30 Under 30: Melody Lim is setting the candle market ablaze with Mala the Brand

Lim's candle brand is in big chains like Whole Foods, Holt Renfrew and Bloomingdales.

Melody Lim, 27

Founder and CEO, Mala the Brand

Life Story: Sometimes, to really succeed as an entrepreneur, you need a bit of a push. For Melody Lim, that came in 2019, when a passion project—producing candles from her parents’ kitchen—raised the ire of her then-boss at a skincare startup, where she was working in marketing. “He didn’t agree with me doing my own side hustle, so he let me go.”

With “nothing else to lose,” Lim decided to lean into her passion and use her savings (plus $10,000 won in a 2020 SFU pitch competition) to expand the business. When COVID hit, demand for all things home-related took off—and Lim was able to hire her mother to help pour candles.

Around the same time, two big retailers—Indigo and Nordstrom—reached out to Lim, requesting to stock her eco-friendly candles (Mala candles use non-toxic, clean ingredients and minimal, earth-friendly packaging). Mala had been producing about 1,000 candles a month, sold online as well as through select retailers. All of a sudden, with the Indigo and Nordstrom deals (the latter of which includes 35 U.S. locations), she was up to 3,000 or 4,000 candles a month, out of her parents’ kitchen and into a Richmond production facility, along with eight part- and full-time employees.

Her mom is still involved, though no longer Mala’s full-time candlemaker: “She helps with everything: warehouse operations, packaging—anything that needs to be done.”

Bottom Line: What started as a web-only business now counts 65 percent of its sales through retail; one of Lim’s first non-family hires was a retail consultant who has helped get Mala into over 350 stores or chains, including Whole Foods, Holt Renfrew and Bloomingdales.

This year and last, Mala saw revenue in the seven figures. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that Lim has been approached about selling the business, but she says she’s not ready to exit quite yet: “In fact, in the next three years, I want to open my own candle store in Vancouver.”