Sometimes we see the glitz and glamour of the photos on Instagram and Facebook and think that person’s life must be perfect. The truth is though, as I said, “everybody has a story”. Last night I sat with Eleni Gianniotis from Candelit & Co., once our children were in bed and we were done for the night, yes 10 pm, and I got to hear her story.
Eleni was born in Athens, in the suburb Koropi, like her parents, both native Athenians, and her two siblings. Her father made the decision when she was three to have a go in “the lucky country”, following his siblings who had already migrated here. Eleni describes her childhood as that of a typical Greek upbringing, lots of love and a strict upbringing from two over-protective parents, which was all too familiar.
She told me she feels “blessed” that they were like that and as a parent now herself, she completely understands their motivation and is grateful for it. Their family travelled back and forth from Greece her whole life, resulting in 22 different ‘homes’ and 11 different schools for Eleni and her siblings, often feeling like that of a “travelling gypsy”, she says.
On completion of her studies, at the age of 18, Eleni launched into working full-time in beauty therapy and within a year she was managing one of the first day spas in Melbourne, which speaks volumes of her work ethic and motivation. She explained how she worked there until the age of 21 without ever considering to ask for time off or a holiday, always having seen her parents running businesses and her work ethic being ingrained from a very young age.
After three years of working so intensely, at such a young age, she just wanted to break free and live a little, relax and take a six-month vacation in Greece. This six-months ended up a 13-year holiday, as Eleni describes having the feeling of “belonging there”. Her parents not only gave her their blessing to stay but followed suit and moved back to the motherland too.
Eleni opened a beauty salon in Koropi, which was a huge success, and she credits this to the fact that Greek women prioritise beauty in their budget; they love to look polished.
After 10 long years in Greece though, Eleni felt she was done − she saw the economy just getting worse and things in general going downhill. She had made the decision to come back to Australia and begin setting up her future, to buy a home and start a family, etc. She says that living in Greece often doesn’t allow you to fully appreciate all the beauty of it, and how living in Australia and holidaying in Greece means you see it with a different perspective, stress-free and financially capable to do more.
As life usually does, though, it threw her a curveball, and four months before she planned to leave she met Kosta, her husband, resulting in another four years there.
Eleni and Kosta had a holiday in Australia a few years later and were married in a very small and sweet civil service ceremony before returning to Greece for the religious ceremony, which was also small and resulted in souvlakia and a late night out on the town with friends until five am. It was falling pregnant with her first daughter Keira (Kyrasta, named after her mother) that helped them take the leap and move to Melbourne to begin their lives here.
The plan, she tells me, was to have the baby and get straight back into working. In beauty therapy, she explains, the technology is ever-advancing and if you don’t keep up you get “left behind”. Their firstborn daughter Keira was born with TOF, which Eleni informs me is quite common, yet I had never heard of it before. Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula (TOF) is an abnormal connection running between two tubes, between the trachea and the oesophagus. This connection may or may not have a central cavity, which if it does, food within the oesophagus may pass into the trachea (and onto the lungs), or alternatively, air in the trachea may cross into the oesophagus. Basically, it’s the inability to swallow, and this meant that Keira was immediately operated upon and will need ongoing medical assistance daily as well as weekly visits to the hospital. It also meant that childcare unfortunately wasn’t an option and Eleni couldn’t return to work.
Within a year of being a stay-at-home mum, Eleni felt she wasn’t being challenged enough mentally and had an overwhelming desire to be creative, to learn a craft of some sort and stimulate her brain. It was an online shopping adventure looking to buy candles that tweaked her interest, wondering why the ones she liked were so expensive. She decided “why not make them?”, leading to a short course to learn how to pour candles, out of curiosity mainly and a hobby.
In time she began posting her wares on Instagram and it didn’t take long before the private messages came rolling in asking for price lists, so she took the bull by the horns, thought “why not?”, and began selling. She says she was extremely lucky and it was always businesses wanting to place an order, meaning things took off at a great speed.
With the help of her sister Rita, they began Candlelit & Co., and it was in her endeavours to come up with an original label that led them to the marble candle. Eleni told me of how she felt the market was saturated with the same kind of look, how she wanted something original and classy, when she came up with the idea of a marble vessel. People told her she was crazy, but she was determined to make it happen, originally wanting to import the vessels from Greece and then moving on to Italy, she wasn’t having much luck.
It was when she made plans with a distributor in China that she learnt the most valuable lesson of her career. After going back to an Italian manufacturer and placing an order and they began selling the marble candles, she described the reaction from her followers as “nuts”, people going crazy for the product, to the point where they felt as though they were “in over their heads”. But … here comes the lesson. PATENT and WRITE CONTRACTS, do not release a prototype unless you sign a contract, she stresses, “it’s all about the fine print and covering yourself”.
When China realised they weren’t placing an order, they released her design on Alibaba. A local business in Melbourne then began importing and selling them, at a much cheaper price point and this meant the marble candle dream was over.
Eleni describes this as a huge lesson which means she now is much more protective and covers herself with contracts for everything she does.
Currently she feels as though the Australian market is stagnant and saturated with candle companies, so Candlelit & Co. will still be catering for all types of events and making their gorgeous bonboniere but focusing their attention more overseas in New York, Chicago, Belgium and Paris, as well as some larger dealings with Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. Eleni attributes her worldwide success to simply loving what she does and says working for herself is a dream, also enabling her to care for her family. She says the standard in her candles is that quality comes first; candles are not just for practicality but are decorative; they finish a room, homewares also being one of her many passions. Candlelit & Co.’s scents are designed and developed by perfumers, meaning the scents are unique − it’s these small things that set them aside from the others on the market.
What’s next on the horizon? Eleni excitedly reveals to me her plans for 2017 and she will be adding colour and art to her designs. She has collaborated with six different artists and illustrators, with extremely different styles to work on six different scents, each one with its own story. As she loves and appreciates art, she is finding this a very exciting project.
You can find Candlelit & Co. on etsy www.etsy.com/au/shop/candlelitandco or Instagram @candlelitandco
* Zoe George is The Subtle Mummy (www.thesubtlemummy.com)