The Brooklyn Candle Studio CEO has turned her side business into a million-dollar brand

  • Tamara Mayne started making candles as gifts for her family with a store-bought candle-making kit.
  • Mayne sold them as a side business and developed his brand, Brooklyn Candle Studio, through wholesalers.
  • Its candles are stocked at Free People and Nordstrom, and the business hit seven figures in 2021.

This narrated essay is based on a conversation with Tamara Mayne, the founder of Brooklyn Candle Studio, about turning a hobby into a business. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I was working full time as an art director when I started making candles. It was around Christmas in 2012, and I had purchased a candle making kit to make gifts for my family. My first attempts were a complete failure; the hollow candles, they didn’t burn well and I couldn’t find the best scent/wax ratio.

I researched different waxes on discussion forums, blogs and YouTube. I got the spark plugs at a level I was happy with.

I perfected my candle making and turned my new hobby into a side hustle

My colleagues started asking to buy candles after hearing that I was making them. I thought: why not try to make some extra money by selling candles on the side?

In September 2013, I invested $1,600 of my savings in the business and created an Etsy account and a Squarespace website.

During the week, I worked 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., then did candles and packing orders after work, often staying up until 2 a.m. working on the business. As an art director, I already knew photography, copywriting, conceptualization, and email marketing, which helped me build a brand.

I also started selling on Scoutmob – a now defunct website where shoppers could discover independent makers, while still selling on Etsy and Squarespace. Different stores across the country could now buy our candles for resale.

This has enhanced our brand recognition and allowed customers from different locations to experience and experience our candles in person. In October 2013, I hired my first employee, a holiday assistant, off Craigslist.

I quit my full-time job to invest more time in my business

I received my first large-scale order, 1,100 candles, in February 2014. This order gave me the confidence to step down from my role as artistic director.

Quitting smoking was daunting because I was paid well and had great benefits. I knew running a business wouldn’t have the same security, but my husband and I had recently gotten engaged, so I knew I had my fiancé for support.

I ordered about 20 cases of wax for this order at my apartment. Shortly after, my husband and I received an eviction notice because someone found out we were running a business from our apartment.

We decided to find a studio in early February a few days after receiving the warning. We formed an LLC and officially started the business.

After a few weeks selling candles, I decided to go into freelance art direction to cover the bills.

In August 2014, we moved business from Etsy and Squarespace to Shopify as we wanted to have more control over our website visuals and strengthen our brand presence. This decision was integral to our growth as we could now integrate with different sales portals, generate custom discount codes and build an email list.

Developing our brand has helped us get noticed by wholesale buyers

After a year of working on developing our brand, we were spotted by an Urban Outfitters buyer who placed an order for 10,000 candles in May 2015. I hired two full-time employees and my sister-in-law part-time to help make and ship our candles.

I left my role as a freelance art director in the summer of 2015, and my business has been my sole source of income ever since.

The next turning point for my candle business came two years later, when I secured a spot at the New York Now show in August 2017.

At the time, it cost $5,000 to sell at the show and another $10,000 for an agency to build and design the booth we sold in. I postponed this for a while to make sure we could afford it.

It was a great success and cemented our relationship with wholesale buyers. Buyers placed orders at the show, and some contacted us later. We did New York Now again in 2018.

The company now has 28 employees who are employed full or part time or under contract. Our products are stocked in over 900 retailers worldwide, including Nordstrom, Free People, Foxtrot, Whole Foods and Le Bon Marché in Paris.

Our candles cost between $28 and $38 due to our increased overhead. When I first started selling them I only charged $16.

In 2021, the company achieved 7 turnover figures

We run paid ads on Instagram and Facebook through a marketing agency. Content creators tend to buy our candles and post about them organically, so we don’t run influencer campaigns, which saves us money. We occasionally offer new products to content creators, but there is no pressure to promote them.

My advice to business owners is to take risks. I wish I had taken the big risks much sooner. I’ve always been risk averse and hesitant to spend a lot of money at once. I remember melting wax on the stove early on because I didn’t want to invest in a wax melter. In the end, my time was worth more than the money I saved.

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