What inspired you to start Second Life Candle Co?
I started Second Life as a response to the success of an idea I had back in May last year. It was just after the murder of George Floyd, where the response to the peaceful protesters in America, by the police and government, was at its most violent. Money was needed for the legal and bail fees for the protestors, and people desperately started fundraising. I knew that I had a platform that could be used to raise the funds needed, so I looked to the candles I had been making in the past months as Christmas gifts and as a form of anxiety relief. I knew that I could create candles quickly, so I made a batch that same day, put them up on my website in the evening, and by the morning they were none left on the website. They had sold out overnight. We raised £150, and it all went to the aid of the people who desperately needed it. I knew then that I had created something worthwhile.
I wanted to use the knowledge I had gained from my first business (Nim Cosmetics) to create another - a non-profit - where we could raise funds and make yummy candles at the same time. I started brain storming, I chose charities that meant something to me, I chose scents, I chose a name – and The Second Life Candle Co. was born.
Being vegan, eco and sustainable is a big part of SLCC and your cosmetics business, Nim. How do incorporate these values into your business? What challenges have you had to overcome in order to hold true to these values?
I always strive for not only a sustainable product, but sustainability in all areas of my businesses. I always vet all my raw material suppliers to ensure that their ethics align with mine – that they pay their workers fairly, are transparent about their diversity and gender equality, and that they minimise their impact on the planet as much as possible (mostly by offsetting their carbon). I always ensure they never test on animals and ask for their cruelty free statements. I ensure all my packaging from suppliers is reused, I use vegan and cruelty free cleaners and disinfectants, and I work with small, local, female, and POC owned businesses whenever possible.
I have incorporated these things into my business as a response to all the unethical and unsustainable routes I was presented with at first (such as cheap plastic packaging, non-vegan ingredients, suppliers who didn’t care about their workers, harmful cleaning products, and non-compostable packaging). It was an absolute minefield when I first started. I had to navigate my way through the unethical hurdles to find the best ethical solution to my needs that aligned with my ethos. These solutions were not always the cheapest, or the easiest to find but they were always worth it in my opinion.
Your candles smell incredible. How do you come up with the scent profiles, what inspires you? Is there a lot of trial and error in new product development?
I have always loved scents and the nostalgia they can create, so it was important to me that I chose scents that stood out as particularly memorable. After a huge amount of testing, I settled on the scents I liked the most, as well as the ones that complimented their corresponding charity the best. (For example, I found Black Amber and Lavender to be a very calming scent, so I knew it would go best with the mental health charity Mind UK.)
There was a huge amount of testing when I first started making candles as there is quite a bit of skill needed to make a good quality candle. I experimented with scents, containers, different waxes, and different wicks until I found what worked for me. The creative process is always full of trial and error, but I enjoyed every but of it and I am proud of what the business is today.
You’re a talented, creative person and you shoot a lot of your pictures with a film camera, which inspired the brief for our project. What do you love about film and how is it intrinsic to your vision for SLCC?
I first shot with film a few years ago after discovering some old cameras in my parents’ attic. I was immediately captivated by the whole process and the results. You have to be incredibly mindful when shooting film – you need to have the right balance of lighting as well as the suitable camera settings. You also have to be mindful of what you’re shooting. As you only have a limited amount of film on one roll, you really have to make sure the subject matter is worth it. (my friends always feel very flattered when I shoot them with film!) I’ve found it’s hard to achieve the gorgeous, soft, nostalgic feel with any other type of camera. Film feels handcrafted, intentional, and like a labour of love. I chose to shoot the first few photos of the candles on film because I wanted the warm, nostalgic, homely feeling of the brand to translate through the imagery. I didn’t want to rush any part of the process, and using film really helped me to do this.
How do you balance your time between your not-for-profit business and your primary business, Nim Cosmetics?
To be completely honest, this is something I have been struggling with! I have been finding it hard to find the right balance for me. After Christmas last year, I found myself completely exhausted, overtired, stressed, and quite unhappy. I had hugely overworked myself trying to make as many candles as possible to raise as much money as possible, so I knew something needed to change – for my own sanity and for the sake of my businesses. I do not currently take a wage from Second Life, which means that my primary source of income is Nim. This means that I can only make candles when I can afford not to pay myself. Some months I have more free time and more financial freedom, other months I need to work all hours of the day on Nim. I have, thankfully, found a good balance in the last few weeks. With second life, I work on a monthly restock basis, where I release all of the candles, I’ve been able to make in the last month onto the website on a particular chosen date. This means there are always candles available every month, and I am not worried about meeting exact targets or letting anyone down.
What tips do you have for aspiring business owners who are a few steps behind you and are looking to follow in your footsteps by starting their own business?
To be kind to yourself through the hard parts of business, give none of your time to people who speak negatively about you or who don’t respect you, and celebrate every failure. I have had my hopes crushed countless times, had business proposals rejected, funding cancelled, etc. It hurt me every single time, and still does! But after a few years of it, I simply take the rejection as a sign that this particular deal or venture wasn’t meant to be and move onto the next one. Always keep your ethics at centre of every decision you make, and don’t be afraid to say no to things that aren’t good for you, or that you aren’t comfortable with.
Thank you so much to Helena Rose for conducting this interview. Helena is our photographer at Second Life, and is responsible for all of our product shots. She is truly wonderful and always captures the most beautiful moments.