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There is something quintessentially California about P.F. Candle Co.’s amber jar candles. Maybe it’s because they fit right in at a mid-century modern home and they look like something you might’ve picked up at a craft fair. Or maybe it’s because the company sells several California-inspired scents, including a Los Angeles scent.
“The Los Angeles candle was actually really fun to make, because we pulled our entire staff and wrote on a whiteboard, ‘What does LA smell like?’ There were good smells and bad smells,” Kristen says. “We really took inspiration from the space around us.”
Despite any bad smells, Los Angeles was a good starting place for P.F. Candle Co. There were already wax and jar suppliers in the city, so in the early days, Kristen was driving around collecting the materials herself.
In one of her first big orders, Kristen had to make thousands of candles by hand in her apartment in just one month.
“I would always say yes and figure out how to make it happen. I was so scrappy and just didn’t know when I might get another opportunity,” Kristen says.
At the time, there weren’t really any other candles on the market like the ones being sold by P.F. Candle Co. There were designer, high-end candles, and there were artisanal candles, and not much in between. Plus, most scents were floral or fruity, and seemed to be aimed at women.
“I didn’t see really many candles for men. So we created this gender-neutral packaging … and our scents were not necessarily ‘typical’ candle scents. They were really gender neutral,” Kristen explains. “We opened up a customer base, which still to this day, we have a 25% to 30% male customer base, which is really unusual for a candle company.”
P.F. Candle Co.’s approach to design and marketing was also unique because Kristen believes that scents are as much a part of home design as furnishings. In fact, sometimes she would try to recreate a living room at a craft fair. Later, the company started photographing its products in real people’s houses around Los Angeles.
“We’re not just taking static product photography, we’re really showing you how it’s gonna live in your space,” Kristen says. “And it’s kind of sending the message, if you get this candle, this is how your space is gonna feel.”
In 2013, the company started getting orders from major retailers like West Elm, Urban Outfitters, CB2, Steve Allen, and Madewell.
As the company grew, Kristen retained her maker identity. Just recently, she started making other crafts again and posting videos of it on TikTok and Instagram. She and her life (and business) partner Tom also wrote a DIY project book together, called At Home with Fragrance.
“The work that I’ve been doing on my own has really inspired me to think about how we can reintegrate small batch stuff into our line, and make sure that we leave time for fun creative projects like collaborations,” Kristen says.
To learn more about how Kristen scaled P.F. Candle Co. and built relationships with retailers, listen to Kristen’s full interview on Shopify Masters.