With tuition bills looming, Drexel student Janyah Green launched her own candle-making business last year, vending online and at local events under the name Monae Designs. Selling scents such as peppermint and eucalyptus, as well as seasonal specials, the 22-year-old, fifth-year architecture student has successfully created her very own Black-owned, Philly-local brand while studying and working a full-time job.
This interview has been edited for clarity, length, and style.
MB: Can you give me the inspiration for and background of your business?
JG: I had just got my heart broken and I had a lot of free time. At that same time, I was also struggling with paying my tuition. I go to Drexel University. It’s a private university. It’s pretty expensive. I don’t receive any assistance from my family, so it’s either my pockets and financial aid unless I can find a way to pull the money out of thin air.
I used to make candles when I was younger, so I ordered all of these candle supplies. I spent months making them and testing it and learning the science before I started selling, and it was very helpful. It definitely helped me with my tuition. And even when I didn’t need it as much anymore, I continued making them because I still have orders coming in.
Most of my inspiration draws from sustainability. All of my jars actually are easy to clean, and then reuse them as something else. Whenever I pick a candle that I’m going to make next, I always think about the vessel as going to be first. So I kind of focus on low-waste.
MB: You said your work to be as sustainable as possible and that your products are crafted out of soy wax. Can you tell me a little bit about their low-waste production.
JG: Soy wax is a plant-based wax, so it also doesn’t contain any of the toxins that paraffin wax contains. Because of that, it’s easy to clean as well. I only make small batches at a time—whatever is on my website. Those candles and those candles only, and then once it sells out, then I’ll go and I’ll make more.
Anything that’s leftover, any wax or even the wicks, I reuse them when I’m practicing scents or I’m testing out a candle, a jar. The only time that I’ll use fresh wax is when I’m trying to see how long a candle burns. So I make sure that I use as little wax as possible and that nothing goes to waste. Anything that I can’t reuse at that moment, I try to save it for later.
Most of the things I package my candles with are derived from paper so you have like the packing paper and those little confetti things made from paper. Whenever I order something that travels a long way I receive a lot of packing peanuts, so I’ll use that if I have a really big order or like there’s several glasses together.
I’m continuously finding ways to keep my business underneath that low-waste, sustainable umbrella. I don’t use a lot of easy, disposable material. I try very hard not to waste anything.
I’m also trying to get very, very local with everything. There is a store in Doylestown that I recently got all my wax and materials from called Candlewic. Most of my material was coming from, like California and such. But I plan to limit that transportation pollution.
MB: Is it just you or do you have other people help you as well?
JG: I only allow myself to make the candles.
I have a system. I have notes that I follow. Very specific procedures. I also don’t have time to teach someone else. But if I ever need to pack anything, or deliver something, or pick up some wax or order something, I usually have people who can help me do that. I pay people for their labor. Everyone who assists me in any way, they get paid for whatever work they do. My photographer for my website, she’s actually one of my best friends, and I pay her for what she’s worth. They charge me their rates, and I pay them accordingly.
MB: How do you get your products to your customers?
JG: On the website, there are actually two options. You can get them delivered or if you live inside of Philadelphia, I will drop them off. Sometimes it’s me. But most of the time, I’m at work, so it could be someone else who I’m paying to go and deliver the candles, which I have in the past. But the crazy thing is that a lot of people in Philly don’t choose the drop-off option. They do delivery.
MB: What’s your favorite scent that you’ve made?
JG: My favorite scent that I’ve made so far across time is a scent called Kovert. I don’t sell it anymore, but I sold it at the Feminist Flea Market and Crafts Fair in the virtual one that they had a few months ago. I sold it there in collaboration with another business owner, Sugar Wax. They sell like sugar wax, like whipped body creams, and such. It smells like someone just jumped out of the shower, but whatever that they washed within the shower was like a masculine body wash.
MB: When you make your batches, are there certain scents that you make every time? Or does it change every time?
JG: I have my classic scents that are always going to be available. That’s my cactus flower, watermint and clementine, eucalyptus and peppermint. Those three candles are always being made.
MB: What are your plans and hopes for the future with this business?
JG: I have so many hopes for the future. I feel like the business was originally to fill a void. That self-love journey that everyone goes on—it’s real. As I was going on that self-love journey, I realized, I fill my own void. But even though it’s filled, I can’t let go of this business.
I paid for an LLC to be legit and I’ve grown to love it. I’m an artist myself, I graduated from the Creative and Performing Arts High School in Philadelphia and I have an artist background. I’m also doing architecture. I personally think architecture is also an art.
As for the future, I hope to express the fun side of candles way more and just test the boundaries of art and candle. I’ve been working on so many fun creative ways to make my candles, so that my creativity is actually showing in the candles. I’m also looking to expand my workspace into maybe a full studio although I don’t see myself transitioning into anything brick and mortar. My work will always be sold online.
To learn more about MonaeDesign visit: jmonaedesigns.com.