Sept. 28, 2023

Fort McMurray wildfires inspired UCalgary alum to start fundraising candle business

Education snag ended up making perfect scents for Holly Singer
Milkjar CEO and founder, Holly Singer, hosts Alum workshops.
Milkjar CEO and founder, Holly Singer, hosts Alum workshops. Tia Lalani

What began as a hobby has shifted to a career for University of Calgary alum Holly Singer.

Singer, BSc’12, whose bachelor’s degree is in kinesiology, says she always enjoyed burning candles, but she was inspired to start making her own after learning more about how they are made.

“I learned that burning paraffin candles, which were the most common candles on the market, was not good for your health,” says Singer.

Singer started off enjoying her hobby by making small batches of about eight and gifting the candles to her friends. It was not until 2016 when the Fort McMurray wildfire hit the northern Alberta city that she decided to turn her hobby into a business.

“A friend of mine who I’d always give the candles to was running a market pop-up relief for the victims of the Fort McMurray forest fires, so she asked me if I would sell my candle to raise money,” says Singer. “So, that was the first time from just doing this as a hobby that I got the wheels turning on: maybe I do want to start this as a company.” 

Two women smelling scents

Alumni learn about scents at Milkjar workshop.

Tia Lalani

Inspired by an Adaptive Physical Activity class she took at UCalgary, Singer knew that if she was going to start a business she was going to use it as a way to raise money for people with disabilities. As a result, her company, Milkjar, now donates a dollar for every candle sold. Since its opening in 2016, Milkjar has raised more than $236,000.

When her academic plans hit a snag, Milkjar gave Singer a rewarding new direction to follow.

“I applied for a master’s and didn’t get in, but it still didn’t prevent me from wanting to assert that joy and purpose I got out of my university degree into something,” she says. “So maybe a master’s didn’t work out, but it was in that undergrad degree that I discovered that lifting up others and creating opportunities was something I was meant to do.”   

Inclusivity is a priority

Singer says Milkjar is also proud to be an inclusive employer, meaning not only does it donate to foundations that help disabled people, it also gives people with disabilities the opportunity for employment.

“A quarter of our staff at Milkjar that help make the beautiful product that you take home have a disability,” she says, adding this is only one aspect of the company’s diversity. “We hire people with and without disabilities, people from different racial backgrounds, people with different gender identities and different ages … we are really trying to show Calgary and show other businesses that it really is a positive impact on your company to be inclusive.” 

Despite not using her degree for the career she expected, Singer still really believes going to UCalgary was important for her growth. “I remember, kind of thinking … oh, my degree didn’t do what I wanted it to,” says Singer. “And it was kind of funny I thought that for a couple of years, but it’s so funny now looking back.

“I don’t know if Milkjar ever would have started if I didn’t have that degree, because it was in that degree that … I discovered where my interests were. It’s not always about getting the paying job you want … but I really got to learn and grow in a really healthy way what my interests were and learn how to work really hard at something.”

For more information on Milkjar’s candles and workshops, visit its website for more details.

Milkjar is just one of UCalgary’s many alumni-built businesses. To see more, or to add a business not currently represented, visit our Alumni-Built Directory.

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.