- Tamara Mayne started making candles as gifts for her family with a store-bought candlemaking kit.
- Mayne sold them as a side hustle and grew her brand, Brooklyn Candle Studio, through wholesalers.
- Her candles are stocked in Free People and Nordstrom, and the business hit seven figures in 2021.
This as-told-to 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’d bought a candlemaking kit to make gifts for my family. My first few attempts were a complete failure; the candles tunneled, they didn’t burn well, and I couldn’t work out the best ratio of fragrance to wax.
I researched different waxes on chat forums, blogs, and YouTube. I got the candles to a standard I was happy with.
I perfected my candlemaking and turned my new hobby into a side hustle
My coworkers started requesting to buy candles after they heard I was making them. I thought: Why not try and make some extra cash from selling candles on the side?
In September 2013, I invested $1,600 of my savings into the business and created an Etsy account and a Squarespace website.
During the week, I would work from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., then make candles and package orders after work, often staying up until 2 a.m. working on the business. As an art director, I already knew about photography, copywriting, conceptualization, and email marketing, which helped me build a brand.
I also started selling on Scoutmob — a now defunct website where buyers could discover independent makers, while still selling on Etsy and Squarespace. Different shops around the country could now buy our candles to sell.
This improved our brand recognition and allowed customers from different locations to discover and experience our candles in person. In October 2013, I hired my first employee, an assistant for the holidays, 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 quit my art-director role.
Quitting 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 got engaged so I knew I had my fiancé as support.
I ordered about 20 cases of wax for this order to my apartment. Shortly after, my husband and I got an eviction notice because someone realized we were operating a business from our apartment.
We decided to find studio space in early February a few days after receiving the warning. We formed an LLC and started the business officially.
After a few weeks of just selling candles, I decided to pick up some freelance art-directing work to cover the bills.
In August 2014, we moved the business from Etsy and Squarespace to Shopify because we wanted to have more control over the visuals of our website and to build our brand presence. This move was integral to our growth because we could now integrate with different selling portals, generate personalized discount codes, and build an email list.
Developing our brand helped us get noticed by wholesale buyers
After a year of working on our brand development, we were scouted by a buyer from Urban Outfitters 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 quit my freelance art-director gig in summer 2015, and my business has been my sole source of income since.
The next turning point for my candle business came two years later, when I got a slot at the trade show New York Now in August 2017.
At the time, it cost $5,000 to sell at the show and another $10,000 for an agency to build up and design the booth we sold in. I put it off for a while to make sure we could afford it.
It was a major success and cemented our relationship with wholesale buyers. We had buyers place orders at the show, and some reach out to us later. We did New York Now again in 2018.
The business now has 28 employees who are full- or part-time employed or contracted. 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 because of our increased overhead, when I first started selling them I was charging only $16.
In 2021, the business made 7 figures in revenue
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 gift new products to content creators, but there’s no pressure to promote them.
My advice to business owners is to take risks. I wish I’d taken the big risks a lot earlier. I’ve always been risk-averse and reluctant to spend a lot of money at once. I remember early on melting wax over the stove because I didn’t want to invest in a wax melter. In the end, my time was worth more than the money I saved.