Beyond what your business sells – what is its purpose? Figuring out what it stands for, discovering its cause, and putting it all into action is the greatest return on investment you could ask for.
My love for candles began in my early 20s; I’d always loved their beautiful smells that filled my room and their glowing ambiance. I remember I couldn’t wait to move out of my parent’s house and go to University, just so I could finally decorate my own place. The Bohemian style of decor was very popular at the time – crafted candles and earthy smells were a must-have to create a natural and cozy atmosphere. They say that your 20s are about self-discovery. You try out different paths, interests and styles, with every year of getting older also getting to know yourself deeper and closer to your authentic self. It’s our way of finding your life’s purpose – and I found mine through candle making.
In my undergrad, I studied Kinesiology. Early on in my schooling, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but chose the degree based on my interests in sports and healthcare. I come from a family of healthcare professionals, so I always assumed that I’d end up working in that field as well. My parents taught me that a meaningful job is one where you can help others, and that’s what started me on my journey.
By the end of my degree, I had gained a lot of experience in sport therapy, exercise, rehabilitation, biology, etc., but the area that I became most passionate about was adaptations and accommodations for disabled people. I only had one class in my entire four-year degree that taught me about this, but when I took the class, I jumped at the opportunity to do a practicum with the Special Olympics and volunteered to facilitate a pool therapy program for a teen with Cerebral Palsy. That semester, I built a strong bond with the teen and his mother and we decided to keep swimming after my work experience contract was complete.
I was hired to swim once a week for 6-8 months of the year, and sometimes I visited their home to do some on-land therapy and stretching. We did this for 7 years, until he turned 20. Being a part of this family’s life and witnessing their dedication to making sure their son lived a full and rich life was a life-changing experience for me. In all the beautiful moments, I also saw the really hard ones: the exhaustion from medical visits, the back-and-forth for funding support, and the struggles of raising a child with a disability in a world that does not offer equal opportunities. This really opened my eyes to how hard this world can be for people living with disabilities, and their families, and it sparked my desire to find a career where I can help this community.
Milk Jar was not my first attempt at a job with my new-found passion. My original plan was to get my master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. Unfortunately, it was a competitive program and I wasn’t accepted. I was disappointed, but I still wouldn’t have traded those evenings in and out with friends for a few extra days of studying. I’m a strong advocate for living life to its fullest, so I have no regrets – and everything happens for a reason! Enter Milk Jar.
The idea of creating Milk Jar came to me, about four years after finishing school, during a time when I was feeling quite lost. I had worked a couple jobs that I cared very much about, but none of them made me feel like I was making the impact that I knew I was capable of. I was making candles in my home as a way to experiment with soy wax when I learned that burning common paraffin wax candles released carcinogens and soot into the air that could cause respiratory issues and other health concerns.
I mentioned before I loved burning candles and had them in every room in my home. Because of my family and background in Kinesiology, choosing healthy lifestyle options has always been important to me. I could’ve just started purchasing other candles made with natural waxes, but it seemed easy enough to make myself – and more fun! I quickly learned that it wasn’t that easy, but I enjoyed the process of learning how to blend fragrances, vessels, waxes, and wicks. And my favorite piece to candle making? Developing scents that capture a memory, place or feeling.
After a year of making candles and also feeling like I wasn’t connected to the disability community that I cared so much about, I decided in April 2016 that I’d start a business selling my candles that donated a portion of its profits to organizations that were doing amazing work that.
I launched Milk Jar that November and reached out to the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing and offered to donate $1 from the sale of every candle to them that following year.
I was just as terrified as I was excited to launch into entrepreneurship. I had no idea what I was doing, let alone running a business, but I was passionate about creating a company that was more than just Milk Jar. By inserting a philanthropic purpose into Milk Jar from the start, all my nerves about whether it would succeed or fail didn’t matter. It would’ve already been a success even if I donated $50. That first year we donated $2000 to CADS Calgary.
Fast forward to today and Milk Jar has donated over $100,000 to various non-profits including: CADS Calgary, Between Friends, and PaceKids Programs. Last year, we became an inclusive employer, hiring people in our community living with disabilities to help hand craft the products we make. This has fundamentally changed the culture in our company, we experience more joy at work and everyone is more motivated. We are learning from each other everyday. It’s a beautiful atmosphere to be around people that may appear different from us but recognize that we all want similar things in life. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a little home-grown business could raise this much money and touch as many lives as Milk Jar has in 5 years. I finally found my purpose – and it wasn’t something I waited to find me – I created it.
I’ve learned a lot over the years of starting and running this business, and if there is one thing that you take away from reading this, it’s to ask yourself what else? What else does your business do besides its obvious sale of product or service? What does your company stand for value, and contribute to that gets you out of bed on those tough days? And believe me, you will have them. How have you added purpose into your company that you can speak to, are passionate about, and that every member of your team can be proud of?
A business that cares will be your greatest return on investment. Now more than ever, people want to know that their dollars are being spent on companies that care about economic and social sustainability. When you show that your company is more than just the business of sales, you will have lifelong supporters that’ll be dedicated to helping you succeed.
There’s a lot of inequity in this world. Supporting an important cause that elevates your community can come in many forms: donating, volunteering, advocating, befriending, etc., and it feels really good to give your time, energy and/or money to initiatives that need and benefit from it.
I believe it’s our duty to take care of each other and our planet, and it is the way to lead a purposeful life. Owning your own business is a privilege. A privilege that should be used to make this world better for others, not to make ourselves better than others. If we could all experience the same opportunities, access and treatment, then what a beautiful world we would be living in.
About the Author
Holly Singer is a compassionate and inspirational 32-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist. She grew up in Victoria BC, moved to Calgary for university, and has since built Milk Jar to what it is today in what she now calls home. Holly enjoys relaxing at home with her dog Bowie and plans to do a diving trip in Indonesia sometime in the near future.