Kristen Pumphrey, Founder of P.F. Candle Co.
When did you first become interested in candles?
I started making candles when I was 12. My mom always burned them and one day my sister brought home a DIY kit from Michael’s and I used it. Actually, the first candles that I made for the business were from that old kit, and then I started buying really cool molds off eBay that were vintage from the 70s or such. Since I knew how to make candles, a candle business just seemed like a natural fit.
Did you know that you didn’t want to work in a corporate environment from the get-go?
I just don’t think I’m a very good employee for people other than myself. I worked in the corporate environment for a short period of time right after college in New York and I quickly became one of those people that said, “I don’t want work a nine-to-five job!” I’m more willing to work harder for myself, and that’s what motivates me to be an entrepreneur.
When you moved to Austin from New York in 2008, did you have friends or family there or did you move on a whim?
Some of my really close friends had moved there because it was cheap, and because there was music happening there. I just liked the vibe of it. It seemed a little bit slower and it wasn’t as anxious as New York. Austin is also where I met my husband Tom. He had moved out there and was in a band.
How did you start your company?
I actually started another business first. I just really wanted to start a business, so I did it with my friend, but I think she wanted to do it as more of a hobby. When we split off, my blog Pomme Frites really started growing. I knew how to make candles, but it was really about repurposing that concept and being eco-friendly. With candles, I knew I could scale them, I could make a lot, and I could teach other people how to make them.
What made you want to move to Los Angeles?
Tom’s originally from California. He wanted to finish up school out here and I have this manifest destiny for California. I have always wanted to move here ever since I was a kid, so it just worked.
Your packaging is so signature. Was that a big focus for you?
I think that our approach to packaging was to create a unisex candle. Tom didn’t officially come on board until 2013, but he was always behind-the-scenes with me. My vision was to create a candle that could fit in anyone’s house, as opposed to a lot of candles that are super feminine with scent and packaging.
Is there a favorite scent that you have?
I love our copal scent. It’s inspired by the incense of the same name, and it triggers personal memories of going to Tulum, Mexico. We were staying at this really great little boutique hotel, and the woman who owned the hotel was burning it in the morning as a cleanser. When we got back I wanted to create a candle that smelled like copal, so we worked with a fragrance house to mimic its properties. The copal candle was also the turning point when we really started working with fragrance houses to make complex scents come to life.
Does travel play a big role in discovering new scents?
A lot of our scents are inspired by travel because the best memories can happen when you travel. We’ve created a new scent called “Black Fig” and it’s actually inspired by buying our house. We bought the house in September of 2015, and one of the reasons I wanted to buy it was it had these amazing mature fruit trees. There’s a fig tree, a persimmon, grapefruit, and a lemon tree and that feel like such a California dream to me.
Who was your first big order?
We had a couple orders that really started us off. I got to a point with the candles where I could only make ends meet in the holiday season. It was really tough. We ate a lot of beans and rice. Tom was in college so he was living off student loans. Just after I told him I wanted to scale the business back to the weekends, I got this order from Terrain, which is an Urban Outfitters home and garden company. I told myself I would do this order and it would get me through a couple more months and that’s when it all really started to take off like dominoes. I did a pop up at West Elm with Etsy and West Elm ended up ordering from us. The VP of Merchandising for West Elm actually messaged me on Instagram and I thought it was fake. I googled the guy to find out the offer was legitimate. From that point on, I hounded their buyers the entire summer until they picked up 4,000 units–that was the order that really changed the shape of the business. It was that order that got Tom on board too. We got married, we went on our honeymoon, we came back, and we just made candles for two months straight for the order.
You hand poured all of those?
Yes. We were only pouring about 200 a day, so Tom really took his knowledge as a logistics manager and scaled what I was doing into two-to-three hundred, and then we could scale it up from there. It was just us working on that order, but we took all the money from the order and reinvested in the business and made our first hires.
So what’s next?
We’re expanding into more home fragrance which is really exciting. We’re releasing a new line which is totally different from our amber jar line, which has been our signature look. We’re just focusing on that for now.
Kristen proves that size doesn’t always matter. Even though her small team handmakes and delicately sources their products, local restaurants, furniture shops, and clothing stores around the world are stocking their fragrant treats—and that’s in addition to massive retailers like Urban Outfitters and CB2. Whether you’re in Australia, Italy, or America you can opt for an IRL experience with their creations before you buy.
Below we list of a few of our favorite P.F. Candle Co. artisanal stockists around the world. Who knows? Maybe we can inspire your next big adventure.