Everyone loves a warm, cozy atmosphere as the cold weather starts closing in; peace and tranquility in a busy place, soft light that calms us down after a long day of work. For every holiday and season of life, Tamara Mayne has created just the right product for that atmosphere. Brooklyn Candle Studio, a company started by a young, ambitious entrepreneur in her own 500 square foot apartment, quickly grew into the thriving candle company we know today. For Tamara, the founder of Brooklyn Candle Studio, excellence is more than a standard to her, its a way of life. Her soy candles are poured in small batches and packaged by her small, but hardworking team and herself in two fifth floor studios tucked in the corner of Brooklyn, New York.
These nature - inspired candles stand on our bedside tables, flicker over our dinners and among our friends. They bring light, life and take charge of the atmosphere and fill our space with their fragrant scents, helping us process long hours of work or a busy house full of children. The organic, aromatic scents of their candles remind us of the season, grounding us to where we are and bringing us back to the important things in life.
Some of our team members headed to Brooklyn to document this incredible company for our Masters of Their Craft series. While there, Tamara showed us into her creative world and allowed us to be a part of her team’s daily process. It was an absolute privilege to collaborate with them, hear their brand story and watch them create their beautiful products. And today we want to share their craft with you as well as an interview with Tamara where she shares about her passion for the arts, business and Brooklyn itself.
Who does your whole team consist of?
Myself (I wear all the non-production hats from creative to accounting), our shipping lead, Agnes, our production lead, Aditi, and our production assistant, Lynsey.
What inspired this journey?
Initially, just curiosity into the art of candlemaking. I set out to make a few handmade gifts for friends and family and ended up almost unintentionally building up this business around the craft.
Can you share some background on you/your life thus far?
I have always been very artistically inclined but also unusually entrepreneurial. I loved art and music growing up in Virginia and tried any and every art/craft I could get my hands on—painting, sewing, jewelry, you name it. I studied Studio Art and Economics at the University of Virginia, and promptly set out for New York City after graduating having wanted to live here for many years. I was attracted to the creative energy, the culture, variety, and boundless opportunity. I worked in a variety of jobs—as an equity trader, a waitress, and a project manager before deciding to go back to school at FIT for graphic design, determined to find a career where I could be creative and put my artistic skills to use. These past five years since graduating from design school have been very transformative for me both creatively and personally—I learned so much while working in corporate as an art director, and from the ups and downs of running a business. I still love graphic design and art direction so much and continue to practice with Brooklyn Candle Studio—dreaming up campaigns, doing all our photography, designing new lines and packaging—it's wonderful! Outside of work, I got married to the love of my life 2 years ago, and am (very) pregnant with our first baby!
What was the process of starting this business like?
It started slowly around Fall 2013 and then escalated very quickly—I had just designed some labels and made a few candles, took some photographs, and put them up on Etsy for kicks. Suddenly, my candles were featured in an Etsy newsletter, and I started getting countless buyer inquiries. I was working a full-time job as an art director at the time, and suddenly I had to start devoting my nights and weekends solely to candlemaking and shipping out orders. About a year in, I had to quit my job to run Brooklyn Candle Studio full-time. I have been researching and learning about how to grow and run this crazy thing for the past 3 years—it's been a trip!
How did your schooling, childhood and life experiences prepare you for being the founder of Brooklyn Candle Studio?
My parents raised me to be tough and resilient—building a business requires so much stamina, experimentation, trial-and-error, failure, and mental strength. Growing up with a passion for and studying art and design in school, then learning web design, graphic design, art direction, and photography in my work experiences were huge—I would not have been able to build a brand without any of those experiences or the passion I have for the world of design. I'm constantly consuming, so I feel like I have an innate sense for what people want. Also, it has been so important to be resourceful and to use all the tools (Google) at my disposal. And I of course couldn't have done any of this without the support and help of my husband, friends, and family.
How has Brooklyn Candle Studio grown over the years and did you expect it's impact?
I went from melting wax and mixing fragrance on my stove in my 500 square foot studio apartment soliciting my husband (then-boyfriend) to help me wick jars while working full-time to having 2 studios (production and shipping) and a team of 3 amazing employees. Since 2013, we have grown to be sold in around 300 stores in 17 countries including several big name retailers such as Urban Outfitters, West Elm, Target, and Whole Foods. We've been featured in numerous magazines and blogs and filmed an episode with Adult Swim among other random opportunities. Best of all, we have many fans who delight in lighting our candles; it's nice to know that these little works of art brings joy in the form of gifts, scent, and candlelight to our customers around the world. I absolutely did not expect all this when I opened my little Etsy shop for kicks, but it has sure been a wild ride!
Your candles are eco-friendly and soy, can you tell us exactly what that means to the candle making process?
We use 100% soy wax, a renewable, sustainable, and clean-burning ingredient, as the base for all our candles. We melt the wax and mix phthlate-free fragrances and essential oils in, and allow the candles to cure to completion. The soy beans from which our wax is derived from is grown and converted into wax in the USA.
About how many candles to you make a year?
What are some of the set backs you have experienced and how did you overcome them?
One of the most stressful times was getting forced out of my studio in Red Hook (the artist I had been renting it from for 2 months randomly decided that she didn't want to share her studio with a business) and having to find a new studio on such short notice in the dead of winter. My husband and I had loaded up the UHaul (candlemaking supplies and equipment are HEAVY) and found out the day of that my new studio would not be ready for another month. I had to employ quick resourcefulness and was able to secure a month sublet in a workshop nearby, but having to move so many times in such a short time was incredibly stressful and exhausting. But it was all for the best as we've been in our current studio in Industry City with virtually no issues for over a year now!
What does a basic day look like for you?
A basic day always starts with a ritualistic cup of coffee (decaf these days) and breakfast followed by emails and invoicing. Once I've addressed most everything, I do my morning walk to the subway and head up to our studio in Sunset Park. The day varies from here—I'll help my team out with labeling and packing, maybe meet with a buyer in the studio, work on designing packaging for a new line, or do some photography for our website and social media. Around 4 or 5, I'll wrap up final emails for the day! I work from home on Fridays so I am able to focus on larger tasks at hand relating to business or creative work—maybe lengthy paperwork, a big shoot of a new product line, press related stuff, or anything requiring an outing to Manhattan.
How do you balance work and life as an entrepreneur?
I don't have my work email on my phone, so I force myself to leave work both mentally and physically after 5pm. I force myself to turn off the computer and stay away from email until the next morning. I tend to wake up very early around 6am and start work then, so my workday is about 10-11 hours long usually. Brooklyn Candle Studio is like a baby—I feel like I'm always thinking about it, worrying about it, tending it, and caring for it—I must admit that as a very focused person, I have a hard time thinking about other things other than the company and how to better support my employees and satisfy our customers. There is admittedly a lot to have to think about and manage! Travel also helps a lot—that physical distance helps me separate a bit especially when I'm spending time with friends and family, even if I'm oftentimes still working while on vacation. I trust my production team to get stuff done when I'm not there, and I focus much better in solitude so I do much of my creative and business work from home.
What are some of the unseen/unthought of details of candle making?
Different fragrances have different flash points. It takes different candles from 48 hours up to 3 weeks for the fragrance to bind to the wax. Like wine, you have to let the candle age, or else the smell of the candle will be faint.
You mentioned that your candles are being sold in some incredible locations; are there other places you are dreaming of your candles being sold?
We'd love to be in more of the gorgeous general stores in LA—there are a bunch I visited while there that are around the same area. They are just so well-curated and sparse in the best way.
Do you have any specific new scents we should be looking out for as the Holidays approach?
YES! We've developed this amazing take on Mistletoe and Sugar Plum for our holiday line. They are very festive, very reminiscent of the holidays. My favorite is our Mistletoe which is an earthy evergreen scent with fresh notes of balsam and fir. Our sugarplum is a little bit sweet and fruity, but not too much so—it incorporates notes of red currant and plum over floral notes of rose and geranium.
Brooklyn is such a packed diverse city, can you clue us in on some of your favorite spots?
So many! I really love:
Clover Club for cocktails
Sunny's in Red Hook for low-key drinks and good music on weekends
69 Local for draft beers and a laid back scene
Black Mountain Wine Bar
Ample Hills Creamery (the one on Nevins St.) for Ice Cream
Good Fork in Red Hook for amazing Korean fusion
Talde in Park Slope for pan-asian eats
Fort Defiance in Red Hook - brunch
Buttermilk Channel - brunch
Hibino for Japanese
Henry Public for an incredible turkey leg sandwich
Baked in Red Hook (old studio used to be in Red Hook—clearly have a penchant for that neighborhood!)
Beacon's Closet in Greenpoint for vintage threads
Yesterday's News in Cobble Hill for Antiques
Brooklyn Flea for vintage and handmade finds
Powerhouse Books in DUMBO
If you could give a piece of advice to someone who aspires to start their own business what would it be?
Be resourceful! Google has all the answers if you look hard enough. You fail a lot, but trial and error are your friend. You have to be able to weather the storm, then apply the knowledge.
What are some things you hope for the future?
To continue to come up with new scents and beautiful lines for Brooklyn Candle Studio while managing from home (I intend to devote much of my time to raising our son after he's born) and to create new opportunities and learning experiences for my team. I hope to continue to be creative in my work and perhaps start a new line of design-centric objects aside from candles (textiles, stationery).
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