Along the Way with Catherine Kwolek of Aster Candle

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This week, as part of my Along the Way Interview Series, I’m talking to Catherine Kwolek. As the founder of Aster Candle, Catherine has been able to create great products, a distinguished brand, and be featured in several local retail outlets—all while working a full-time job as an accountant.

She’s sharing with us what it took and what it takes to have a serious side hustle.

The Along the Way Interview Series features kick-ass women who are putting their heart and soul into achieving their dreams. Rather than talking to those who have already “made it,” this series focuses on learning from those who are right next to us in the daily hustle.

If you want to follow Catherine, you can find her here:

Facebook || Instagram || Twitter

Without further ado, let’s chat with Catherine about how she pursues her vision.

Tell us about Aster Candle. How did you get started with candle making? Where does the name come from?

I launched Aster Candle in the Spring of 2016 because I needed a creative outlet. I work full time in accounting but have always been a crafty person who spent a lot of spare time writing and DIY-ing. I felt like I was constantly looking for creative opportunities, and when I couldn’t find them, decided to create my own!

I guess you could say that this started off as an experiment that I hoped I would be able to sustain and grow. I made my first candle after reading a tutorial on Emily Shuman’s blog, Cupcakes and Cashmere. I realized that it was a ton of fun coming up with unique scent combinations and label designs. My first collection was a line of zodiac candles which inspired the name Aster – the Greek word for star.

You always have such cool, unique scents. Where does the inspiration come from? What does your process for creating the scents look like?

Coming up with scents is one of my favorite parts of the whole candle making process. I am inspired by so many things, but most often my goal is to create a scent that captures a feeling rather than something tangible.

For example, my All Day Aster collection features three candles: Morning, Noon, and Night. In coming up with these scents, I thought about what someone might be doing at each point in their day, or where they might be. The fragrance notes that makeup Noon are blackberry, vanilla, and orchid – it smells warm and bright and reminds me of sunshine!

There’s a ton of trial and error that goes into creating these scents as well. There are some ideas that seem great on paper and then just don’t translate. There are a lot of test candles scattered around my house, and when in doubt, I hand them off for a friend to try.

I know that Aster Candle is your side hustle. Do you have any tips for others with a full-time job? How do you stay motivated to do both?

Staying motivated can definitely be tough sometimes. Making lists and staying organized is helpful, but sometimes that list gets long and can feel really overwhelming. For me, this leads to stress and procrastination. I often have to remind myself that not everything on the list is going to be accomplished on a given day, and I can’t be in two places at once.

I try my best to focus on my full-time job during the day, and Aster on nights and weekends. I prefer to keep a weekly list of goals I’d like to accomplish. This helps me carve out time for smaller tasks, chipping away at that to-do list slowly but surely.

I also think it’s important to recognize the point at which you’re no longer productive and take a break to regenerate. Meet up with friends for a drink or coffee, or spend a night watching Netflix – you deserve it!  

When I do my DIY PR presentations for makers, I try to spend some time talking about packaging/labeling. I think having good packaging can really set you apart. I love your packaging; it looks unique, modern and professional. Can you share a little bit about how you make and create your packaging? Do you design it or outsource it? How do you print the labels?

Thank you so much! I don’t have a traditional design background, so hearing that people like my packaging always gives me a boost of confidence.

I think my feelings on this relate a lot to your question on dealing with self-doubt. It’s so easy to compare yourself to others who have beautiful designs, and a ton of experience. It’s important to remember that there really is room for everybody.

Once I got over the fear of putting myself out there, I was able to enjoy learning about the design process and playing around with different labels. I currently use Adobe Illustrator to create my designs and have them digitally printed by a professional print company located in Ohio.

I think the most important thing is to do your research. Is there a store you would love to carry your products? Check out their merchandise to get a better idea of what you are drawn to – is it the colors, quality of the paper stock, or special effects like metallic printing? Use these elements to help inform your design.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I would love for Aster to continue to grow! I think it would be super fun to expand into other home and fragrance items. I don’t have a definitive plan, as I try to remain open to new and different opportunities as they come my way.

That being said, Aster Candles are currently carried in stores predominantly in New England…I would love to see them in stores across the country!


Along the WayRebekah Epstein