Alicia's Candles Reveal The Power of Scent
Taiwan-born New Yorker, Alicia, has created a nostalgic line of scented candles with memories from her grandfather's Taiwanese orchid garden. We love the sense of tradition and warmth that Aerangis offers - a perfect mix of Alicia herself!
Tell us how it all began. Aerangis is the name of the orchid that my grandfather gave me when I was 9 years old, and the particular moment when he presented me the orchid is what introduced me to the power of scent memories, which is the main inspiration behind the brand. Aerangis orchid is a star-shaped flower, it has a creamy white color, unassuming but elegant, and it has a clean, crisp scent that is especially fragrant at night. It is not as common as the typical types of orchids we usually see here, but that's what makes it special. I decided to use the orchid as the name of the company as a tribute to my grandfather, and to represent the moment when a particular scent forever changed my life. It’s is also a reminder for myself that I want the brand to be like an Aerangis orchid, it’s unassuming, simple but elegant, and it captures memories and makes good impressions on anyone that gets to experience it.
Growing up in a traditional Taiwanese family, we lived with our grandparents as a three-generation household. My grandfather was a business man and had a love for gardening and orchids. He created a perfectly manicured oriental garden filled with bonsais, sculptured tree, a koi pond and lush green lawn around the house, including a greenhouse full of orchids which he spent a lot of time in. Caring for the orchid is his way of relaxing especially after a stressful day of work. Once in a while, he’d spend a whole day in the greenhouse to do some extra care for the orchids, and I would sit on a little stool with him and tired my best to learn what he’s doing with the orchids, I was already close to him, and I believe spending the time in the greenhouse helped built a closer relationship between me and my grandfather.
It was one summer evening when I was doing homework that he gave me an Aerangis orchid as a present. He told me that this flower is not as big as the other orchids, but it shines through its delicate star shape blossoms and its bright fragrance, it was really a special moment not only because the air is filled with the beautiful scent from the orchid, but also the comfort and warmth from my loving grandfather.
He passed away suddenly when I was 11 years old. Since then, I haven’t really spent much time with orchid anymore, but there were definitely many occasions or moments that I’d get a whiff of that similar floral scent in the air, and it would instantly bring back the memories of that special moment with my grandfather.
Can you expand on your connection between memories and fragrance? I believe that we all have experiences with scents that instantly bring back specific memories - whether it’s the scent of a laundry detergent that reminds one of his or her childhood home, or opening a suitcase and whatever scent in it brings back the memory of a certain trip – it’s very powerful, but scent is so abstract and it’s not something we naturally think of capturing, and I think it’s often undervalued. When I hit a dead end searching for the orchid scent to relive my special moments with my grandfather, it sparked the idea of creating my own company to recreate this scent, and to document other scents that are meaningful, brings back memories and tell stories.
Tell us about your mission to capture and evoke scent memories. For me, to capture the scent memories is not just about the fragrant elements that are presented at the moment, it’s more about capturing all the feelings of the moment and the emotions that are triggered from the memory. And my mission is to create scents that truly have that emotional connection, that captures the essence of the memories, and a scent that’s inspiring and pleasant to help others create new memories while they enjoy the scents.
What you love most about it. I love that each scent has an authentic story, whether it’s my story or somebody else’s stories, it’s a real story, a piece of memory, and it’ll live on and continue to create more stories. It’s very personal yet very shareable with anyone.
Your brand values. Creating beautiful memories should be an everyday thing, it’s all about enjoying the small things in life that brings the most happiness. We want to help elevate that everyday living by creating beautiful scents that are pleasant, enjoyable and are meaningful. We believe in quality over quantity, and every detail of our candles are crafted with that in mind. We believe that quality products should be good for the mind, the body and the environment, in other words, beyond the story telling and emotional connection behind the scent, we make sure our candles are made with non-toxic ingredients, allergen free, and are clean-burning; we also strive to create everything from the wick to the shipping materials in the most sustainable way and don’t do harm to the environment, but doing so without sacrificing the quality.
The Aerangis Inspiration
On how you started the business. I’m big on storytelling and always love to experience new scents and fragrances, but it never occurred to me that I can tell stories through scents. Studying at the fragrance program at FIT and my experiences in the top fragrance companies truly opened my world about fragrance. As I helped create some of the best-selling fragrances for the brands I work for, I started to realize that instead of searching for a fragrance that matches my memory with my grandfather, I should go ahead and create it myself.
I officially started the company in 2017 and to start the product development and sourcing. It was a process that took way longer than I thought, because we want to make sure what we create is it's not just another candle brand, but candles that tell stories, that subtly showcase of my Taiwanese heritage, yet fit into the New York modernity, as I see myself a New Yorker after almost 20 years of living here. The candles also have to invoke the memories and tells the scent stories. After two years, we finally launched the brand online in 2019 with our first five scents , it’s a small collection, but it’s a good start.
How you got the scents accurate enough to trigger your memories. When we create a scent that capture a specific memory, the first step is to walk through what we call the “scent story”, which includes the time and location this memory takes place, and all the elements that create the scent experience. These are the fundamental elements for us to stat creating the fragrance. but the true element to make the scent accurate enough to trigger the memories is to find the emotional elements that are also presented in the scent story, and layer that into the fragrance to complete the full experience.
What are your greatest business learnings? Never rush into decisions and never settle. To achieve high standards and high qualities, we often go through endless decisions to finalize some minor details, but it’s worth the time and energy. Settling with anything that’s not idea only creates agony; the last time I did that I ended up having to redo the whole process, which only caused more delay on the production and more unnecessary spending.