Updated: Mar 30, 2022
As a part of our interview series on women-owned businesses, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate De Palma, founder of Scented Designs.
Kate De Palma launched Scented Designs out of a passion for being creative and hands-on in a digital world. A Stanford grad and former English teacher, she operated Scented Designs for years as a side hustle before taking the leap to run the business full-time. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area where she currently resides with her husband. She loves travel, trivia, and testing out new scents for her candles.
Thanks for joining me! Tell our readers about what you do.
Hello! I’m excited to be sharing my business story with The Cause Mall today. I am Kate De Palma, the founder and CEO of Scented Designs, a woman-run candle company in the heart of Silicon Valley, California.
Our mission is to inspire values-driven women to say goodbye to empty consumerism and feel empowered to shop with heart through our alignment of products with principles: clean-crafted soy candles handmade by women who believe in the power of other women.
What does being a woman-owned business mean to you?
Being a woman-owned business means everything to me. I am so proud of my work as a female founder, launching and growing Scented Designs without any real business know-how. What I lacked in experience, I made up for in creativity, tenacity, and the desire to connect with other women over shared values and a really good-smelling candle. Connecting with women - whether business owners, experts, or customers - is one of the most rewarding parts about running Scented Designs.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Scented Designs was born in 2016 after I left my job as a high school teacher, intending to study interior design. An English major at Stanford and an educator by training, I wasn't exactly planning on starting a business. Candle-making was just a hobby I picked up when I was looking for something creative to do with my hands in a world that was becoming increasingly screen-based.
At the time, my creativity was piqued by the idea of upcycling wine bottles into pieces of home decor. Upcycled wine bottle candles were actually the first candles I made, cutting the wine bottle in half and then pouring the candle inside. We continue to make our line of upcycled bottle candles - despite how labor-intensive they are - because I love the idea of reusing these bottles to create something one-of-a-kind.
Okay, coming up with a great idea and actually taking the steps to become an entrepreneur and launch your company are two very different things. How did you know it was time to start?
Launching Scented Designs was, at first, a bit of an accident. Once I decided to start selling candles at local craft shows, the business was born almost before I realized it. I vended at my first pop-up market with my mom’s encouragement, and - after an incredibly successful weekend - I signed up for every craft faire and pop-up market I could find that fall and holiday season. I was so busy making hundreds of candles that it almost didn’t occur to me that I was starting a business. At that point, it was still just a hobby to me. It wasn’t until after the holiday rush ended that I stepped back, really looked at what I had created, and considered the possibilities of what I could continue to build.
Becoming an entrepreneur is no easy feat. What are some of the lessons you learned along the way?
Starting out without a plan was all well and good (it wouldn’t have happened otherwise!), but at some point I needed to sit down and actually figure stuff out.
I’ve learned that organization and planning need to be at the center of an entrepreneurial journey. It sounds boring to say, especially for entrepreneurs who, I think, tend to be full of big ideas and creativity. To figure out the nuts and bolts and to take the time to make sure everything is in order are not the exciting parts (at least for me). I’d much rather be spending time creating…mixing scents, trying out new containers, designing labels. But to take the business from small side hustle to legitimate, thriving business really requires organization of ideas and materials, as well as careful planning of so many moving parts: budget, supplies, emails, social media, you name it.
I also have learned the importance of celebrating small wins. Running a business can be a grind and the work can feel nonstop and overwhelming if I don’t pause to celebrate accomplishments along the way.
If you had to list three traits or attributes that have been pivotal for your success, what would they be?
Creativity, Determination, Willingness to Learn.
How is your company making a difference?
Although surrounded by the big companies and high tech of Silicon Valley, we embrace small business over conglomeration, and people over profit. We love collaborating with other local businesses to create something special for our community.
One example of this is my partnership with Shane Tarkington Art. Shane is a local artist with autism whom I met at a pop-up event a few years ago. We teamed up last year to create a line of mug candles featuring his artwork, and I love the story these candles tell about how he is using his art to make his way through the world, against the odds.
We are also a proud 1% for the Planet Member in order to live our values of being sustainable and creating something that doesn’t just come from the Earth but gives back to it.
I know you probably have many, but what’s your proudest moment as a founder?
In 2020, I was interviewed by Silicon Valley Business Journal for their front page story about how covid was impacting small businesses in the Bay Area. Scented Designs was featured alongside two other makers for this story, and it was really my first major press coverage. I was so proud to be a part of the story - especially during such a difficult time for small businesses - and to be recognized for the creative ways in which I was pivoting and stretching the business in uncertain times. The feature was published online and in print, and I definitely kept a couple of extra copies!
What's one myth you'd like to debunk about your line of work?
When I left teaching to run Scented Designs, people would comment on how great it must be to be my own boss, make my own schedule, and work flexible hours. While some of that is true, I work harder - and usually longer - as an entrepreneur than I did as a teacher, and that's saying something!
What advice would you give to burgeoning entrepreneurs?
Stick with it. For most of us, success doesn’t come overnight. Be ready to put in the time and the effort, and don’t give up the first hundred times something doesn’t go the way you want it to.
What does the future look like for your company?
We have grand plans here at Scented Designs, which include growing our social media following, expanding our wholesale accounts across the country, and partnering up with even more businesses large and small to create products & gifts that their customers and employees will love.
We also hope to expand our commitment to one of our values: giving back to the community, with a focus on women and the environment. Throughout the next couple of months, we will be creating special candle collections and donating a portion of our sales to nonprofits in our community.
Inspired by all the powerful women who've helped us along the way, we just launched a special Girl Power Candle Collection for March. We also have some fun new things up our sleeve for April and Earth Day coming soon, so stay tuned!
What words do you live by?
Never Give Up.
Any final words of wisdom?
We may have set ideas of what we want our lives to look like, and life sometimes has other ideas, taking us in interesting directions if we let it. I never thought I’d be on the entrepreneurial path - even resisted it at times - but have ultimately given in to the journey, and it’s been an expansive one that continues to push me to grow. So, I guess my words of wisdom are, “Be open to the possibilities.”