decided that mobile covers were a good market, but [by] then it had become too common; every other person was doing printed mobile cases. I knew I wanted to do something else and then one of my cousins and then my mom, and everyone suggested ‘why don’t you do fabrics, like personalised fabrics?’ and it was very difficult because it wasn’t something that was common at that time. We did a lot of research and one of my best friends from school, she really helped me out. In the beginning I [didn’t] know how we’re going to do this, but it worked, and people loved our fabrics. It was a lot of fun and again fabric designing involves a lot of designing and colours. That was fun. But the reason it’s not a focus right now is because I got married and I realised that in Sri Lanka it’s not easy to get things down. And you have this beautiful market of fabrics over here as well. Even though I tried to make it work from India, it wasn’t fun because I love being part of my business, everything, from making it to packing it, everything. I wanted to be there for it and I couldn’t do that. Even though we tried one or two times I couldn’t maintain the quality control, none of it, so I knew I had to stop and maybe start something else.
When did you start Stardrop candles and what were the challenges during lockdown?
Stardrop was an idea I got in January 2020; obviously you have to do research and I learnt everything I did from trial and error and YouTube, of course. By the time I had decided I wanted to start Sri Lanka went into a lockdown. I couldn’t do much, you couldn’t contact people, everyone was at home, there was nothing I could do. [For] 4 months I couldn’t do much apart from research, and then the country opened up [and] I was like, OK, I can now finally start… [in] June. I don’t think I faced challenges from the lockdown because I started after the lockdown was lifted. I didn’t face any problems because my business is an online business, its not like I have a shop. But my issue was that I had to start four months later than I had planned.
What are you hoping for your business as we move into what could be described as the next phase of ‘COVID life’?
I just want to keep growing. I know for sure that the way to go in these times, with this pandemic, is to go online. Build your business, market, market online, make sure that people know that your products are good, make them believe that it’s a good quality product. I think just being present online and being consistent with the posts and being good with the marketing techniques, that’s what I have planned for my business for now.
You sell primarily on Instagram and I know you told me it’s because you love that immediate interaction with your customers. A lot of people start businesses at home, reaching their customer base through Instagram. Do you strategise this approach and if so, how?
I started from Instagram because I do love knowing my customers, reading them directly, it makes a huge difference. I also have quite a bit of knowledge when it comes to Instagram because I handle my mom’s rida page. Now, obviously, this is a completely different market base. It’s very different to what ridas are but I knew how it works and I was comfortable with it. I do plan my posts, I plan what I want to post, I plan how I want my profile to look, I plan everything, when to post, how to post. Sometimes I can’t do it when I plan to. But I do have this whole process; especially when I started because I knew that it’s very new and people aren’t just going to start buying candles. I knew I had to build a specific profile. I think when you promote your post on Instagram, that feature really helps, at least it really helped me. So yeah, I do strategise. I try to plan my stuff a month prior, especially if it’s a festive month that’s coming up. I can’t just do it three or four days in advance. The other thing I’ve learned about Instagram is that if you’re consistent with your posts, it really helps.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m not working on anything perse, because its Christmas time, its festive and I love it. What I did launch recently was my wax melts advent calendar and I was really excited about that because a lot of hard work went into it and I wanted to make sure that every single scent was very different from the other. That was a lot of fun, making an advent calendar for my brand. I do want to launch new products in the future but, obviously, it’s going to take time and I want to plan it properly. Hopefully launch more things that are around this line, wax melts and candles are what I do right now, and I love that.
A motto that you live by.
I don’t live by it, but I try to tell myself this all the time because my husband says it to me all the time and it is ‘It’s OK’; ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself, its going to be fine, just take a break and forget about it for some time and you’ll be ok’. The other motto I live by is ‘If it’s not perfect, I’m not going to sell it’; that’s just something I can’t do. If it means that 25 candles go to waste, they go to waste, but I will not sell it unless and until they are perfect. So those are two mottos that I live by for my business.
If it’s about life, it would be ‘live and let live’ and ‘forgive and forget’; those are two things I’m trying to apply in my life right now.
If you could travel back in time to when you started your first business, what’s the one piece of advice you would give yourself?
I love this question because I feel like I still need to tell myself this, if I go back and when I started my business I would say ‘it’s going to be fine, there are going to be lots of problems and there are going to be lots of issues, but you’re going to be fine, you just have to pull through and its not going to be a walk in the park, but its fine because you’re going to thoroughly enjoy it’.
A cherished memory of Maula TUS and a particular teaching that you hold dear.
If I had to choose one from the most recent times it would have to be in Surat when Maula TUS ghare padharata, and Maula TUS ye aapna qadam Mubarak par Burhanuddin muka; I think that is probably the most cherished memory I have right now. The one teaching, ghana cheh aapna teachings tho, but the one thing I have tried to live by is ahsin man as’aa ilayk, I try really hard. And sabar and shukur. Those are two things that I try to, I’m not saying I do, but I try to live by.
How does the role and identity of a Muminah intertwine with other aspects of your life? There are a lot of Muminah bakers, not many candlestick-makers.
I love the word ‘candlestick-maker’, that’s very interesting! As a Muminah, I think what helps is that, by nature, we can all multi-task. I think I’ve always noticed that in Mumin bairao and I think that’s what helps us all run a business and keep your child and do everything together without showing it on your face. So, I think whether you’re a baker, whether you’re a candlestick-maker, it makes no difference because I think as a Muminah you’re still going to completely ace it. That’s just a view of mine. Maula TUS hamesha farmawe cheh, ke bairao kare and itnu encourage kare cheh, aap, ke business shuru kare and khud nu business kare. It’s so empowering and so helpful because so many people have started their own thing and they’re doing so well, so I guess we’re quite lucky that way.
Indeed we are. Check out Stardrop Candles on Instagram.