Second of a three-part series
Out of a love for home, good scents and comfort, Maryland native Amina Ahmad crafted a candle and beauty goods business that’s uniquely D.C.
As a student at the University of Maryland, College Park studying environmental science, Ahmad’s love for crafting and do it yourself projects turned into Handmade Habitat.
“I always wanted to do something creative, but I didn’t know what that looked like,” she said. “I use to do a lot of sewing when I was younger. In college there was a summer when I was in between moving and instead of getting a regular job somewhere I tried selling my products.
“They were things that I made over the years, I sold them at markets and I got addicted pretty quickly,” she said. “And from there it just kind of grew.”
Ahmad characterizes Handmade Habitat as an all-natural soy candle beauty goods company with a lot of the scents based in presence, mindfulness and finding comfort at home.
“It’s really comforting, very beneficial for you mentally and physically,” she said. “Aromatherapy is really good for helping you out in a lot of different ways that’s what I really like about it. I’m a homebody in general. I love being at home, being comfortable, having all my favorite things around with a good scent burning, spending time taking care of myself.”
Ahmad joked that she would never leave the house if left up to her, but her candles allow for the constant burning unlike others.
“When I first started making candles, there was a lot of information out there about how some candles that are more traditionally made are really toxic for your indoor air quality and really bad for the environment,” she said. “So when I made mine, I made sure they were really sustainable and healthy to burn in your home.”
Around the time when the Made in DC initiative began to form, Ahmad moved her business into the District for the opportunities. Now, as one one of the featured vendors in the first wave of small-business owners in the brick-and-mortar Made in DC store at 1330 19th Street NW, she’s pleased with the evolution.
“I’ve been involved since the beginning,” she said. “I was one of the early members of the Made in DC initiative when they were doing pop-ups and markets. It’s really cool to see how they’ve evolved over the years.”
Ahmad said she can make up to 100 candles a day, and with the growth of her business in the past few months and the product placement in the Made in DC store, things don’t appear to be slowing down.
“I’ve been in business eight years and it’s a hard thing to build in your business,” she said. It’s very difficult to get into brick-and-mortar and start cultivating your wholesale relationships and with different stores. To have a store to specifically dedicated to people who are making things themselves in the District is great.”
Ahmad said there is a difference in having products manufactured versus hand-making them yourself.
“It’s a lot harder to run a business when you’re making the product,” she said. “It’s a little bit easier when you can pay someone else, or get something manufactured, then it is to be the person who is making it. For the past eight years, its been just me, so to have the government promoting businesses like mine, it’s really great to see that.”
For the holidays, Handmade Habitat released a collection of three festive scents, with a portion of the proceeds going to Friendship Place DC, a nonprofit that deals with ending homelessness.
“I like to give to local nonprofits when I can, because they tend to get less upfront funding like the big nationals one do that are also based in the District,” Ahmad said.
Other than candles, Handmade Habitat offers bath salts and roller-ball perfumes.
“I’m in the studios most days making candles, packaging, putting together bath and beauty products,” she said. “It’s a lot of making things. All of my products are really eco-friendly, being mindful of the earth and how to live in it.”