BaO Artisan Candles by Nina Vilvestre connects coconut farmers and apiaries in a 100% Filipino sensory treat.
The operation was expanding. They were brainstorming brand names. "I thought about it with my older sister," Jonina "Nina" Rae Vilvestre, 27, and a designer by day, reveals, "what do we call a coconut?"
In the Philippines, coconuts are as common as apples in the United States. They're widely cultivated and serve a multitude of purposes – from medicinal oil to cleaning agents, from alternative timber to nourishing food and drink.
Enter BaO Artisan Candles, where scented beeswax candles are infused with natural fragrance oils, encapsulated within coconut shells.
It all started with a decluttering session in 2019.
Amidst folded shirts and discarded boxes, as she bid farewell to anything that no longer sparked joy, Nina unearthed a collection of leftover candles.
Despite the unfinished tasks and the remnants of life's chaos scattered around her room, she chose to take a pause. Lighting up, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, her evenings were forever transformed.
"When you turn off all the lights, and you have candles, your focus zeroes in on light," she recalls of that evening, "it’s an added layer if you make it scented."
Her memories drift back to her girlhood days in Bagong Ilog, Pasig City, a charming and close-knit neighborhood. During the late 90s and early 2000s, frequent power outages meant her family would bring out candles. "It felt like magic," Nina reminisces.
And so she tried to make her own.
"I realized that if I can possess something, I can also create it. So, I decided to make a candle. My first attempt didn't go well – it failed! I even tried freezing it, but that didn't work either. It dawned on me that candle making is a gradual and patient process."
As the pandemic hit in early 2020, Nina found herself with more time to refine her candle-making techniques. Knowing that her older sister was preparing for board exams and needed to destress, Nina decided to create what would eventually become BaO's signature scent, "Focus."
Before long, her mother and sister joined her in fine-tuning the candle-making process. "I'm not a scientist," Nina admits, "but my sister is. She helped me understand that my emotions deserve a method. How I feel should be documented so I can refine it and make it even better. Looking back, I never intended to create a business; my goal was simply to craft candles for myself."
Later on, as word spread, friends started inquiring about the coconut candles, with one, five, ten of them asking if they were available for purchase.
"When you examine the labor poured into every individual BaO, the bees played their role, the wax was harvested by those with greater expertise, and the farmers nurtured the coconuts. It stands as a testament to the collective contributions of numerous Filipinos, and I happened to be the one who orchestrated its culmination."
BaO also started with a trip to the city wet market, the palengke.
It helps to note that her brand's name is intentionally spelled that way to set it apart from the East Asian dim sum.
In Filipino, "Bao" refers to the dried husk of a coconut. Traditionally, bao has been used to polish floors after cleaning, and it has also served as a raw material in traditional household decorations.
True to Likhaan's spirit, Nina finds new applications for familiar items and mediums.
She approached local coconut vendors for their bao, which is essentially considered waste material. She aimed to repurpose it instead of letting it go to waste. It posed a challenge as she needed to figure out how to prevent the bao, essentially a form of wood, from burning during the candle-making process.
To meet the demand, nowadays, Nina gets bao directly delivered from coconut farmers in Southern Luzon.
In the realm of candle making, she points out that beeswax is an underutilized resource, although she's not the first to explore its potential. She emphasizes, "Beeswax is incredibly versatile. It’s sturdy, it smells good on its own, and since it’s naturally sourced,it's a simple process to extract it — just through heating and filtering. I hope people recognize its value."
She sources her wax from apiaries in Antipolo and Pasig.
Today, BaO’s offerings come in four (4) different flavors: Yoga (bamboo, peppermint, green tea), Rest Easy (lavender, vanilla), Quiet Morning (white tea, ginger) and Focus (citrus vanilla).
For both Nina and BaO's devoted clientele, her coconut candles ignite a sense of wellness. It's no revelation that tidying one's physical space resonates with decluttering the mind and nurturing inner serenity — and so, as Nina tidied up on that pivotal day in 2019, she discovered that the gentle glow of a lit candle not only transformed her surroundings but also fostered a safe sanctuary within.
And what's magical was its ability to transform almost any space into a haven of safety. In her conversation with Likhaan ArtZine, she shared...
"Developing BaO was also a means through which I could actively promote creating safe spaces for people."
She further mentioned that patrons have conveyed to her, "BaO acts as a healing agent; individuals have described how each lit candle provides profound relaxation."
However, one unexpected path that Nina found BaO illuminating was its role in preserving memories and identity: "What caught me off guard was the way people expressed that it evoked a sense of their Filipino heritage. Many of my customers are Filipinos living abroad, seeking a connection to their roots. I hold great appreciation for that." Every BaO comes meticulously packaged within a mini bayong, a woven basket that carries its own symbolism.
Ultimately, though the concept and creative direction are hers, crafting each candle truly involves a collaborative endeavor akin to that of a village: "When you examine the labor poured into every individual BaO, the bees played their role, the wax was harvested by those with greater expertise, and the farmers nurtured the coconuts. It stands as a testament to the collective contributions of numerous Filipinos, and I happened to be the one who orchestrated its culmination."
As per a Buddhist proverb, "Light doesn't diminish when shared." Reflecting this sentiment, Nina affirms, "The essence of Filipino craftsmanship lies in the deep passion that every individual invests in their work. Initially, I might have claimed that I pursued this path because I thought it was cool, but the truth is, anyone who dives into the realm of Filipino craftsmanship and handicrafts inevitably falls in love with the artistry. It's an infectious kind of love."