Jennifer Rhee ― LAIT

by Grace Chung

Why did you start your own business? Why did you choose candles as your product?

Growing up I was always crafting and making things with my hands and loved making my surroundings beautiful. I was raised by creative parents who painted and played musical instruments, so being in that environment felt natural to me. My mother always had an eye for style and design and even ran her own high-end clothing boutique. After graduating from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, I pursued working in the corporate fashion industry as a design assistant and merchandiser. After working for over 10 years, the stressful and fast-paced environment started to wear me down. I ordered candle supplies and started making them again after work or on the weekends. I found it therapeutic to create scents I loved and then gifted them to my friends and family. I was mesmerized by the power of scent to transform a space and uplift the mood. I started pouring more candles for my brother’s event planning business for charities and weddings. After doing a few local markets, I called it LAIT (meaning ‘milk’ in French) and that is how my business was born.

What's your favorite scent so far and why is it special to you?

I feel incredibly grateful to be able to create any scent I like for my signature collection so I love all my scents. My all-time favorite would have to be La Vie en Rose which was inspired from wanting to give back to the Breast Cancer Foundation after knowing a few women that had lost their battle with this cancer. It’s composed of verdant citrus yuzu and geranium rose and white tea. La Vie en Rose is delightfully soothing but uplifting; perfect for those who don’t like heavy scents. I recently created a scent for my wedding with my husband that I will be adding to the collection. I tested it for a few months to perfect the scent but couldn’t think of a name. I ended up creating it to gift for my wedding guests and named it “Amour Sans Fin” meaning ‘endless love’ in French with the help of my husband. It turned out to be a scent that’s just too special not to share and feel like my community of LAIT lovers out there need to experience it as well. There’s notes of sea salt, rose, lavender, eucalyptus and musk; romantic, fresh and bold.

How has the city of Los Angeles inspired you and your business? What makes it ideal to root your business here? 

I grew up in Orange County and have fond memories of driving to Los Angeles to places like Koreatown, local museums and art galleries, and trying different kinds of food. It truly felt like a melting pot of cultures and communities as well as a city of opportunity to pursue your dreams. I was able to work at the most recognized fashion brands in Los Angeles of its time and loved the appeal of Hollywood glamour. I have officially lived here for over 12 years now and it feels gratifying to experience meeting so many interesting people from all different kinds of backgrounds here. I had many “first” experiences like attending an awards ceremony, a group cooking class, trying new cuisines for the first time, and more. LAIT is rooted in Los Angeles because I am able to express who I am through the art of candles and scents. I am very introverted but with LAIT, I love sharing what I love doing. It energizes me when people appreciate my candles and the scents I create.

How does your own personal experience as a Korean American influence your product and business? 

Despite the challenges of being a solopreneur and running a hand-poured candle brand in this multi-billion dollar industry, I feel grateful given this platform as a female, Korean-American founder. Coming from a background of being a minority Asian, I am able to continue and work through navigating my business by embracing imperfections during this journey. As a first generation from immigrant parents, I have learned how to accept that achieving your goals and dreams come with many obstacles. Owning a business has helped me battle my fears of failure and gave me the freedom to do what I love without boundaries. When I first started selling LAIT, there wasn’t as much curiosity of who the founder was as there is today. I truly feel honored to have customers that genuinely want to support a Korean American-owned business like mine.

If you weren’t doing what you were doing now, what do you think you would be doing?

I would own a farm where I can sustainably grow my own food, care for rescued abandoned dogs, learn how to make honey with my own bee farm, raise chickens and goats and create my own essential oils from plants and flowers. My love of wanting to own a farm was because I used to keep six chickens and was shocked to see how orange the yolk was when they first laid eggs. I also remember how they helped recycle food waste and would eat almost anything. I would love to spend more time in nature and learn how to protect the Earth as much as we can.

What’s your go-to restaurant in L.A. and what do you order?

I have a spot for amazing Italian food, especially pasta. Felix Trattoria is one of my all-time favorite spots because they get that al dente pasta and pasta sauce ratio right. I tried Felix for the first time right after coming back from Italy and the flavors were absolutely perfect. They also have an excellent wine list. Start with the rosemary focaccia and misticanza market salad. Their pizzas are excellent too but I personally go for their pastas. Most notable pastas are Rigatoni Amatriciana with guanciale, the Papparadelle Ragu and Orechiette with sausage. I love Orechiette pastas because the name literally means “little ears” in Italian. It almost reminds me a bite-sized pasta dumpling that cups the perfect amount of sauce and sausage bits. For dessert, you can get their budino or maybe another one of their gorgeous cocktails.

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