We Are Harper’s
So this is me, Star Wars nerd, chip loving and beer drinking author of this website, owner and creator of Harper’s Candles and all that it is. When I started I literally did everything for the business from making candles to drawing labels to admin and emptying bins and going to events… I love working and still do a bit of everything but today my main job is running the business, making up new smells, drawing and designing new products, keeping the job on the right road and putting lots of envelopes in piles where I can ignore them better because I hate opening post. Since the business went limited in summer 2017 I also got a cool new job title, which is almost like having an “I am grown up” badge.
I’ve always made things and I can’t honestly remember when I made my first candle. Harper’s Candles certainly makes my friends and family happy as they cheerfully take one or two home with them, or if you’re my dad ask me if I can’t quickly “knock up one of those nice sandalwoody ones”. Bless him. My dad thinks everything takes ten minutes and that includes motorway journeys which is probably how I never learnt timekeeping as a child. He’s also untidy. I hold my father responsible for a lot.
I was always being told that I should start a small business selling candles, but as much as I loved the idea, I never found the time.
I remember the exact moment in October 2011. About halfway through a rather pointless meeting that was so PC it truly did Plod, I realised with a sinking feeling that if I didn’t start doing something else with my life then all I had to look forward to was more of the same with as much bad coffee as I could drink. Things came to a head when austerity hit about ten minutes later and I suddenly found myself without even a horrid job with bad coffee, but still with a mortgage, lots of rescue animals and a son (complete with school fees) to pay for by myself, which is tricky when you kinda don’t have an income anymore. Sometimes adulting sucks.
So after a significant amount of time trialling (procrastinating) and preparing (more procrastinating) I drew my dog Flora as the company logo and launched Harper’s Candles on April 1st 2012, because I thought it was amusing to launch a business on April Fool’s Day. This was to be my hobby business and own personal empire of happy so at least I’d be busy while I slowly went bankrupt and ended up living in a tent in my parents’ garden.
That’s when it all went a bit mad and within six months I realised that my hobby was bigger than I’d intended.
In December 2014, by investing everything back into the business, working seven days a week almost every week and driving up and down the country going to markets and events, I finally expanded to moved Harper’s Candles out of my house and into a unit. It was wonderful. We were able to cook food in the kitchen at home again and no longer thought walking down the hall sideways to get past the boxes was normal. I could get my life back and separate home from work… By December 2015 I considered moving a sleeping bag into the unit and wearing a badge at home saying “Mum” so my son could recognise me if we passed on the stairs.
I once heard it said that owning a business was like making a monster and if it worked then that monster would want feeding. On the other hand, I love this monster. It’s my monster and I owe it a lot. For starters I didn’t lose my house. By 2016 I owned a business I was truly proud of that allowed me to live with the ethics I’ve poured my heart into most of my life and I even got to take my dogs to work. Just a shame I was exhausted and overwhelmed and could no longer manage it alone…
Eve is my rock chick best friend and work wife who is married to a viking, gives awesome hugs and recently injured her hand for quite some time due to over-enthusiastically drumming along to her loud shouty-music in her car whilst on her way to work. What’s more, Eve is my rock chick best friend whom it took two years to persuade to come and work for me. It was like the cavalry turning up when she finally gave in and within a couple of months there wasn’t just me. There was us! Christmas wasn’t going to kill me in 2016, no sir.
Eve is a genius at talking to everyone like she couldn’t be more comfortable. That puts her about a mile ahead of me because I can create an awkward silence in about ten seconds. She also taught me how to do social media right up to the point where I tweeted the link to our private facebook conversation by accident, whereupon she thankfully took it all away from me. She won’t let me go on Instagram, which is good news because I’m not awfully sure what it is.
Right from the start, when she first saw what I was doing, Eve has loved this business. Because she ran a shop in Hull that sold Harper’s Candles (and because she had been my first port of call when I needed a shoulder to cry on) she already understood it inside and out. Plus she doesn’t eat animals, likes all the smells I don’t (and vice versa) and knows all the words to Buffy The Musical, like I do. It’s a match made in heaven.
When it comes to taking on the world, this is the lady you want beside you. Anyone who can rescue an unruly, lovable thug of a Belgian Shepherd with ears as large as a respectable satellite dish (I’m talking about the big NASA ones in Arecibo) and persistently work through all of his muddled horrible-start-to-his-life problems whilst loving him with a fierceness that makes a chieften tank look amiable… that’s who you want making candles at your side at 2am in November. Still, if you ever want a laugh then describe an aubergine or mushroom dish to her. Eve hates aubergines and mushrooms and has a special face that she pulls whilst talking about them. Don’t tell her I told you that.
Eve is pretty much the engine of the business and she makes sure that what we say will happen does actually happen. She understands retail with an enthusiasm and joy that is heartwarming to see, remembers each customer, what smells they like and their budgie’s name and just plain grafts. With two of us life at work became so much easier… and then Christmas 2016 happened and within a couple of weeks we were exhausted and overwhelmed and could no longer manage it alone…
Office & Finance Manager
Julie is the organised and calm one. She started working for me in early 2017 and within days Envelope Mountain had been defeated and put into hanging files where it was forced to give up it’s hedonistic ways and apologise nicely because Julie always knows where everything is. She can even find a pen within seconds and that’s going some. As Harper’s Candles became Harper’s Candles Limited in summer 2017, Julie took over the finance and accounts along with anything and everything even vaguely related to a piece of paper.
Julie’s background is in office management and more recently she ran a handmade card business, which is how I came to know her through Eve who knows every trader and small business within a thirty mile radius and had known Julie for years anyway. Finding a Julie is a bit like striking oil or hitting a gold seam. After the initial euphoria of one’s find has died down there is the ensuing anxiety that she will either decide that the horrible reality of having to learn VAT and payroll in between weekly helpings of labelling and boxing up online orders isn’t what she signed up for when I lied and said it would be a lovely job, she will see the light, run and never return. Or someone else will stake a claim. As it is, Julie is our steadying and organised influence who really does seem to think it’s a lovely job. If you get a parcel through your door the it will more than likely have been packed and labelled by Julie. And that label will be straight.
Where Eve and I pull duck faces, stick our tongues out at the camera and generally put ourselves out there, Julie would far rather remain quietly anonymous. Without the copious list writing, finance management and knowledge of where each and every invoice and piece of paper in the unit is (and if it isn’t in the right drop file then it had better run for cover) we simply would not manage. She also bakes a bloody marvellous lemon drizzle cake.
Harper’s Logo & Icon
Flo is now a twelve year old Jack Russell rescue dog from Hull Animal Welfare. She’s a little bit greyer than she was when I drew her as the Harper’s logo in autumn 2011, but she’s still as pretty as a picture (and as naughty as a box of monkeys).
When I got her she was six weeks old and the size of a small guinea pig, which scared the living daylights out of me because I’d never had a puppy before and I thought I was going to accidentally stand on her which prompted me to carry her round with me all day and thus instil in her from an early age that the world revolves around her. Which it does.
Flo’s main jobs seem to be sleeping on her sofa in the unit, trying to eat Julie’s lunch and getting in the way when large deliveries are coming into or going out of the unit. She also chases the white cat that likes to sun itself on the recycling bins outside the side door but she gets told off for that because we’re supposed to be an animal friendly business. Flora is also very spoilt, doesn’t like other dogs much and likes having raspberries blown on her tummy.
Harper’s Candles Limited
My Beautiful Monster
Since this business went limited in June 2017, it became it’s own entity and thus deserves a place here. It is sincerely the beautiful monster that I’m so humbled to own and so stupidly proud of. From it’s tiny beginnings in my kitchen to it’s current status of Business That Occupies (expensive) Shell Schemes, I couldn’t be more thrilled (and a bit ‘pinch myself’ at times). Ethics sit at the heart of everything it does. What comes out of Harper’s Candles has to be up to scratch because our customers have bought them and without our customers we are nothing. The people who work here have to be happy to do so and be allowed to put their families first when needs be. Working mums often get a raw deal and Harper’s Candles means that Eve, Julie and I don’t have to feel guilty as we choose between being mothers with children that are sometimes unexpectedly off school with tonsillitis and having a career where we get to exercise our talents and push ourselves. We get to do both. So importantly, everything we do must be animal friendly because it’s the future. Ethics aren’t expensive. Selling out is. Without conscience the world will never be a better place and that is what we should all be striving to achieve in whatever way we feel appropriate to us.
In 2012 my only goal was to earn £200 a month so I could afford to go to the supermarket because I couldn’t afford to buy food. My son was not thrilled. My cats even less so. In 2018 my goal is to see this business on more shelves in Europe and into Australia, New Zealand and I badly want to be in a shop in New York. They don’t have to be big shops and they don’t have to be numerous. Just one independent retailer in each. The reasons are very simple. When I first started Harper’s Candles I was excited and yet looking my friends and family in the face and saying “Yup. I’m going to dig myself out of unemployment in one of the most impoverished cities in the North of England at the start of a recession by starting a candle business” wasn’t easy. I knew it appeared to be a foolish idea but it just seemed right, and yet I was oddly and slightly embarrassed. Secondly, my dog was thrown away as a puppy like she was rubbish so I want to see her as the logo for what would technically be a worldwide product. Nobody is rubbish and Flo certainly isn’t. To achieve even a minor part of world domination in 2018 is something I would consider a massive “Stuff You!” to those who treat animals like they’re disposable and also act as a reminder to myself to never be embarrassed or lose confidence when chasing one’s dreams. That’s how manufacturing bad coffee became so lucrative.