“Businesses started reaching out to request custom orders”: This couple started making kitsch beeswax candles during the pandemic
During the city’s long winter lockdown, restaurant manager Claire Cowan and her partner, Jordan Mill, production manager in the cannabis industry, found themselves with plenty of free time. Inspired by a beloved trinket they bought at a bar several years ago, they set out to make kitsch and playful candles for their friends. They called their business Ours, and as their stock increased, they decided to start selling their candles on Instagram– and now local businesses are reaching out to collaborate on branded candles and collectibles. Here is how it all happened.
–As said to Haley Steinberg
Claire : “I am the general manager of Manita, a restaurant in Ossington. We were originally scheduled to open in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic has delayed our plans. When we finally opened for patio service in August, business was crazy. I was in the restaurant eight to ten hours a day, seven days a week. It was a balmy fall so we were able to stay open for outdoor dining until November. Then things slowed down during the winter months during the lockdown. When we switched to take out only my chores were limited and my hours were reduced. My partner, Jordan, was in the midst of a transition from the cannabis industry to UX design. So we had a lot of free time.
“We have this kitsch little trinket in our house that we picked up on a trip to Elora several years ago. We found it in the corner of a pub and ended up buying it at the bar for around five dollars. He’s a cartoon character sitting on a toilet, and looks like he’s from the late ’60s or early’ 70s, all whitewashed by the sun. We stuck it in the bathroom, and our friends have always found it hilarious. Fun, cheesy giveaways like our pub figurine are obsolete in the age of minimalism, and we’ve started to think of ways to bring back that kitsch. We wanted to make replicas of the figurine as gifts for our friends, and very quickly we had the idea to make a liquid silicone mold out of it. We originally planned to make the resin figures, but I had linked through Manita with a local family farm that sells beeswax, which is much more forgiving and profitable than resin. So we thought we would make candles.
“By making our own candles, Jordan and I were also looking for something we could learn – and fail – together. When the pandemic started, we had totally independent hobbies: Jordan ran and cooked a lot, and I redecorated our house. We each had our areas of expertise, but neither of us had any experience in candle making, so we were on an equal footing. We could try and fail without judgment and hopefully have a little fun in the process.
“The making of the mold was much more difficult than expected. Jordan bought a few industrial-size liquid silicone jugs from a sculpture supply store; it’s surprisingly expensive. Neither of us had worked with liquid silicone before, so we watched YouTube videos on how to pour the material to mold your figures.
“When it was time to make the mold, we used superglue to attach the figure to a mold box so the silicone wouldn’t spill all over the place. Then we poured the silicone over the figure and let it harden for 24 hours. Once the silicone had hardened, we carefully peeled it off the figurine and used a barbecue skewer to poke a hole in the top of the mold to thread a natural cotton wick through. To make the candle, we melted the beeswax in one pound batches and then poured it into the mold. Then, once the candle has hardened, we took it out of the mold.
“Once we got the hang of the process, we kept making more candles. It happened almost by accident – Jordan won a few while I was at the restaurant, and I won some while he was working. It was a smart thing to do in our free time. At one point we had so many candles that we were like, “Oh my God, what are we going to do with 20 of them? It was then that we thought of selling them. We decided to call the company Our-s.
“By mid-January, we had finished our stock. We did a second drawing: a similar cartoon character standing next to a lettering that reads, “Damn the housework. A friend helped us design a little branding and media kit, including a photo for our Instagram page and some Instagram story posts. I gave him a reference photo – an old lettering from the Scooby doo title streak – and he just ran with it. His designs turned out to be way crazier than expected, in the best possible way. They were fancy and bright, with big, Flubber– esque lettering.
“We created a website on Squarespace and launched it in April. We priced our original candles at $ 70 and our second model at $ 40, which represents the cost of the wax, our time and labor.
The candles are quite heavy, the originals weigh almost a pound. The response was overwhelming from the start. I thought, ‘Oh my God. People actually buy our product. During the initial push, we got a lot of interest from our friends and friends of friends. We had former roommates, now living in other cities and countries, asking if we could deliver to them.
“The city was still locked, so the retail was only curbside pickup. People stopped by our house to pick up their candles, and one day when I was doing nothing, I drove the candles to customers all over town. It was nice to see people and get out of the house.
“Very quickly, companies contacted us to ask if we could make personalized candles for them. We hadn’t planned on working with other companies, but it seemed like an incredible opportunity. We are now in conversation with several companies. Once the object is printed, we make a silicone mold from it to pour the candles. Usually these orders are for 50 or 75 candles. So far we’ve been able to do about 50 every two weeks.
“I still work full time at the restaurant five days a week, and Jordan is back home. He works the candles here and there throughout the day. The installation of each candle does not take too long, so he is able to make a few in a normal working day. Then he goes back to work for a few hours as the candle hardens. In the evening, we answer professional emails together.
“Initially, our goal was just to cover the costs of the wax and silicone, which we did. Now we are making a profit. And we love that candle making is something we can do together. Our 70s-inspired candles are a true reflection of who we are as a couple: we are fun and we have fun doing it. Our product, like our home, filled with bright furniture and gag gifts, is a tribute to our favorite times. We do our best to source the materials we believe in and sell to companies why natural wax is the best option: It’s organic and authentic, and the color really stands out without any artificial coloring. Instead of putting our brand name on everything, we made this color our calling card.