Saturday, December 22, 2012

Candle power makes life glow

Cliona Kelliher.
Cliona Kelliher has always loved candles, writes Brian Byrne. The glow, the scents, the intimacy they offer in a place. And now she finds herself spreading the love, with candles she makes herself.

Under the brand name Purity Belle, what started out as a way of recycling the ends of candles Cliona burned in her own home has now developed into a true cottage industry.

The recycling process led to her seeking out more about the craft and science of candle making. "In some ways it is straightforward, but making the wicks correctly can be tricky. And it takes practice to get the fragrances right. There's a lot of trial and error."

She taught herself. With the help of like minded people in related forums on the Web. "People ask questions, and swap tips and hints." Beginning with making new candles for herself, then for family and friends. Now, albeit in a very small way, it shows a potential for a business.

"Coming up to Christmas last year, when I had just been doing it in a small way, there was an opportunity to take a stand at a Craft Fair. The candles I had sold well, so I decided I'd stick with it."

Apart from the various scents, colours and shapes of the candles themselves, it's the containers she puts them in which give Cliona's products their own character. Standard tin containers are increasingly lined up beside candles in pottery cups, even in old china pieces that otherwise might languish in the 'lonely teacup' shelves at the back of pantries.

"I try and recycle jam jars and anything like that, because I'm concerned about the environment. And now I'm having special cups made by Bernard in Curragh Pottery, which are very popular."

For the moment, the work is still done on the kitchen table, and Cliona's kitchen is full of the paraphernalia of the home candlemaker. What she'd love to have is a studio, but there would need to be more business than that to justify the investment.

Besides, there's the other matter of fitting in her family, husband Mark and two children, aged 11 and 17, to the operation. As well as her part-time job with a Dublin Council. But that's all part of the juggling act which is life. Cliona says her family are, well, 'stoic' about her activity, ("Mum's making candles … again.") and they just let her get on with it. In the meantime, it also brings her in contact with like-minded people, because people who buy things like candles are also usually caring about the environment, and are often into other crafts too. "I really enjoy when I have a stall at a market, because people come and chat and even if they don't buy they tell me what they like and don't like, so it's a good feedback."

Her home is a house of scents, textures and colours. Sometimes she has to take a break, as her sense of smell is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all the fragrances. "But I still love candles," she smiles. "There's just something cosy about them, their glow. They add a homey touch."

Her Purity Belle products are currently stocked in An Tearmann in Kilcullen, Meitheal in Dunlavin, and are featuring some Christmas ones on their website. Truly Irish Crafts in Kilkenny and Sile na Gig in Cloughjordan are also outlets.

"It's a very competitive market, and I'm up against the very big operators. But people seem to have picked up on the fact that I upcycle, and SmallChanges were particularly interested in that. Just now I'm covering my costs, making a small profit. In the long run I'd like to be in more shops, though it has been a big leap for me to go out and try and sell to outlets. I find that difficult, but I'm building up my confidence."

In the longer term, Cliona would really love to be doing this full time, but is as aware as everybody else is that this is a time when people are cautious about how they're spending. "I'm happy to do it as I am at the moment, but if things ever pick up you never know what'll happen."

At times like Christmas, every spare minute is taken up with candle making. "The house is full of supplies, candles, boxes." Regular customers are ordering bespoke candles, to their own specifications. "If they're for presents, I can add little personal touches, to the candles, and the packaging."

Getting the word out is mostly through customers' referrals, but Cliona has also been using Twitter extensively to advertise her operation. "My friend Armelle of Armelle's Kitchen introduced me to it, and I have made sales that way."

So, if you want a couple of last minute stocking fillers, maybe a quick note to @PurityBelle will solve the problem. And add a glow to someone's life.

This article was first published on the Kilcullen Page of The Kildare Nationalist.