“I was working as a flight attendant, and I made tiny candle that was just long enough for a layover in Philadelphia. I was in the room, and I had a knock on my door. It was the manager, and she was like, ‘We’ve been getting reports of a scent coming from your room. You cannot burn a candle on hotel property. It’s a fire hazard.’ So I close the door, and maybe 10 seconds later, she knocks again and says ‘I’m sorry, what was that candle that you were burning? It smells really good.’ And when I told her that it was one that I had made, she ordered a candle from me on the spot. That was my first sale!”
Tennessee Viduya owns and operates 676 Candle Co., a project borne out of her high school home ec classes in the Philippines – where she first learned to make her own scented candles. It’s a skill she’s cultivated since her teenage years, and carried with her throughout the different stages of her life.
“The candle-making process immediately lured me in. And it stayed with me. When I first got the the US from the Philippines, I had just graduated high school, so making candles was still fresh in my mind. I can remember going to eBay to buy materials. But I was only making them for personal use. I wasn’t really thinking of doing a business back then,” she says.
Today, with a business that includes corporate accounts, Tennessee’s teenage love affair with candlemaking has clearly blossomed into something much more substantial. Still, she’s adamant that her priority with 676 remains with the dedicated following that she has built around genuine personal relationships.
“I have worked with [UNDSCVRD Retail Curator] Jenn Lui since day one. I always see the same people picking up their candles at Undiscovered, and it’s always like, ‘Oh my god, what’s up, how are the babies?’ It’s not just like ‘Yeah, I need to go there to make money and sell candles.’ It’s more like, ‘Yeah, I need to see my friends!’”
In the same breath, Tennessee also points out that the journey from Philadelphia layover to sustainable small business isn’t all roses. And she acknowledges the thorny moments as opportunities to refine her approach, her product, and her mindset.
“It was my first year, and I was trying to get my candles into Whole Foods. And I got rejected. I was heartbroken. I was crying. I was like, ‘My candles are good!’ There will always be events where they will be like: ‘Yeah, I don’t think your product is a good fit for what we’re looking for.’ Rejections are vital, you have to have rejection in order to move forward. Otherwise you are gonna get stuck.”
By maintaining momentum and constantly pursuing growth, 676 Candle Co. has become a true local favorite, with constantly evolving product lines – which now include diffuser oils and room sprays – alongside a successful subscription service that Tennessee has operated since day one.
“That business license cost me $300! I had no choice but to move forward. You just take that first step, and then you’re on your second, and then you’re onto your third. Sometimes, it still gets to a point where it’s like ‘This is too much work!’ But then it will come to me: ‘Ah! $300 is a lot of money to waste!’”
There’s no doubt that Tennessee, despite her success, keeps it close – there’s even a line of candles named after the flight attendant colleagues who were early investors and volunteers with 676 Candle Co. It’s a strategy that’s continued to create abundance, not just for Tennessee but for the community she calls home.
“Filipinos work hard. We are hustlers. Back in the Philippines, my mom would bake cookies and sell them out of our garage. Filipinos, if they are passionate about something, they’re not gonna stop, and they’re gonna keep growing. So that is how I see the community. Undiscovered is now, like, a staple. It is one of the foundations for where we are right now as a people. It has helped me grow as a person, and a businesswoman – a Filipina businesswoman. I was just making candles for myself, and now I’m here – and even my husband is going to be vending at his own Undiscovered SF booth in Septemeber.”
Written by Paul Barrera.