When lockdown restrictions forced Elaine Standohar to stay at home, the 33-year-old private pilot felt nothing but devastation. She had to put the main focus of her life on hold: her Instrument Rating (IR) training. Nevertheless, Elaine found a way to lift her spirits.

Taking up a new hobby during the pandemic was the perfect solution for this ambitious pilot. Instead of giving up and waiting for the global situation to improve, Elaine decided to learn a new skill. 

More than a year ago, in June 2020, the pilot became interested in candle-making. After a few initial attempts, Elaine noticed that her candles were getting better and better, so a new fun and creative venture gradually turned into a small business.

“I felt depressed for the first few months of the lockdown,” she says. “I missed being social, and I missed flying. I really didn‘t like being forced to stay at home. I knew I needed to find a hobby, something to occupy myself with my time because I thrive best when I'm learning. So anything that challenges me and forces me to learn and do something new. Candle-making felt like a good hobby and it was something I could do in the house with all the stay-at-home orders.”

Before discovering the world of aviation, Elaine was involved in professional sports. As a curious and enthusiastic person, she had always excelled in entrepreneurship. Initially, however, Elaine wanted to become a personal trainer and even open a gym. But her dad’s passion for aviation inspired her and so she changed her mind, realizing that, if she didn’t try and learn how to fly an aircraft, she would regret it for the rest of her life.

Elaine says: “My father was very interested in airplanes. We lived right by an Air Force Base in the United States, so while growing up, I would always watch Lockheed C-130 Hercules four-engine military turboprops scratching the skies. I was just hooked from watching them with my dad. And a day came when I realized if I died tomorrow, what would I regret? And my regret would be not trying to become a pilot, so that’s how all of it started.”

And so the aviation enthusiast dedicated all of her efforts to becoming a pilot, and was working toward her private license when the pandemic thwarted her plans. Even though she felt shocked for some time, taking up a new hobby has helped her to maintain her mental balance. Elaine admits that the process of candle-making was a calming activity. 

“Burning candles is the first thing I do in the morning when I open all the blinds in my house. It has been what I have done since college. Once I was looking up home hobbies and craft ideas on Pinterest, I saw candle-making as one of them, which seemed an interesting way to spend my time.”

To keep the passion for aviation alive, Elaine came up with an idea to make beautifully smelling candles combined with witty aviation-related phrases. As for the process of candle-making itself, Elaine says that it’s pretty simple and takes a total of two and a half hours to finish each product. 

“I start with a jar where I have to put the wick, melt the wax, and then I put a label on the candle. I would say about 20 minutes is needed to make the actual candle and then it needs about two hours to cool. Then once it's cooled, it's maybe 10 minutes of just the finishing touches, and then it's done...I’m producing unique aviation-themed candles with labels of aviation catchphrases and different sayings that pilots use in their daily routine.“ 

After two months of testing, Elaine began by producing a few candles per day. Over time she managed to expand the production volumes and now the pilot is able to easily produce 500 hand-made 100% soy candles a day. Having noticed a growing demand across the pilot community in the United States, Elaine has created her own brand called XC Candles and launched an e-store, where customers are invited to try an assortment of 30 differently labeled and fragrant home candles. 

Even though the start of the business was slow, people keen to complement their homes with a little aviation-themed interior detail are showing more and more interest in Elaine’s candles. Meanwhile, the main source of inspiration for the candle labels with hidden meanings comes from a typical day in a pilot’s life and the customers themselves, the entrepreneur reveals.

“I usually get ideas for candle names when I go flying. The labels have got some hidden references to the rules, phrases, and regulations familiar to aviators only. It‘s fun to bounce ideas off of other pilots and customers I talk to for candle names. Even the name of my brand has a hidden meaning. Those two letters X and C are an abbreviation for ‘across the country’, which is something all pilots, and all student pilots do.”

At present, Elaine says she is keen to turn her little e-business into a physical company and have her products stocked in airport souvenir shops.. But she is also concerned about her career opportunities post-pandemic. She believes that flying private jets would be more enjoyable than working in commercial aviation. This is why she keeps focused on getting the Instrument Rating (IR) which she will earn through specific training focused on flying solely by reference to aircraft instruments. Once IR completed, Elaine will continue on building her career path in a private charter jet company.

Despite the emotional rollercoaster she experienced during the pandemic, Elaine says she still sees a positive side to the challenging global situation.

“Honestly, I would say the candle business was the most positive thing that came out of COVID. It was a blessing in disguise what happened with COVID because without the pandemic happening, I think I would not have started my candle company which makes me happy.”