The inside of a local candle-maker's workshop is not what you'd expect
The inside of a local candle-maker's workshop is not what you'd expect
- By Amanda Chai
- | Jun 14, 2018
You won’t find a prettier smelling workplace than Hush Candle. In a small office space in the Bartley industrial area, founders Nicole Su, 29 and Chelsea Low, 26, are hard at work boiling wax when we meet them for the first time. The air is suffused with an inviting fragrance; already we can tell this will be a relaxed interview.
The pot of wax sitting on the induction cooker looks out of place surrounded by office work—which is fine because that isn’t actually the Hush workshop. From a workspace in the corner of Low’s family flat in the East, the two-woman team churns out an average of 1,000 candles a month. Come Christmas, their peak period, orders shoot up to four times the number. “From November to December, we try not to go on holiday,” says Low, half-joking.
Nicole Su and Chelsea Low, the ladies behind Hush Candle
The dainty candles are advertised as “hand-poured” and made of all-natural ingredients—soy wax as the base, mixed in with natural essential oils for a real, quality scent. Using only therapeutic-grade essential oils also means the candles have aromatherapy benefits, like helping you relax or preventing headaches, says Su. Their bestseller candle Peppermint Orange, for example, helps to stimulate mental activity, clear the respiratory tract and present nausea.
Wielding a pot, Low interrupts to ask “This is jasmine, right?” “Yeah, jasmine,” Su confirms, after a quick whiff of the orange liquid. Satisfied, Low returns to her station in front of the induction cooker. “Sometimes even when I’m making candles right, it comes to a point where I think my nose is also spoilt already; I need to double-check with Nicole like ‘oh what smell is this?’” she shrugs.
Apart from selling online, Hush stocks their products at Tangs and consignment stores like Naiise. They’re also stocked in Kuala Lumpur and Cambodia, in stores that fit their “look, feel, and overall branding”. All-white, au naturel and sealed with a black cap, the minimalistic candles make pretty gifts priced affordably at $18 and $32, and burn for up to 25 and 50 hours respectively.
“A lot of people say we look like Jo Malone, but we didn’t really take our inspiration from them—we just wanted something that’s very timeless and not based on trends,” said Low.
Lavender, Lemongrass and Peppermint Orange are Hush Candle's bestsellers
It’s a simple brand strategy that hasn’t failed them yet. Since the brand’s first official launch in 2015, business has steadily grown, and the range has expanded from candles in three scents to nine; along with a new line of roll-on perfumes, and scented sprays to come. They’re also constantly engaged in workshops and corporate events, making customized candles and scented tablets as party gifts for invited guests. This June, Hush turns three.
Demand has grown, and yet the two, who first met as colleagues in a PR firm, remain the only full-timers onboard. They handle everything from the actual making to marketing, to SEO and maintaining the website, juggling the burgeoning business on top of freelance marketing commitments. A lot of the inertia comes from dealing with real practical issues like cash flow, says Su.
For now, Hush Candle hasn’t yet blossomed into a full-time gig, though both say it’s a plan they’re hoping to realize within a year’s time. Phase I starts with moving out of a home business to a proper workspace; but before that takes off, we took a look at the processes.
From the soy wax to essential oils, Su and Low go through a rigorous quality-checking process before signing on their suppliers.
How did Hush Candle start?
Nicole Su (NS): Actually it wasn’t something we planned. Chelsea went to Australia for a holiday and she saw a lot of small candle businesses at flea markets and events like that, so she decided to make her own; and over Christmas she gave me one. We were just talking about it, like ‘oh it smells very artificial, what can we do to make it better?’ There are a lot of candle brands out there that are really expensive or the quality is lacking, so we felt like there was that gap in the market. One thing led to another.
What’s the most important thing when it comes to your brand?
Chelsea Low (CL): A lot of brands in the market like to be super fluffy—they like to name their candle Sex on the Beach lah, Red Velvet Cupcake; all this kind of fancy names. But I think what we try to do is keep things very simple and straightforward; a candle is a candle, no need to be so fluffy about it, no need to be so expensive, no need to be too colorful. It smells good, helps you to relax—I think that’s the most important thing that we try to drive across through our products.
After mixing the scents by hand, they wait for the wax to cool, before incorporating the essential oils to boil again.
Hush versus Yankee?
NS: I feel like our product is totally different, because Yankee uses paraffin wax and we use soy wax. We’re not gonna say paraffin is bad or it’s wrong; it’s just to us soy wax is a cleaner alternative because it’s from all-natural materials, and when you burn it there’s less soot and smoke. So we’re also targeting a different demographic altogether—people who are more health-conscious, environmental-conscious, and of course people who want to support a local product. But we don’t want people to support us just because we’re a local product; we also want people to acknowledge that our product is at the end of the day good quality.
What happened to the Baby Head candles you did for Halloween 2017?
CL: That was just a one-time limited thing we tried last year. We wanted something quirky and different. Nicole had the idea of making 3D candles, because it’s very novel; and then we just tried to test the market to see if people were receptive about that. We got a very mixed response—people who liked it really liked it, but people who didn’t just hated it.
NS: They thought it was really creepy; everyone has a different opinion. But after making it we felt the labour cost was really very high; we had to make everything individually, as compared to normal candles where at one shot I can make one batch. For the Baby Heads, we really had to wait for the wax in the mould to harden, so realistically we felt that it wouldn’t be feasible for us to make 3D candles.
CL: Now the mould is hidden somewhere in my house, because my mum is scared of it.
"Between the two of us, Nicole's very good at pouring things—to make sure there's no spillage," shares Low.
What’s the hardest thing about making crafts in Singapore?
CL: In Singapore you basically don’t have a lot of resources. If I were based in Australia, it’s easy because you can just buy it and the shipping cost wouldn’t be expensive. A lot of times it’s the cost price that makes us go ‘aw, shit’; or waiting for shipments to come in (from Australia), supplies to come in. Sometimes they get held up at customs.
China, I don’t trust; we tried a few of the samples, but to be honest I don’t trust them for the wax to be 100% soy. In fact even for the Australia suppliers we go down to make sure that it’s legit.
What is one secret to making a good candle?
CL: One of the things we realised is that for essential oils, when we blend it into the wax, only use about 5-10% of the whole entire volume. We don’t use too much oil, because when you put too much the candle will become too oily. You’ll have a layer of oil just floating on the top and then you can’t really burn the candle.
Drilling holes into wooden ice cream sticks is an unexpected but integral aspect of the candle-making process. "This kind of centralizes the wick, because the wick is the most important part and is what helps burn the candle essentially," says Low. "If the wick is off-center, you won't be able to burn the whole candle, hence wasting the product and not being able to get a clean, solid burn; and then you can't really smell the candle."
Would you ever make a local scent?
NS: That’s actually what we’re thinking of doing! But for us we have to get the essential oil, and that’s the tricky part. Initially we thought of doing like a pandan thing, but you don’t really see pandan essential oils out there. We tried buying from a Malaysian supplier but it was horrible; it just smelled very artificial, like it’s obviously not essential oil even though you say it is.
CL: It’s very important to find a reliable supplier with all the accreditation and certificates to prove that they’re using quality materials. We tried to find a local supplier to help us extract the scent from pandan, so not sure if that’s gonna happen, cos there’s a lot of technical stuff behind it.
What do you have burning in your room right now?
CL: Actually what I’m burning right now is lavender and ylang-ylang—so something that I mixed on my own. Sometimes we’ll keep researching and experimenting on different scents and just keep burning in our house; so we don’t really burn things that we already have, but things that we’re trying to experiment with and roll out in the future.
NS: Lavender; I still like my favorite scent. It’s a very classic and soothing and calming scent—you don’t really get bored of it and you won’t go wrong with it.
Signed, sealed, delivered: After setting for 24 hours, the finished candles are shipped out the next day.
Follow Hush Candle here.