In conjunction with the release of our hand poured in house Pure Essential Oil Candles on 11/8, our General Manager, Ryan Knapp, recently sat down with our candle producer, Shem. They talked about the production process, his transition to working with us, and what inspires him.
In a time that we swim in a sea of more chemicals than we can count, we love being able to offer our community a plant based, petroleum product and fragrance oil free alternative. They're the perfect addition to elevate the everyday at a very doable price.
Ryan: So where are you at today? At Home?
Shem: Yeah, in Vista.
Ryan: Did you grow up there?
Shem: Yeah, the house that I live in is the house I grew up in, which is pretty cool. I have the blessing of raising my kids in the same cul-de-sac that I played wiffle ball in and stuff. It's pretty cool.
Ryan: I think the first time I met you was maybe in Oceanside. You had a little store there for a bit and were producing stuff there? I don't know if I remember this accurately, you were sitting on the ground with your legs crossed and we walked in and you had some sort of tea in your hand, and it smelled like this great concoction of essential oils.
With that, one thing that’s really cool about you is that you’re an overall lifestyle guy, and everything in your life seems really eloquently integrated, from your business, to your family, to the types of products you make and your production process. And now, it’s rad that we’re making products together.
How did you go from your own business to producing candles for us?
Shem: That space that you referenced was really cool. We had a little retail space and I would manufacture from there, which was really fun. We loved it. We were right next to a coffee shop named Revolution Roasters, it was kind of a little co-op space. We shared it with Julie from RaisCase and some other folks.
Shem: Ultimately, we weren’t able to renew our lease. We ended up opening another space for operations and that was a junction point; without having the opportunity for the face to face interactions with our customers and community, I didn’t enjoy it as much. We moved to purely online. It got really hard for me. As that's just not my wheelhouse. And so that's when my wife and I just started having a conversation. What are we going to do with this? And at that time, we had been already talking about me going into teaching.
As I started teaching I realized it contains a lot of the same elements that made starting a candle company enjoyable to me; you have to like people. You have to enjoy being patient and explaining things to people. And so teaching was in my wheelhouse. So I started going to school and headed in that direction. Meanwhile, the business was going for a while, but we never felt like we were giving it the justice it deserved.
We loved our recipes and had 10 years of really solid experience. We wanted to still honor the brand and all the people who had poured into it, but we didn't feel like we were the ones that were doing that very well, especially since I kind of had a second career. So, that's when we heard through a mutual friend that Moniker might be a good potential partner to carry on what we had been doing.
When we approached Moniker’s team there was a lot of excitement around it.
The thing that was special for us was that there was this sense of we want to keep the story and the brand and we want to honor what's already happened as we move forward, which felt really good.
It was like passing it off in a way that was satisfying.
Ryan: That's rad. How did the whole candle, essential oil, deodorant thing, get started in the first place?
Shem: It started, oh man, I can, like, give you the exact season and year; It started in the Spring of 2012. My son was nine months old. And we had tons of those little Gerber baby food jars, and when I see something I’m always looking for a way to reuse or repurpose it.
It bugs me to just throw stuff away. So I repurposed the baby food jars and started experimenting with making candles with them.
So, pretty much from the beginning I used essential oils. I would hand them out to friends and family and just be like, “here, I made some candles”.
And they loved them. They're like, this doesn't smell like anything we've ever smelled. It smells really fresh. I don't get a headache. And so that was like a really fun niche. And it just sort of evolved from there. We had some friends and family who came around to help us build a website and do our branding.
And then it kind of took off.
So that my one claim to fame; that one time I started filling baby food jars with vegetable wax and supported my family on it.
Ryan: Yeah I think the essential oils piece is really interesting. I know essential oils are also difficult to make candles with since they’re not formulated like fragrance oils are. What led to you choosing to use essential oils?
Shem: I'm by no means an anti fragrance person. I think for me it was just, I realized that there are people out there who wanted an essential oil option. And, I was shocked at how few candle makers don't offer pure essential oils options.
The main thing was that I saw how excited people got over how I was producing my candles; using a cotton wick, vegetable wax, and essential oils. And it was a unique niche that I still think people are excited about.
“For people who value living as pure as possible or a purely plant based route, they can. And so for me, that was the opportunity; can I still give you a good product, but use all plant based stuff? You don't have to blend up granola at home and like wipe the deodorant on your armpits and stuff to value these types of alternatives”
Like maybe we have something that's usable and good quality, but maybe we can use it with the ingredients that you're comfortable with?
Ryan: Yeah. Do you guys try to be more plant based or take a more natural route in your home?
Shem: Generally, especially my wife.
Ryan: Are you saying the nachos you offered me a couple weeks ago were plant based?
Shem: Oh yeah they were.
Ryan: My impression is that using fragrance oils is also an easier process, since they’re engineered for candles. Has working with essential oils been tricky at all?
Shem: Essential oils are just oils rendered from leaves or flowers or bark or whatever natural element. And there's only certain plants that allow you to do that. To make essential oils they’re just kind of steam distilling it or pulling it from that plant matter. In a sense, it wasn't made to really do anything. Yeah. So it wasn't engineered to use in candles so they are trickier to work with in production.
Ryan: In relation to the other ingredients in the candles you produce, can you walk me through what those are and maybe why you've chosen to use the ones that you do?
Shem: So, for the wax it's just a vegetable blend. It's mostly soy. And then just an organic cotton wick.
Ryan: I know you're pouring all your candles in Vista right in your garage, which I think is really cool. Does your family ever help with the pouring or what does that look like?
Shem: Oh yeah. My wife and kids like pouring, they’re like what can I do? And they're doing warning labels and sticking the wicks on often times.
That's what we love is that it's kind of a family thing. My wife and I also get really excited because it's a little date for us. We hang out next to each other and you get into a groove. You're not even thinking about what you're doing, it's cool.
And then in relation to the specific scents you and I went through quite a few rounds of testing, for the scents we landed on.
Ryan: Yeah, I think they ended up in a really good spot, and we have a good variety of different types of scents.
Do you have any inspiration for scents that you mix, or is it kind of preference based for you?
Shem: Yeah, it is really tricky because everybody's nose is a little bit unique. So I go for more like, I'm attracted to kind of like spicy, funky, musky, you know.
Ryan: New nickname? Spicy, funky musky? "SFM?"
Shem: Yeah, haha. Like we had a conversation about patchouli and I'm all about it. Like give me more patchouli.
Working with you though has caused me to really dig deep and say, what type of scents are we trying to create? What’s the goal here?
Ryan: Yeah scent development is it’s own thing, and I know for you and I developing these scents has been a lot of trial and error, but I’m really happy with where they’ve ended up.
I’m also so excited to be able to offer folks an alternative; we swim in a sea of chemicals and I think being able to offer an alternative at such a strong price point has a lot of value.
Shem: Yeah, no, I'm excited about what you just said. I love it when people have alternative options.