Born in Hangzhou, China, in 1967, Xu came of age during China’s transformation to a more open, market-oriented economy following Chairman Mao’s death. At age 12, she was selected to attend a language immersion boarding schools set up by the Chinese government to train diplomats for foreign service. She continued her education at Beijing Foreign Studies, but her goal of entering the diplomatic corps was never realized because she was sent for “re-education” to a work assignment in the countryside.
After one year, in a bold and definite move, Xu quit to move to the U.S. to begin graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park. After completing her master’s degree, Xu moved to New York to work for a high-tech medical company that exported equipment to China. Her “aha moment” happened as she was shopping one day in Bloomingdales and noticed the abundance of sophisticated, contemporary ready-to-wear apparel in contrast to the scarcity of modern, home décor offerings. Inspired, she returned to rejoin her husband in their home in Annapolis, near the Chesapeake Bay, and began her candle-making venture.