Between her retail store Olive & Loom and her candle company Kin & Care, Ferzan Jaeger is a true entrepreneur. The former NASA project manager has been growing her retail empire since she opened Olive & Loom in 2016. She’s switched locations, branched into wholesale and has increased her product lines, but her newest project is a little closer to her heart. Last year, Jaeger launched Kin & Care, a local candle company that hires predominantly women refugees with the goal of giving them new opportunities and helping them settle into their new homes.
We caught up with Jaeger to chat about how she started Kin & Care, her new life as an entrepreneur and her favorite smell in the world.
Can you tell me about Kin & Care’s origin story?
Actually, before Kin & Care I created another brand called Olive & Loom. At our retail store we met Yasmina [Mudarres], who works with Solutions in Hometown Connections. It’s an organization in D.C. and basically, it’s a handful of ladies who made it a mission to help the refugee community in the DMV area. They help them with renting an apartment, furnishing it… When they arrive here, they help them get acclimated to a new life.
I’ve been wanting to help, I’m from Turkey so the whole Middle East conflict is dear to my heart. Through my store I met [Yasmina], as a customer and we got to know each other. I was like, “Oh my goodness, how can I help?” We had coffee and talked about it. She was like, “The best way is to create jobs for them.” Even though these people are well educated, it doesn’t always translate here. If they don’t know english, or if the wives were stay at home moms and they don’t have work experience, it’s hard to get them in front of the right jobs. Getting them jobs, helping them with their resume, figuring out what their passion is, that’s the biggest help because that allows them to flourish on their own.
At a retail store it’s hard to hire them, because some of them don’t have a lot of work experience and some of them don’t know english very well, so it’s a struggle to put them right in front of a customer. But then I thought, at our store we sell tons of candles and I played around with candles as a hobby for a while, so I was familiar with the recipes. My husband and I decided we were going to start a brand, we’re going to start with candles and I’m going to come up with the fragrances and the recipes, then I can teach them the recipes and they can take it from there.
Thanks! It’s relatively new. We started last fall with the branding and packaging. We go to some of the D.C. markets, we do Union Market and some of those events. The selling process is only a few months old. So far, I’m really happy with where we are in D.C. When we sell them at markets directly to the consumer, people really do love the candles. It’s a very clean burning candle, all soy wax, vegan. The packaging stickers sometimes have glues that are made from animal byproducts, we don’t have that. We try to make it a good cause, good candle.
We started doing wholesale a few months ago, it’s a startup by all accounts, but we have accounts in California, Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota and New Jersey. All over. Because of the cause, I didn’t know if this would be politicized. I didn’t know who would respond to it. When we did our branding and marketing strategy, we said, let’s start with the coasts. The more liberal people, more liberal regions, will probably respond more positively to it… But we didn’t really find that to be the case. We’re pretty happy with where we are and where we’re going.
That’s an impressive time line. As a small business owner, were you worried about taking on another small business?
Because of my personality… I’m relatively impulsive. I think that helps me as an entrepreneur because I rarely think about what would happen if this fails. I always think, “This is the best idea, of course it’s going to make it.” Sometimes that doesn’t end up being the case… But I feel like because of my personality, this was a no brainer to me.
My husband is a little more risk averse. He wanted to take very careful steps and make sure we’re not spread too thin. I think we were able to balance each other in that aspect. I was like, “I know this is going to do well, the concept is great, we’re helping the women.” He had very small detailed questions about the logistics and, “What if we grow too quickly?”
Right now, these candles are made in our basement. We have a workshop, it’s a pretty professional workshop, we have the wax heaters, benches, storage and all of that, but there may come a point when we need more women than our house can handle. Are we ready to make that jump? Things like that. I think there were legitimate concerns, but we made a plan that would work for us. I wasn’t too worried.
How many women do you have working with you right now?
We have five people part time, but we’re looking to hire one of them full time, not just to pour the candles, but to help us with the logistics and almost to manage the operation. We want to create an entrepreneur opportunity for them. This one woman specifically shows a lot of initiative and seems passionate. That’s where we’re headed, we’ll hopefully hire them all full time, but one at a time.
Let’s go back in time a little bit, how did you start your first company, Olive & Loom?
We created Olive & Loom in 2016. Because I’m from Turkey, we thought, “Let’s do an old world meets new world” kind of thing. The goal is to travel and find very traditional old world items from different countries. We started this with Turkey, so we did the Turkish towels because they’re hand loomed. They have a very traditional story from the Ottoman empire. Then we said, “We’re going to make this unique with our own colors,” with how vibrant it is and the packaging. We have expanded our product line pretty extensively. It’s a Mediterranean lifestyle brand.
We had a store in Bethesda, it was pretty small, and we recently closed that store and opened our current store in Pike & Rose. It’s been much better than the Bethesda location. It’s twice the size of that store, it’s more visible and Pike & Rose is up and coming. As far as demographic, our target audience, it’s a much better match here. We’re able to diversify our product a whole lot better than we were able to in the Bethesda location.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Absolutely. I moved to the states when I was 22 for graduate school. I got my bachelors in physics and I moved to the midwest, the University of Iowa, to get a graduate degree in physics. I got my masters, I got my MBA, and then my husband and I moved to the D.C. area. I got a job at NASA and I worked there as a project manager for about eight years. In 2016, I was working at NASA and I liked what I was doing, but it just didn’t feel like a perfect fit. I always wanted to do my own thing. So I thought, I’m going to start Olive & Loom and I’ll just do both of them.
Last May I had my daughter, and I have an older son, at that point I was like, “There’s no way I can do two kids, two jobs and have a normal life.” Something has got to give. NASA’s got to give. I can imagine a life without it, but I can’t imagine a life without running my own business. I’m very entrepreneurial.
What is the hardest part about owning as business?
The uncertainty. I would say I’m a pretty futuristic person. I can imagine, I can envision, what I want to be in the future, what I think my brands can be in the future. But what takes me from here to that vision is many, many little steps, and each step is a struggle. It is hard to live the day to day when you have a pretty big vision. And there’s the uncertainty… My vision is my dream and for many small businesses, that vision is not realized. The uncertainty is the scariest part.
I managed $10 million projects at NASA and right now I’m selling $24 candles, but that makes me feel so much more impactful to the community. I feel like I’m really impacting someones life by hiring them. I feel like I have a bigger, better impact doing my own thing.
Besides your own company, Olive & Loom, what company do you wish would stock Kin & Care?
I’d love a big company like Anthropologie to carry us. I think our stock is a good fit for that demographic. I know the buyers method of selecting these products, they’re looking at the price point and the packaging, but because I sell to the end user at my store, online, at events, I know exactly who is buying these products. And it is the person who shops at Anthropologie, but it’s hard to relay that message. I think a big nationwide account would be amazing.
But the downside with those really big accounts is that their overhead is pretty high. The margins that they take are pretty high. With Kin & Care, we try to keep our margins pretty tight because we want to keep paying the women living wages. If a big account comes along, we wouldn’t compromise our vision for Kin & Care.
We did just start an account in Baltimore with four locations called Brightside Boutiqe. They are the only local business that we’re selling to, so it would be really awesome for some of the D.C. accounts to pick us up. This is being made in their backyard.
What’s your favorite smell?
Lavender, but not every lavender, the lavender in Turkey… Well it’s a tie. I love the lavender that grows in Turkey, but also the Mediterranean apricot. That smell… you can’t find it anywhere else. That smells like home to me.