This is potentially a contentious and provocative issue to embrace, making it quite delicious to open the olfactory pantry door upon...
Unless you've been living on Jupiter for the past fifteen years, it would be difficult not to have noticed a significant shift in the home fragrance industry. When I commenced my journey into the home fragrance world, it was quite different to the picture today. There were 6-8 powerful brands that had global presence. Now there are over 150.
Home fragrance was always an ice skating rink for legislation. You don't apply it to your skin, so it doesn't require allergy certification. It is emitted into the air therefore it's quality used to be judged on scent and scent alone (plus seductive and desirable brand identity). I did a little Q&A with an industry friend and here is how it went !
Question 1: There have been a spate of articles in the press about the dangers in using scented candles. As a candle maker by craft, does this worry you ?
I've been striving and advocating for clean candles for thirteen years, it doesn't worry me, it actually inspires me that the industry is awakening. It is a relief to see the industry judging products based on the integrity of their insides. Transparency was always the goal and things finally seem to be changing.
Question 2: You said you've been fighting for cleaner burning candles for thirteen years, has this been a battle ?
It was tough when I started. The customer's perception of a quality product was based on factors that didn't really focus on the material choices. In the past quite often, if the brand identity was luxurious in feel and the fragrance strong, we didn't used to ask about the materials. We stood tirelessly at events and in stores, informing them of what we stood for. Staying true to your values has been a battle for sure, but currently the state of affairs feels very encouraging.
Question 3: The general terms that seem to be bandied around in the press have been natural good, chemical bad. Is it really that simple ?
It is infinitely more complicated, but that's a brilliant question. I will try to give a little insight only from my perspective, others may be different. When I was younger, I naively wanted the purest purest materials. I remember playing with a Jasmine Absolut that I purchased a small amount of (it is more expensive than gold btw!). The pure oil is divine, for perfumers and perfume fans it feels sent from heaven. When you try to experiment with it in wax, it fails epically. The fragrance disappears. Almost untraceable in scent and don't even get me started on the burn. If we were able to perfect the burn, the candle price would rise to over £200 rather than £45. When clients make unknowledgeable requests for the purest materials, at the end of the day, the candle has to perform and the scene has to throw. The same customer that asks for purity (in my experience) often doesn't want to pay the hugely inflated price that said purity merits.
I'll try to expand a little further. I have huge respect for aromatherapists, but for me as a candle maker whose brand is rooted deeply in complex fragrance, it is not my style. The aromas always feel spa like and quite often the same. I always liken it to using a 12 pack of chunky crayola pencils. When I was a child, the biggest Christmas present I ever received, was the 144 three level pack of faber colouring pencils. I could blend, I could shade, I could accent, I could play. This is what perfumery means for me. In order to create beautiful aroma, we combine the natural with the finest aroma chemicals in unison.
Another example would be looking a little more closely at the sensitivity, irritation and hazards that some natural aromas have. Pure citrus oils can irritate the skin if not diluted. If natural is good and chemical bad this should not be applicable.
Its a complex discussion and one that can only be supported with absolute brand transparency.
Question 4: What do you feel about the word vegan used in candle descriptions ?
The basic assumption would be that as long as a product does not contain animal products of any kind, it must be vegan certified. I imagine if someone is living a vegan lifestyle and purchasing a candle that uses the word vegan, they should look a little closer into the candle origins. Most natural wax candles use soy products from multiple third party sources. Ungoverned soy bean agriculture is one of the major causes of deforestation, responsible for wiping out multiple animal species and encroaching on the habitat of thousands of others. While there is currently limited legislation for brands required to declare their product origins, it jars against a vegan lifestyle in a much subtler way.
Question 5: Considering that all legacy perfumes spanning decades have always used synthesised aroma chemicals, are you surprised there is still confusion in this area ?
I have talked to many clients that while wearing Chanel No.5, Marc Jacobs or Christian Dior talk passionately about they only purchase natural and organic products, so there is still the perception that luxury can only be the purest choice.
Question 6: So what typifies a clean burning candle for the Jonathan Ward brand ?
We chose to develop an organic wax blend built from organic coconut wax, organic beeswax and organic vegetable wax. This has been certified by the soil association as organic and burns in the purest way I have ever seen in my thirteen years. As well as carrying traceable ethical credentials, the wax can burn for up to 12 hours without leaving a smear of soot on the jar. I always lived by the simple assumption that if there is blacking on the jar there would be blackening in the air (quite often invisible).
Question 7: Are suppliers transparent with producers about the materials they are purchasing ?
I know for smaller candle brands in their infancy, they might receive an aroma that they haven't built themselves. It might state on the fragrance note tree that it contains, blackberry leaf, cedar wood, iris root etc. Most brands are not informed enough to question if those natural sounding ingredients are actually natural. At lower price points, it is undoubtedly certain that 88% of their blend if not more will be chemical based and if they're uncertain on how to read an SMDS data sheet, it will go unmixed.
Question 8: Why did you agree to speak up about this ?
Oh gosh, I have been described in the past for being entirely too candid, so I figured why stop at this point. I believe that brands that stand the best chance of surviving in the future climate should operate with transparency and honesty.
That's all folks.