The earliest candles, produced using whale fat, were recorded in Han China around 200BC. By the 13th Century, candle-making had become a respected craft in parts of Europe. Chandlers, the name given to candle-makers, would employ substances such as leftover kitchen fats to provide households with a source of light. Candles made from beeswax were also sold to those who could afford it, or found in churches: the wealthiest echelon of society at the time. By the end of the 19th century, candle production had become industrialised for the mass market, with candles being manufactured from paraffin wax and stearic acid (Wikipedia). Paraffin wax is still used in candle production today, presenting a variety of environmental concerns. Paraffin wax, “a petroleum by-product of crude oil, emits large amounts of particulate pollution when burned — a major ingredient in air pollution” (Guardian). UpCandle is the Berlin-based candle brand on a mission to create sustainable candles that are not only good for the soul, but also for our planet. Aware sat down with Upcandle’s cofounder and CEO, Henry Roloff, to learn more.
aware_: What motivated you to establish UpCandle?
Henry: UpCandle was founded in January 2018, whilst I was writing my master thesis on project management. I realised I wanted to found a company that is in line with the principles by which I live.
My girlfriend and I both like candles, and both try to live as sustainably as possible. My girlfriend Kristin is a naturopath, specialising in aromatherapy. Kristin also works in pharmacies where she gets access to suppliers of pure essential oils, with aromatherapeutic qualities, from all over the world.
I can remember visiting market stalls all over Berlin, we saw the reuse of materials, such as old glass, right in front of us. The topic of upcycling has not left our minds since. We tried to cut wine bottles ourselves and put a rapeseed tealight into the glass, and voila! The first UpCandle was born.
After this everything happened very quickly. I finished my master thesis began to create a business plan for UpCandle. After our first investment, we bought some machines to process the glass bottles. After successfully developing a method to cut and finish bottles (from 1000 Bottles we can make 350 glass candle holders), we shifted our focus to creating scents using essential oils. From there we developed our first two scents: Forest Walk, using pure pine oil from Brandenburg, and Globe Trotter, using pure bergamot oil. The reaction from the markets was great and thus we decided to put all our energy into UpCandle, and subsequently establish the aroma candle manufacturer in Berlin.
aware_:Looking at the candle industry as a whole, what improvements need to be made in order for it to become more sustainable?
Henry: Like with every industry, the candle industry has seen a rise in greenwashing in its marketing in recent years. For example, the big brands use 1-2% natural wax, mixed with paraffin wax, and market it as ‘natural wax’. To compare, our candles are made of 100% rapeseed wax. Additionally, large parts of the industry use isolated fragrances from artificial oils to create these very highly concentrated scents, which smell mostly like an artificial vanilla perfume. These candles are marketed like natural oils, which is also a big problem for companies like us who use authentic essential oils.
Really though, the main aim for the candle industry should be to produce candles sustainably and using natural ingredients. The big players try to succeed by greenwashing, whereas companies like UpCandle endeavour to make products by adhering to core values of transparency and authenticity: pure, essential, sustainable, local, making with love and passion.
aware_: Can you tell us about the different waxes used in candles? How did you arrive at using rapeseed?
Henry: When we were establishing the company we researched the different waxes used in candles. There are a lot of options, firstly paraffin wax – mineral oil is no option for us. Secondly soy wax – it’s very popular in the industry because it has good candle making properties. The disadvantage is that soy is genetically modified and comes mostly from America; transportation to Europe creates a lot of CO2. Lastly, rapeseed wax from Europe. The cultivation of rapeseed is historical and the candle making properties are close to those of soy wax. Additionally, the rapeseed wax carries the pure essential oils very well and burns down evenly to achieve a long burning period. Lastly, rapeseed is a fast regrowing plant.
aware_: What inspires you when creating the different scents?
Henry: Our inspiration comes from essential oils, which are sourced from all over the world, and everyday scents. Often we try to highlight special oils: Brandenburg Pine, Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil or more exotic scents like Ylang-Ylang. Currently, we are building up our aroma laboratory, this is the first place where we will exhibit all of our oils.
aware_: The candles are handmade in Berlin! Could you explain a bit more about how a candle is manufactured?
Henry: Over the last three years we made our candles by hand across locations in Berlin so we are really proud to introduce our new aroma manufacturers location in Berlin.
To begin the process, you set up the glass containers and place the wicks on the bottom of the glass. The next step is to mix the pure essential oils with the rapeseed wax, all the while holding it at a constant temperature. Now you can fill up the glass containers with a measuring cup, piece by piece. For three months now we have been using a semi-automatic filling machine to produce our candles. With this machine, we can produce over 2000 pieces per day. We have started giving workshops on creating a personal scent and producing your own candle.
aware_: What are your hopes and dreams for the future of UpCandle?
Henry: We want to bring a new wind to the candle industry and show them how necessary it is to use natural, raw materials and to produce locally in Berlin. Additionally, working with good people and paying fair wages, instead of exploiting workers in developing countries to maximise profit. Most of all, we want to establish the first natural and sustainable aroma candle manufacturer in Germany and Europe.
by Eliza Edwards