Sitting Down with Annabelle DeGrazio: Founder of Taja Collection

Apr 5, 2022

In my most recent interview, I sat down with Annabelle DeGrazio, founder of the women-led company Taja Collection.

I was introduced to Annabelle when we were in the same HeyMama mentoring cohort. We stayed in touch, and I was finally able to meet her in person this past December at her store in Miami. It really shows how important it is to engage with communities of supportive women, and that through these networks, you can connect with great female founders and leaders. I am so fortunate to have connected with Annabelle. I think her candles are fantastic, and she is just an incredible person. We even collaborated on a giveaway this past February.

A little about Taja Collection:

Taja Collection creates customizable, hand-poured candles that use 100% premium soy wax and a variety of non-toxic fragrances and essential oils. Each candle can be personalized with a message. Taja also offers soaps, candle accessories, and the singular Smudge Kit.

Keep reading my interview below or watch the interview on Inspiro Tequila’s YouTube Channel to learn more about Annabelle and Taja Collection.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mara: I would love for you to tell everybody a bit about your background and how you started creating these amazing, beautiful, customizable candles I am obsessed with.

Annabelle: I moved from New York to Miami for law school. I became a lawyer, and I was working at a big firm. I was about a year into my law career, and it was the holiday season when Taja Collection was born out of necessity. 

I was looking for the perfect gift for my amazing secretary. She loved her cat, and she loved luxury candles. She always had things in her office like diffusers and candles and things like that. 

I tried to find a candle I could customize. But to find a nice, beautiful piece, it did not exist. And so that is how the idea of Taja Collection came about. 

It has had many lives since then, but the whole concept is you can customize these beautiful jars with luxury candles. They are non-toxic and all clean ingredients. The best part about it is that you can customize the top of the lid, the inside of the lid, and even the size of the jar. 

You can do anything. We have seen family photos, pet photos, wedding vows, lyrics. It is awesome to see how far it has come from the simple idea of putting a cat on a candle for my secretary.

Mara: My background was also at a big law firm here in Chicago. I particularly love hearing stories about lawyers who transition and enter new industries. I learned a lot of skills in law that are applicable to starting a business. Some people told me, “Are you crazy? How are you starting a tequila company after being a lawyer?”  I am wondering what your thoughts are.

Annabelle: It is the way of thinking that I learned in law school that has been most helpful. It is also the analytical skills that have been important.

Owning a business, you have issues that come up where it might seem impossible to figure out. But there is always a solution, and there is always a creative way to get something resolved. I feel like I can approach a situation and look at all the different possibilities, the options, the pros and cons. It is those analytical skills that are helpful that I did not have before law school.

Mara: Taja Collection is product-based, and you have an actual retail location. I am curious about how you chose not to just do online but to have a physical location. I am also curious about how you learned a new industry. I understand the analytical background, but now you have to understand marketing and social media and production and logistics. How did you get up to speed in all of those areas?

Annabelle: I think a lot of it came from the work ethic, time management, and researching I developed in law school. I clerked for two years, so I am an expert researcher. 

I did not know how to make a candle. After going to a couple of candle factories, I learned it is all human labor. I then decided we should do this in-house so that we can control the flow and do not have to commit to a certain amount of inventory. 

We do have a retail space in the Wynwood District in Miami, but it happened accidentally. When we started, we were looking for somewhere to house the production of Taja Collection. A friend of mine owned a building in Wynwood off the main street, and after seeing it, I decided to make it into a showroom.

But we made it into a small space – maybe two hundred square feet. And it worked because we saw a lot of people would come in. Turns out, people wanted to see the candles. They want to feel it, touch it, and smell it. So for locals, it was great. 

And then, in 2020, a space opened up a few blocks away on the main street. I jumped on it, and now we have this great retail space. It is great for our customers. We throw a lot of events. So the retail space happened accidentally, but it has been great.

However, we are primarily online. Most of our orders by far come online, but the store is nice for locals if they need something super quick and do not want to wait a few weeks to get something delivered. I never intended for a retail space, but I love it now that we have it.

Mara: When you are first starting, you can do as much research as possible to get prepared. But even as a solo entrepreneur, you need support. Finding groups or mentors in your industry or other female founders and leaders that are collaborative and supportive is essential. I know I found a ton of resources and help through those communities. 

So I am wondering what you think about what you have found helpful, and how do you use these types of support?

Annabelle: I see a lot of value in being part of groups. I have not dived into a lot of the resources as much as I should have because of time restrictions. I have gone to some local events with HeyMama. The community is amazing for entrepreneurs. Female Founder Collective is another amazing group. 

I have barely skimmed the surface of utilizing what they offer. But doing the mentorship program through HeyMama for me was invaluable. Meeting people is number one for me because, even though we may be in different industries, the basics and issues are very similar. The needs are very similar.  

It is sharing information and meeting like-minded people, especially when it is women or moms. It is even more helpful if they are women or moms because then you come at it from a very similar understanding.

Expect to see more Taja Collection – Inspiro Tequila collaborations in the future!  We are huge fans of the candles here.

To watch my entire interview with female founder Annabelle DeGrazio, click here, and read more Inspiring Women interviews on the Inspiro Tequila blog!