I first happened upon The Sheffield Candle Company at the Nether Edge Farmers’ Market. As someone who is unashamedly enthusiastic about indulging in a hygge lifestyle, I couldn’t resist treating myself to one of their Vanilla Toffee candles. It’s now my favourite and most-lit candle, and has made all my other candles jealous.
I had a chat with company founder, James McKennan, to find out how it all began…
1. How did you start your business?
The best answer is ‘by chance’. My girlfriend Liz and her mum have a calm way of relaxing in the evening which involves turning off the lights in their living room and lighting no less than thirty candles. I’m an inquisitive individual whose mind tends to wander and one evening I zoned out and focused on the candles. How were these candles made? What are they made with? Where are they made? All these questions had to be answered so I decided to make a candle of my own.
Candle making became a hobby and for Christmas 2014 I gave family and friends homemade candles. I received good feedback and did research into candles and ‘the market place’. I knew if I wanted to pursue the candle making business I had to invest in equipment and supplies, I took the risk.
In April 2014 I had a stall at Sharrow Vale Market and the business officially began. Having no real idea about pricing, how they would be received by the public, or how to run a stall, I dived in at the deep-end and sold out in the first four hours of trading. The Sheffield Candle Company was born.
2. Which materials do you use to make your products, and why?
The main ingredient in any candle is wax, I use natural soy wax. The wax I use is 100% vegetable made with pure soy bean oil. It’s biodegradable, readily renewable, not tested on animals, contains no animal products, palm wax, petroleum, paraffin or beeswax and no genetically modified material.
The wicks I use are made of ring spun cotton and only contain natural filaments for extra stability. I use the highest quality oils specifically created for use with soy waxes for the unique fragrances in our collection. I’m also developing a range of candles made with 100% pure aromatherapy-grade essential oils which will be 100% natural and have aromatherapeutic properties.
3. Tell me about some of the positive experiences you’ve had and why they’re important to your business.
I could not and would not have started this business if I didn’t have the full and unconditional support of my family. My dad helped me convert part of his house into a small office and candle-making space, Liz and her mum have been at every event to keep costs down, Liz’s dad has allowed me to store materials at his factory and close friends have been there when I’ve needed help.
The support of local businesses has also been great. The first shop to stock my products was Monica F Hewitt florist in Hillsborough, all their staff have been incredibly supportive. Paper Moon in Dore have also been brilliant. The most exciting next step is the support we’ve received from Birds Yard, the stocker of independent businesses on Chapel Walk. Birds Yard’s location makes a big difference to the presence of a business like mine and they’ve been very helpful in building shop fittings for me and stocking a large number of my products.
At Christmas I undertook my greatest challenge so far – a cabin at Fargate’s Christmas Market. It was only for two weeks but required staffing from two people or more for nine hours a day, seven days a week. Once again Liz and Vick were by my side but this time joined by her cousin Verity and brother Dave, my dad was also there, as were close friends Eliot and Tom. Between us we kept the stall going and it was an absolute sell-out, I even had to leave on several occasions to make more candles. We’re already booked in for a four week stretch this year.
4. What do you think your local council could do to help independent businesses?
If you know where to look, help is out there. Sheffield City Council offer a business start-up advisory service and a free business guidance service, they’ve helped me with business structure, organisation and legal support.
The main issue with starting a business is having the capital to invest and the extremely expensive costs of having premises or even just a presence in the City Centre. An organisation called ReNew Sheffield helped me to look for and fund a property but none in the City Centre were quite right. I’ll be looking again and will hopefully have the support once more when the time is right.
Starting The Sheffield Candle Company has been incredibly exciting in many ways, terrifying in others and very rewarding. I’m looking forward to everything ahead of me and intend to continue developing my business and products. I’m thankful to everyone who has supported me so far, everyone who has offered advice and everyone who has bought my candles. I hope you’ve all enjoyed them.
Interview by Felicity Jackson
Images courtesy of The Sheffield Candle Company