Chaminade freshman turns her love of candles and Hawaii into a business
Part science, part apothecary, the art of candle making can be traced as far back as 1000 BCE when ancient Romans would use tallow—a rendered form of beef or mutton fat—to make molded candles. The idea intrigued Chaminade freshman, Tahiya Kahaulelio ‘26, so much so that she established her own candle-making enterprise, Kahaulelio Candle Company.
“It wasn’t the first idea I had for a business,” says Kahaulelio, who plans to major in Environmental + Interior Design. “At first, it was actually to establish a clothing business but, knowing myself, I knew I would get bored, so I needed to find something that I could stick [no pun intended] with for a long time.”
The young entrepreneur, though, knew she wanted to continue her education and attend college. Chaminade beckoned over Saint Joseph’s and La Salle, two universities located closer to her hometown of Philadelphia. A devout Catholic, Kahaulelio chose to leave The City of Brotherly Love to get in touch with her island roots. Her Nigerian mother had already taught her the values and customs of her West African home country, but she wasn’t familiar with her father’s Hawaiian heritage.
“I had questions about my Hawaiian side,” Kahaulelio says. “I feel like I was missing a piece of my heritage and I needed to get answers.”
Having never been to Hawai‘i, Kahaulelio was understandably nervous. She knew it would be challenging to be 5,000 miles away from her mother, step-father and siblings, but she was also comforted knowing that her biological dad’s family lived on O‘ahu. Questions of not being good enough, meeting new friends, college life and all the doubts associated with the responsibility of a young adult, all swirled in her mind. She was anxious.
And then she arrived on campus.
“I immediately felt comfortable and the people were so nice,” says Kahaulelio, with an infectious smile. “I didn’t feel like an outsider because everyone was so welcoming. I no longer see Chaminade as a school but as a family that I can reach out to for guidance and help.”
Now in her second semester, Kahaulelio juggles between being a student and running a business. When she’s not designing interior spaces with colors and texture for class, she’s experimenting with different combinations of scents, infusing her bees-wax-based candles with such local-inspired essential oils as hibiscus, coconut, cucumbers, papaya, mango and rosewood.
Using a digital scale to precisely weigh 12 ounces of wax, Kahaulelio places the wedges in a pitcher and slowly melts the wax over a Nesco stainless burner for four minutes. She then incorporates four teaspoons—two teaspoons at a time—of essential oils, stirring the elixir to release the fragrances. Now to the tricky part: cutting the length of the circular wick so that it’s not too long nor too short.
“My stepdad is so much better at this than I am,” admits Kahaulelio, while eyeballing the length of the wick. “He’s a chef so he has a really keen eye and an excellent sense of aroma.”