Annie Chapur and Annabelle DeGrazio were working as corporate lawyers at a big Miami law firm when they felt that tug that so many of us feel. They knew there had to be something else out there for them. Their careers were making them miserable.
Over the holidays an “aha” moment struck the girls. While on a quest to find that perfect customized holiday gift for their assistants, they noticed the total lack of anything of the sort on the market. An idea was born. They would create TAJA, a customizable home accessories brand that includes the most luxurious hand poured 100% soy candles. They launched the brand from their kitchens in June 2017, and recently opened their headquarters. And as life would have it, when their headquarters opened another wave of change entered—Annie found out she was expecting her first baby!
Read on as we take A Seat At The Table with Annabelle and Annie and learn what steps they took to transition from a business idea, to a full-fledged brand adored (and used!) by celebrities, Nobu Hotel, the Miami Heat, Lululemon, the W and more.
When the two of you met, and you knew there had to be a career out there for you outside of law, what steps did you take to launch TAJA?
Annie: It actually took me a while to imagine a career other than law. When Annabelle and I met, we were working for the same law firm, and I was totally committed to becoming a partner at that firm. During the holidays, when we were looking for gifts for our assistants, we couldn’t find what we wanted to buy them (personalized candles). Once we had the idea, it kind of had us by the throats. The first step we took was to learn how to make candles. Next, we designed what our dream product would look like and then sourced the materials we would need to bring it to life.
Annabelle: Bringing our idea to light was interesting. We needed to first create the perfect candle. We visited a few candle manufacturers in Miami and LA and realized that they were all run by human labor. Both type-A lawyers, Annie & I were convinced we could make the best candles ourselves—we wanted to control the process to ensure that there was no junk in our candles, and that each candle was 100% pure soy wax. So, we gathered all of the materials we needed, researched everything candle-making related, and formulated the perfect candle!
Were there moments when you were scared making this leap? What was that like?
Annie: Yes and no. Quitting my dream job to pursue candle-making was beyond out of character for a type-A virgo like me. Still, once we had the idea, the thought of not pursuing it (and having to live with that regret) seemed much scarier.
Annabelle: Going from a prestigious, stable job to starting a candle company is was never something I planned for. However, I knew I always wanted to pursue a more entrepreneurial route and once the idea was in motion and I found the perfect partner, I have never looked back.
What do your days involve?
Annie: Everything! These days we are spending a lot of time hiring and training. We also devote a lot of time to planning our social media.
Annabelle: Depends on the day! Recently, I have been focusing a lot of my attention on wholesale sales and launching events all over the U.S.
What is your favorite part of the work you do?
Annie: It sounds cliché, but helping make people happy. For example, today a customer ordered a custom candle congratulating her best friend on her engagement. On Father’s Day we had a customer order a candle for her mom, a single mother who took on the role of dad as well. I love being able to be a part of these special gifts that I know will make both the recipients and the gift-givers happy.
Annabelle: Our company is built on being thoughtful. I love knowing that with each package that goes out, the recipient is going to feel good and smile.
What is your biggest challenge right now as a young brand?
Annie: Building our team.
Annabelle: We are growing very quickly; building a strong support system has been the biggest struggle.
Do you feel a background in law has helped you start TAJA?
Annie: Absolutely, but probably for different reasons than you might think. I am so grateful for the work-ethic. I was already used to working crazy hours 7 days a week. I’m also thankful for the resourcefulness a background in law gave me. There’s no problem that comes up (and believe me we see plenty) that I don’t feel confident we can resolve with enough hard work and research.
Annabelle: 100%! The ability to solve problems as they come has been one of the greatest skills in growing the business. Something comes up every single day.
What do you believe is the key to building a successful team as your company continues to grow?
Annabelle: Honesty & hard work.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Annie: Be open to the idea that tomorrow you may love what you hated yesterday.
Annabelle: Be the CEO your mom wanted you to marry.
What is something you know now that you wish you would have known more about when you launched TAJA?
Annie: Accounting & web-design
Annabelle: Photography and accounting.
What’s are some of your future goals for TAJA?
Annie: So many! Creating more customizable products. I’d also love to partner with a retailer to create an amazing in-person shopping experience where you can go to a department store and leave with your custom creations on the spot.
Annabelle: I’ve always dreamed of being featured in Forbes and on Oprah’s Favorite Things.
What advice do you have for fellow women on following their passions?
Annie: Just do it! It’s never going to feel like the right time, but I promise you will figure it out as you go.
Annabelle: No better time than now! The longer you wait, the more excuses you will come up with.
I’d love to grab coffee with:
Annie: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
My favorite way to unwind is:
Annie: Bath with a great podcast and a TAJA candle
Annabelle: A great workout at Barry’s Bootcamp
You’ll always find these three things in my purse:
Annie: iPhone, notepad, crumpled receipts
Annabelle: My Air Pods (I’m a podcast addict), Purell Sanitizer Wipes and business cards
My favorite customized TAJA creation says:
Annie: I love our moon gift set.
Annabelle: The Future is Female, because duh, the future is female.
My go-to outfit is:
Annie: All white with fun accessories
I can’t live without:
Annabelle: My family and two rescue pups