This couple started making kitschy beeswax candles during the pandemic

0
9


“Companies began reaching out to ask for custom orders”: This couple started making kitschy beeswax candles during the pandemic

During the city’s long winter lockdown, Claire Cowan, a restaurant manager, and her partner, Jordan Mill, a production lead in the cannabis industry, found themselves with plenty of free time. Inspired by a beloved knick-knack they bought from a bar several years ago, they set out to make kitschy, playful candles for their friends. They called their company Our-s, and as their stockpile grew, they decided to start selling their candles on Instagram—and now local businesses are reaching out to collaborate on branded candles and collectibles. Here’s how it all happened. 

As told to Haley Steinberg

Claire: “I’m the general manager at Manita, a restaurant on Ossington. We were originally slated to open in spring 2020, but the pandemic delayed our plans. When we finally opened for patio service in August, business was crazy. I was at the restaurant for eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week. It was a mild fall, so we were able to stay open for outdoor dining until November. Then things slowed down in the winter months during lockdown. When we switched to takeout-only, my duties were limited and my hours went down. My partner, Jordan, was in the middle of a transition from the cannabis industry to UX design. Suddenly, we had a lot of free time on our hands.

“We have this kitschy little knick-knack in our house that we picked up on a trip to Elora several years ago. We found it in the corner of a pub, and we ended up buying it from the bar for around five bucks. It’s a cartoon character sitting on a toilet, and looks like it’s from the late ’60s or early ’70s, all whitewashed from the sun. We stuck it in the bathroom, and our friends have always found it hilarious. Fun, tacky gifts like our pub figurine are obsolete in the age of minimalism, and we started thinking about ways to bring that kitsch back. We wanted to make replicas of the figurine as gifts for our friends, and soon we landed on the idea of making a liquid silicone mould of it. We originally planned to make the figurines from resin, but I’d made a connection through Manita to a local family farm that sells beeswax, which is much more forgiving—and cost-effective—than resin. So we figured we’d make candles.

“In making our own candles, Jordan and I were also looking for something that we could learn—and fail at—together. At the beginning of the pandemic, we had totally independent hobbies: Jordan was running and cooking a lot, and I was redecorating our home. We each had our areas of expertise, but neither of us had any experience with candle-making, so we were on a level playing field. We could try and fail without judgement—and hopefully have a bit of fun in the process.

“The mould-making was a lot harder than we expected. Jordan bought a couple of industrial-sized jugs of liquid silicone from a sculpture supply store; it’s surprisingly pricey. Neither of us had worked with liquid silicone before, so we watched some YouTube videos on how to pour the material to cast your figures.

“When it was time to make the mould, we used superglue to secure the figure to a mould box so that the silicone wouldn’t spill everywhere. Then we poured the silicone over the figure and let it cure for 24 hours. Once the silicone had hardened, we carefully peeled it off the figure and used a barbecue skewer to poke a hole through the top of the mould to thread a natural cotton wick through. To make the candle, we melted beeswax in one-pound batches and then poured it into the mould. Then, once the candle cured, we pulled it out of the mould.

“Once we got the hang of the process, we just kept making more candles. It happened almost by accident—Jordan would make a few while I was at the restaurant, and I’d make a few while he was working. It was something crafty to do in our downtime. At a certain point, we had so many candles that we thought, “Oh god, what are we going to do with 20 of these?” That’s when we thought about selling them. We decided to call the business Our-s.

“By mid-January, we had our stock completed. We made a second design: a similar cartoonish figure standing beside some lettering that says, ‘To hell with housework.’ A friend helped us to design a small branding and media package, including a picture for our Instagram page and a couple of Instagram story posts. I gave him one reference photo—old lettering from the Scooby-Doo title sequence—and he just ran with it. His designs turned out way crazier than we expected, in the best possible way. They were whimsical and bright, with big, Flubber-esque lettering.

“We built a website on Squarespace and launched in April. We priced our original candles at $70, and our second design at $40, accounting for the cost of the wax and our time and labour.

The candles are pretty hefty—the original ones weigh almost a pound. The response was overwhelming right off the bat. I thought, ‘Oh my God. People are actually buying our product.’ During the initial push, we got a lot of interest from our friends and friends of friends. We had old roommates, now living in other cities and countries, asking if we could ship to them.

“The city was still in lockdown, so retail was curbside pickup only. People stopped by our house to pick up their candles, and one day when I wasn’t doing anything, I drove the candles to customers’ homes around the city. It was nice to see people and get out of the house.

“Pretty soon, companies were reaching out to us to ask if we could make custom candles for them. We hadn’t set out to work with other businesses, but it seemed like an amazing opportunity. We’re now in conversation with several companies. Once we have the object printed out, we make a silicone mould of it to cast the candles. Usually, these orders are for 50 or 75 candles. So far, we’ve been able to make about 50 every two weeks.

“I’m still working full-time at the restaurant five days a week, and Jordan is back to working full-time from home. He works on the candles here and there throughout the day. It doesn’t take too long to set up each candle, so he’s able to make a few during a regular work day. Then he gets back to work for a few hours while the candle cures. In the evenings, we answer business emails together.

“Initially, our goal was just to cover the costs for the wax and silicone—which we did. Now, we’re making a profit. And we love that candle-making is something that we can do together. Our ’70s-inspired, tongue-and-cheek candles are a true reflection of who we are as a couple: we’re fun, and we have fun doing this. Our product—like our home, filled with bright furniture and gag gifts—is an homage to our favourite era. We do our best to source materials we believe in, and sell companies on why natural wax is the best option: it’s organic and genuine, and the colour really pops without any artificial dyes. Instead of slapping our brand name on everything, we’ve made that colour our calling card.”