Bodewell Living shines a light on kindness
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski / Photos courtesy
Playa Vista mother of three, Effie Tanji, like many, is sensitive to artificial scents.
Instead of sulking about what she cannot have, she accepted it as a challenge. Tanji and her firefighter husband, Capt. Shawn Tanji, yearned to create candles that were palatable to the most sensitive folks.
“I’m a writer,” she says. “I started by identifying memories from my childhood, my travels, my adulthood, motherhood. I thought about those moments and where I was and the kind of scents that were around me—the natural scents in the environment. Smell is the strongest sense and memories can elicit memories like nothing else.”
She dabbled in scents inspired by her childhood in rural Pennsylvania and summers in Greece. Tanji test-marketed her candles out of the back of her car at her daughter’s soccer matches and, within two months, sold 600 candles. She knew she was on to something and Bodewell Living was born.
The company focuses on the aesthetic appeal of minimalist design coupled with “strategic color stories and complex, yet universally appealing fragrances.” Each candle features a brief poetic story on its packaging. The public embraced the products, as did Anthropologie, J. Crew, Madewell and Ojai Valley Inn, all of which came on board.
Tanji says Bodewell Living is good for the earth, too. The candles are made with all-natural soy wax, lead-free cotton wicks and synthetic fragrances. The couple reformulated their fragrances to be free of phthalates, nitromusks and polycyclic musks.
A new home
Tanji moved to California from Pennsylvania, where she spent her formative years. An epiphany led her to the West Coast.
“I grew up in a very, very tiny town and I always felt like I didn’t belong there,” she says.
“As a preteen or teen, some kids go through this teenage angst, and I certainly did. I traveled overseas. I was in China, South Korea, Greece, Italy and Spain.”
Feeling she needed to settle down in a more cosmopolitan or metropolitan area, Tanji relocated to Brooklyn.
“This one time, when it was winter, I was walking to the subway and this taxi came by, hit a huge pothole with slush and covered me with it.
“I thought, ‘I am over this.’ I called one of my best friends out here and said, ‘I think I’m moving to LA.’ I sold my car, furniture, packed two suitcases and I moved out here.”
Tanji earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in theater from California State University, Northridge, thinking she was going to be a writer or actor.
“I did some commercial work, but that was not the life I wanted to live,” she says. “I went on auditions all day long and ran around the entire city just to get a ‘no.’ I thought it was pretty awful for anyone.”
From there, she worked with children with autism. One day, Tanji took her clients on a tour of a fire station, courtesy of an “awesome” firefighter.
“He was a confirmed bachelor, living in Venice, just being totally chill,” she says. “He was this surfer/skateboarder guy. I was in my early 30s. I felt like I dated everybody in the whole world. I had sworn off dating. But I fell in love. It was love at first sight. It sounds super corny and crazy. We knew it, though.”
That “awesome firefighter” was Shawn and, three children later, they’re living in Playa Vista, she says with a laugh.
After the birth of their second son, Nico, Tanji decided she would stay home with the kiddos.
“I was completely on board with that,” she says. “I didn’t want a nanny. My daughter was first, and we did two and a half years between each child. By the time Nico was born, I hadn’t worked in five years.”
Becoming an entrepreneur
She wanted to get involved in the arts. In August 2015, she and her friend, Aleia Ramsey, co-founded Trussedfun’d Jewelry, which married beachy coastal vibes and edgy LA street style.
Wanting to expand her offerings, Tanji considered candles, but she had never burned them in her home. To start, she needed scents. She recalled walking around Venice while she was pregnant with her daughter.
“In the early morning, everything has dew on it,” she recalls. “I would stop and breathe in the gardenia. I would rub the little flowers on my wrist. That memory really triggers something so wonderful. It was silent—just me and my unborn child. It was very, very powerful.”
She created a candle that replicated that with fragrant florals and white tea finished off with a “nicely grounded sandalwood.” It’s been her top-selling scent for three years.
“The first sample, when I lit it, I knew that was it,” she says. “I went into a little cave at night after the kids were put to bed. I would go back and remember things and write it all down.”
Pricing was tricky, but she settled on $25 a candle, initially. Within two to three months, she realized she “had a real chance at creating a company.”
The name “Bodewell” came to mind while she was brushing her teeth. It was upbeat and “wasn’t gimmicky.”
Her library features 120 fragrances that take up “many, many, many shelves in my closet,” she says with a laugh.
“It’s been such a cool experience,” she says. “The stories I write and the scents translate to my customers. I get emails that say they bought my sandalwood and vanilla scent and it reminded them of their grandfather or father or anybody who has passed away.
“It’s unfortunate, but the candles bring back happy memories. It makes me feel so good. Anybody can create something that’s pretty and smells good. When there’s another dimension to it, when it has purpose or there’s real heart and soul behind it, it does translate.”
Tanji just designed and released the new Pastel collection, which includes the Human candle ($60) to raise money for the Los Angeles LGBTQ Youth.
The collection represents positivity and hope for humankind, she says. She carefully and deliberately chooses the scents’ names, like Tender, Noble, Radiant, Human and Bold.
“They push us forward, give us strength, and remind us to see the good in others,” she says.