Welcome to Conversations with Black Creators. This week, we're chatting with Anjha Thomas--a Boston-based luxury candlemaker.
Editor’s Note: This is the eighth feature in our series, Conversations with Black Creators, which is intended to highlight Black creatives’ work in various fields. At Tako Agency, we are really proud of being creators--people who pour creativity and skill into beautiful projects that add value to the world--and we want to make sure that all creators have a platform from which to make every corner burst with life.
To support Black creatives, Tako Agency is making a donation to the Black Art Futures Fund for every feature in this series we publish on the Tako Stand. The outpouring of funding and philanthropic giving that was initiated when #BLM re-entered the spotlight in May was a GREAT thing, but we believe it’s consistent support over time that makes the most difference.
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-- Grace, Creative Director
Anjha is the owner of Boston-based luxury candle company, Crown + Crystal. She's also a passionate advocate for women in business and has banded with two of her girlfriends to organize networking events for female entrepreneurs, called Businesswomen's Brunch.
During our interview, I was immediately struck by her communication style: confident, but soft. She answered all my questions with effortless precision, and even grounded our conversation on a couple of occasions when I struggled to find words.
(If I’d just stick to my script, that wouldn’t happen. Sigh. But then these interviews would also be a helluva lot more boring to read, so I guess that’s a good trade? My mouth periodically falls down the stairs for your benefit. You're welcome.)
Back to Anjha. I appreciate her composed excitability, as well as her ability to seamlessly marry ethereal creativity and sharp business sense--two qualities that are often considered mutually exclusive.
I admire her self-assuredness, tenderness, and passion. When we got to talking about her greatest endeavor outside of C+C, Businesswomen’s Brunch (more on that below), Anjha’s eyes brightened and her speech quickened. It was clear that this is a woman who has endured hardship and has, by the grace of her own sheer will, carved out a place in the world where she can find peace. She’s now bound and determined to ensure that any woman within twenty degrees of separation of her can have the same.
In a time when we are all desperately thirsty for goodness and strength, Anjha’s presence in the world is cool, cool water. I feel immensely grateful to her for sharing that with me.
PS: Perhaps most importantly, she’s a Leo, so...you know; obviously an exceptional human. ♌️
Hey Anjha! Go ahead and introduce yourself.
My name is Anjha. I’m the owner of Crown + Crystal, which is a luxury candle brand I launched in 2018.
Perfect segue for my first question! How did Crown + Crystal come about?
It actually started with a trip to the craft store with my mom. We saw these candle kits and she kind of challenged me, like, “You think you could do that [candlemaking]?” That little nudge was all I needed. I was immediately inspired.
I didn’t buy the kits we saw, but I did go home and start researching the ingredients and processes and all that. I did a lot of research. Once I felt comfortable with candle making, I knew quickly that I wanted to do something unique with it.
And that’s how you started adding those beautiful embellishments--like the crystals and stuff?
Yeah. When I started the brand, no one was really doing candles with crystals, gold leaf, or botanicals.
I’ve always been into crystals, especially. When I would go to the science museum as a kid, I’d always bring home a rock or a crystal from the gift shop. I never knew why they resonated with me; they just felt really special.
You’ve been in business about two years, which means you’ve been growing a baby business...in 2020. What has that been like?
It’s been a lot to handle. I was actually a bartender for about 11 years, and I quit that just a few weeks ago to focus on Crown + Crystal full-time. It was scary to take that leap, but I was working 8 hours a day somewhere else and then coming home and working through the night [on Crown + Crystal]. It felt stagnant; like I was on a hamster wheel.
With the pandemic, a lot more people are home and shopping online, so I’ve gotten more attention and customers than I had before. It’s been crazy, but it’s definitely not a bad problem to have, considering everything that’s going on.
I’m curious--how big was the time window between being in that craft store with your mom and starting the Crown + Crystal brand?
I’m the kind of person who has an idea and is immediately like, “Let’s do this,” so the wheels were already turning that day [in the craft store]. I’ve always wanted to own my own business anyway; I just wasn’t sure how I’d go about it.
Within two weeks, I did my research, named the company, conceived the brand, and formed the LLC.
I’ve always looked up to people who work that way: decide you want something, learn all the things, and then just do it. I move so much more slowly. What’s your secret? [laughs]
[laughs] Honestly, it’s kinda just how I am. I do get over-excited sometimes and jump the gun, which will bite me in the butt from time to time, and I’ll get really overwhelmed. I’ve been working on dialing that back a little bit and learning to wait for things to come to fruition before I get too excited.
"Running a business as a single person, I definitely feel a lot of pressure, but it’s extremely rewarding in that I constantly find myself accomplishing more than I think I’m capable of."
How do you deal when you do get overwhelmed?
I have a notebook that has lists for different tasks you want to accomplish throughout the day. I like that it gives you structured space to map everything out on one page. I use that all the time, but especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It allows me to lay everything out and then prioritize, visually, what needs to be done.
I also meditate when I’m feeling overworked. It doesn’t do me any good to work in that kind of headspace, so I’ll take 20 or 30 minutes to step away from everything. Sometimes I’ll call my mom; she’s my rock and best friend.
It helps to be mindful that, every now and then, there are things you just can’t control. The very first order I placed [for jars] wasn’t wrapped properly, so a lot of the glass was broken by the time the shipment arrived. The jars were replaceable, but the true disappointment was the lost time. I had customers waiting for orders that I couldn’t fulfill, so there was this trickle-down effect.
Running a business as a single person, I definitely feel a lot of pressure, but it’s extremely rewarding in that I constantly find myself accomplishing more than I think I’m capable of.
What’s a life lesson you've learned recently?
I’ve just been learning to believe in myself. If you asked me a year and a half ago if I thought I’d be where I am today, running a company on my own, I would have said “No way.” My lesson has been to just trust my instincts. It’s worked so far! That’s why I took the leap this year to pursue [Crown + Crystal] full-time, and I have no doubt it was the right decision.
So often, taking that first step into something new is the hardest part. If, back then, you couldn’t envision yourself being where you are now--what made you try to pursue Crown + Crystal full-time?
Honestly, that was a silver lining to the pandemic for me. Since I was a bartender, I obviously wasn’t working when everything closed down. I waited 30 - 40 days to hear from my employer about whether or not I was going to go back to work. That little window was all I needed to see what it would be like if I was doing only Crown + Crystal on a day to day basis.
It was really refreshing--making my own schedule, calling my own shots, and doing something that’s important to me.
I love the idea of marrying such delicious products with natural elements--all the way down to the crackling wicks! Why was it important for you to incorporate the natural world into your products?
I’m a big girlie girl, but I also love being out in nature. With Crown + Crystal, I get to showcase that natural beauty with the crystals, flowers, soy wax, and wooden wicks. All that stuff comes from the earth, but the end product is something luxurious. I love that. I can only take so much credit; it’s all nature. I’m just showing people that it’s there.
"I think that, ultimately, is why nature fosters creativity. It’s still."
Do you think that connection with nature helps to foster creativity in general?
Definitely. There is such a magical feeling, being out in nature--it’s just simpler. People are constantly searching for peace, a sense of stillness. We just tend to get distracted by all the things in our day to day lives, and that [interrupts the creative process]. I think that, ultimately, is why nature fosters creativity. It’s still.
How do you select the crystals and other elements you use in your products or sell on their own in the shop? Do you just catch a vibe from them, or...?
[laughs] I kinda do, actually! It’s basically just like shopping online for anything else: you see a photo of something and you’re like, “Yes, this is the One. I have to have it.” You know?
I am really conscious of color combinations, though. I like good contrast, so I try not to buy things that are too similar in color.
I’m also hypersensitive to quality. I look really carefully at the photos to evaluate the clarity and vibrance, and I have good communication with the supplier. I hate to say it, but there are scammers out there who will sell you resin and try to say that it’s a crystal. You have to know what you’re looking for and be pretty vigilant in the sourcing process.
What does your creative process look like?
Finding the dehydrated flowers is pretty easy, so I’ll start with two or three variations of those. Then I’ll get, maybe, two crystal variations, and I put them all together on a table and start making arrangements.
I don’t do much research about the properties of the crystals or flowers ahead of pairing them. I like to do everything very naturally. I actually feel like the elements choose their own pairings a lot. Often, I’ll put two things together and then I look them up and they’re just perfect for each other.
There have been times, though, when I’ll make a pairing and then do my research and realize it’s not a great match, so I’ll rearrange. I do want the pairings to make sense, from a spiritual-property perspective.
"I think everyone is creative, but it is really important to surround yourself with people who will pull it out of you."
Do you think creativity is innate, or do you think it can be taught?
I think it’s innate, but I think some people need a little more help learning how to unlock and use that creativity.
Outside of my business, I also organize women’s empowerment events with two of my girlfriends, called Businesswomen’s Brunch, so my spare time is spent building up other women and helping them figure out their strengths, so they can start their own businesses.
I started doing that last year because of Crown + Crystal. As a female business owner in Boston, I felt like there weren’t enough avenues to showcase my products without having a brick and mortar storefront. I started arranging these events to bring female business owners together, to support each other, and share our creativity and the things that come from it.
All of this to say, I think everyone is creative, but it is really important to surround yourself with people who will pull it out of you.
Creators wouldn’t create if they didn’t believe there was value in what they do. What value do you hope to release into the world with your work--Crown + Crystal, or otherwise?
I feel like I hadn’t found my sense of peace, as a person, until a few years ago. That’s what compelled me to start this journey in the first place--wanting personal peace--and that’s what my business has given me, because I am in control of my environment, my creative process--everything. That’s all I want to bring to other people, too. I want to help them realize their own sense of peace and fulfillment.
Especially with everything that’s going on in the world right now, I think we could all use a little bit of peace--and all-around consciousness, which is another big thing for me. Paraffin candles are incredibly toxic and I want to bring awareness to that, while providing something that is just as good, if not better, and isn’t harmful. I want people to know that you can enjoy the finer things without indulging in something bad.
"Learning to recover from our mistakes is much more valuable than never making mistakes at all."
Have you experienced any unique challenges to being a Black creator in America?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t call my business a small business anymore, even though that’s very much what it is, because when I call it a small business, I don’t feel like I’m taken as seriously by would-be customers or partners.
I also feel extra pressure because I’m selling a luxury product, and I have to make sure that everything is up to that standard. It’s tough to know how you’re going to be received [as a Black business owner], so it can be hard to put myself out there.
My boyfriend, Austin, is a videographer and photographer, so he creates a lot of the content [for Crown + Crystal]. He takes the photos you see on the site, and he was the one who was like, “You know you have to put a picture of you up here, too, right?” I wouldn’t have done that on my own, because I would prefer that the focus stay on the product and the brand. If people find out later that the company happens to be owned and operated by a Black woman and they aren’t ok with that, I would rather have had them fall in love with the product first.
Similarly, I don’t want people to engage with the brand because I’m a Black woman, either. I just want them to love the products for what they are.
What advice would you give to young Black creators, specifically?
I’d say, value professionalism. Make sure you’re educated about whatever it is you want to do. Dot your i’s, cross your t’s. At the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself; you are human, you will make mistakes. Learning to recover from our mistakes is much more valuable than never making mistakes at all.
A lot of people allow Imposter Syndrome to discourage them from pursuing things they love and sharing them with the world. Have you experienced Imposter Syndrome?
Oh, yes. Especially since I’m someone who gets excited pretty fast, when I’m actually doing something and it starts coming together, I’ll stop and be like, “Wait, am I really doing this? Like, nooooo.” It’s a really weird feeling! In those times, I have to take a step back and remind myself of how far I’ve come, and all the little steps I took to get there.
You seem to be the kind of person who is more in competition with yourself than with others. That has to help, too, right?
Yeah, I’m absolutely more in competition with myself. I believe we do ourselves a disservice when we compare our work to other people’s. You don’t see what’s happening behind the scenes. You don’t know what’s getting them--or not getting them--from point A to point B.
Comparison just puts you at a disadvantage. You won’t always be “better” than the person next to you, but you can always be a better version of yourself.
When do you feel most creative?
Bartending for so long made me a night owl, so I’m definitely most creative at night. There’s something about just being alone when it’s quiet. I love to light a candle or some incense, put on jazz or blues or something light in the background, and get to work.
Do you explore any other avenues of creativity outside of Crown + Crystal?
Yeah, totally. I really want to start another company--a clothing boutique. My friends and family are all like, “You just started your candle company,” and I’m like, “I know, I know, but you gotta think ahead!” [laughs]
I also want to get my and Austin’s parents’ stories on tape--like a video autobiography. He and I are in the process of collecting those stories and breaking them down into an outline we can use to interview them about their memories. We’ll even pull up old photos and stuff and talk about them. It plays more into Austin’s mode of creativity than mine since it’s video, but we really like to do stuff together, so I’m really excited about that project.
Tell me about three people who inspire you.
One is Daniel Arsham. He’s an amazing contemporary artist. He does a lot of eroded artwork, but it somehow looks so futuristic--like it’s regenerating itself? It’s hard to explain. He creates these plaster pieces, which he infuses with crystals. They look like they could be regenerating where the crystals are, or they could be breaking down. It’s totally open to interpretation. The first time I saw it, it blew my mind.
I absolutely love Rupi Kaur. She’s one of those really earthy, natural poets.
To be honest, I have to say the third one is my mom. She really inspires me to keep pushing. She’s never made me feel like any idea I’ve had is stupid or bad. She’s always been my biggest fan and ally.
What's your favorite thing you've ever created?
I love Crown + Crystal--it brings me so much peace and satisfaction--but I’d have to say that Businesswomen’s Brunch has been most rewarding. It has changed some women’s lives, and that means more to me than anything. I never would have guessed it would be that impactful; I just wanted to give women a way to connect with each other.
I’ve seen women meet at one of our events and come up with these beautiful collaborations and partnerships, or start their own businesses...when something you did makes that kind of difference, it’s surreal.
What do those events look like?
We typically rent out private dining rooms or event venues. We’ll have anything from five to fifteen different vendor tables, depending on the size of the space, and women rent those tables from us to promote their businesses and products. They’ve gone really well. Participants often sell out of their products before the event is over. Plus, they can network, mingle, and exchange business cards and numbers.
Everything’s organic. It’s not like a speed dating mixer or something. [laughs] We just leave it like an open forum--all women are welcome. Come as you are, and talk to anyone!
We’re planning to really fill out this whole idea--doing traveling events and everything. We were in the midst of planning all that when COVID hit. We’re preparing for a major comeback [when it’s safe]!
OK...last question, and one we ask of all interviewees. What’s your favorite taco filling?
[Austin and I] buy this cheese--just like a regular, shredded five cheese mix--and sprinkle a little bit of chili powder in the bag and shake it up before we put it on the tacos.
Oh my god, I’m stealing that.
Do it. It’s so, so good.
Mad love to Anjha for sharing her time with us! Make sure to follow Businesswomen’s Brunch on Instagram and Facebook (and keep an eye out for their website, coming soon!) and go buy all her luscious Crown + Crystal products, stat.
Anjha is kindly offering a 15% discount on all things Crown + Crystal, just for Tako Stand visitors! Use the code TAKO15 at checkout.
Don't forget to check out our other Conversations here!