So this is me, the Star Wars nerd, F1 enthusiast, PlayStation addict, hugely introverted (96% on tests) chip loving and beer drinking owner and creator of Harper’s Candles Limited and all that it is and author of this website. When I started I literally did everything for the business from home, which was making candles to drawing labels to admin and emptying bins, going to events and putting lots of envelopes in piles where I can ignore them better because I hate opening post…. I love working and still do because there’s nothing quite like being a little bit in love with what you created and viewing it as a sometimes wayward but adorable child. Sometimes when I look at it, particularly a trade stand somewhere like the NEC, I feel like I did when watched my son win the egg and spoon race at sports day when he was seven. Immeasurably proud. Since the business went limited in summer 2017 I also got a cool new job title of Company Director, 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. By 2018 it was a limited company and still managing to keep it’s small independent, quirky roots of which I continue to be so proud.
I met Sarah at a market in Hull in 2012 and I think it’s fair to say that since then she has become a candle hoarder (I invented the Strawberry Daquiri candle for her in 2014) and proud to say that she also became one of my friends. Sarah is one of those gorgeous people it’s impossible to dislike because she’s just unbelievably nice. In 2019 she married the lovely Nick and I was thrilled to make her wedding candles – except that she arrived at the candle mine to collect them when they weren’t quite ready so she happily armed herself with a glue stick and stuck her own labels on her order. As you can see from her photo, she has taken over the Harper’s social media whilst nine months pregnant with her Mini-Egg so she’s not afraid of a challenge!
When it comes to animals being a true redhead, Sarah wanted to rescue a marmalade cat and when Gus was proving to be a little too big for his boots at her local cat (rescue) café, she decided that he’d already stolen her heart so she took him home – although she admits that he’s still partial to cake. She also admits that she knows she shouldn’t but he is her favourite. Next came Roger, who she describes as a mysterious and handsome devil. Roger was rehomed as a kitten when Sarah’s sister found her home claimed by a stray who then produced a litter. Murphy the tabby loves you one minute, bites you the next and turned up at Sarah’s house one night as a stray. At 10pm was shouting so loudly from her garage roof that he couldn’t get down that he had Sarah and Nick up in arms trying to rescue him. By 11pm he was curled up on the sofa watching Robocop with the rest of his new family. Nobody ever claimed him.
Sarah does all of the photographs and social media posts for Harper’s out of sheer passion and joy for being a candleaholic. It’s a good job and I am so grateful because I have always professed to having the social media skills of a yack (you can usually tell when I’ve done a post because I tend to rely on luck and pot luck that it will sort of end up where it should). If you go onto Instagram you will get Sarah because I don’t know where that is. My only role is to reply to the Facebook posts because I can find that! I love that Harper’s is a teeny team of rescue animals and their owners who are all here simply because of their love of this business. Sarah slots into it perfectly .
Harper’s Official Brilliant New Ideas Tester
Charlotte is my best friend. I know that she is my best friend because the first time I ever met her was in a car park in Lancaster at 7.30am sometime in 2012, shortly before an event. As she had just discovered my candles the previous month, she came straight over and introduced herself, told me she loved me and that she was now my best friend. As things turned out, I think that was a fine assumption. There is very little I do here that I haven’t run past Charlotte first in our almost daily phone calls. Other topics include how can we fit more animals in our homes, why it’s not fair that take-outs are fattening, doing up junk furniture, examining each carbohydrate we have eaten that day and how we would run the world if we were in charge.
We do not test on animals. Testing on animals is wrong. Instead we test on Charlotte. From 2019, everything new that comes out of this business will have been sent to Charlotte for a thorough trial and an honest opinion first until it is either right, or sent back to the pit of disappointment from whence it will never return. She has that power! Charlotte reviews everything and we post that onto social media so you get a better idea what this little business produces.
Charlotte is an avid, passionate and hilarious animal rescuer. She is also pretty useless. Charlotte is the only person I know who has walked into a cat rescue in Egypt with absolutely no intentions of adopting a cat, having never owned a cat, and coming out with two. Without a clue how she was going to get them to England she instantly fell for the shyest, white fluffball in the place and then agreed that one cat might be lonely and pointed out THE most adorable, sing-songy naughty black poppet in the place and said she would have that one too. Then she called them Maz and Mole respectively and simply made it happen. In 2019 she added to her little family with the arrival of Fangs, who she fell in love with during his time at the Bradford Cat Watch Rescue where she volunteers. She didn’t mean to get another cat. She just sort of fell in love and did.
In her spare time Charlotte fosters vulnerable, sick and abused kittens in her home office until they are ready to be rehomed. Sadly they do not all make it but they have the best chance in the world with Charlotte. Often, phone calls with her remind me that animal rescue is sometimes heartbreaking, tragic and so very cruel and unfair. We see the happy side. The fluffy faces full of hope and ready to find their family. Behind the scenes, it’s people like this who stay awake through long nights trying to put right what was so cruelly done to enable one tiny life to go on to find their place in the world and when it goes wrong it’s so painful – but when it goes right it’s the happiest feeling. Peaks and troughs. Then she does it again and again. She is that soft hearted, she means it and we love her for it.
Funny story; whilst at Charlotte’s eating mince pies in November 2018, I watched Mole reveal the best habit ever. Charlotte is unable to keep a Legolas (LOTR) figure on her bookshelf. The moment she puts him there, Mole jumps up and knocks him to the floor. Immediately and repeatedly. Why does he do this? We will probably never know but it is hysterical and he is very dedicated to his dislike of any elf on any shelf. I can only applaud his standpoint.
Harper’s Logo & Icon
May 2005 – May 2021
Flo was a sixteen year old Jack Russell rescue from Hull Animal Welfare Trust. She grew a little bit greyer than she was when I drew her as the Harper’s logo in autumn 2011, but she was always as pretty as a picture (and as naughty as a box of monkeys) and only selectively deaf when she wanted to ignore me.
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 revolved around her. Which it did.
Flo’s main jobs were sleeping on her bed next to the big printer where it’s always warm, waking up when she heard a lunch-box opening and getting in the way when large deliveries came into or going out of the unit. She also wanted to start a fight with every dog she ever met (which is why one of her ears was wonky because Flo is tiny) but she got told off for that because we’re supposed to be an animal friendly business. Flora was also very spoilt, didn’t make enough room for me in my own bed and liked having raspberries blown on her tummy. I loved her enough to base this business around her and she was my shadow.
Flora died peacefully in my arms on March 9th 2021 and I will miss her until I reach the Rainbow Bridge, whereupon I will kiss her nose, blow a raspberry on her tummy and feed her the best bits of my sandwich. Then we’ll probably go for a walk.
BFF and All Round Dufus.
Bandit arrived following a phone call from Hull Animal Welfare Trust just before Christmas 2018. “We have three puppies coming. Two boys. Brown, hairy and big. Do you want one?” I’d been breaking my heart for years over my big dog Indiana who died in Spring 2016, but Flo was lonely and there was a big dog sized hole in my heart that needed to be filled so I said yes. I was at the rescue within hours of them having arrived from Greece and when I looked at him and he looked me I recognised that little something that’s the spark of a start of something special because some animals see you… and you see them.
Bandit arrived home a few days later and proceeded to grow like a weed until he resembled a foal. I insist that he’s a medium sized dog. Nobody believes me but denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. Bandit is named after a line in a Duran Duran song and following the death of Burt Reynolds, because I grew up on his films and have a love of American muscle cars. He’s a muppet, a sock thief, breaks everything on a table with the wag of his tail, a cat chaser (but woe betide anything who picks on one of our cats in his pack) and has never had a bad mood in his life. There is literally nothing that doesn’t make him happy. Flo chased him and bit him as often as she could and he thinks it’s a game and it’s ace and doesn’t care one little bit. She got bored long before he did.
This is my hug monster, my best buddy, my all-nighter-in-the-unit pal and can find mud like no other dog I have ever known. The Battersea Muddy Dog Challenge was no challenge to him whereas it almost killed me. Bandit is also the reason I can’t get my legs under my desk in the unit because this is where you find him when he’s working 9-5. He is literally Man’s Best Friend personified and how anyone could have dumped a dog like this is beyond me because the world is a better and happier place with Bandit in it. His hobbies include watching television when there’s an animal on the screen, greeting Sainsbury’s delivery men like they’re his long lost family, sleeping on his back in an undignified manner, believing everyone wants to be his best friend and stealing from kitchen worksurfaces. Bandit is the namesake of Flaky Bandit, the Harper’s homeware shop of many shiny and pretty things, because goodness knows I can’t have an animal and not want the world to know because they are all just so fabulous and I definitely do give a damn about my Flaky Bandit. He is my BFF.
Meco and Bert
Branded Icons & Shiny Stars
If you look on the tin of I Love You But You Smell you will see a tortoishell cat. This is Meco. I found her as a very starving stray outside my house in the summer 2011, the month after I had lost my job and shortly before I started Harper’s. It was the start of austerity and cats were being dumped. The rescues were full but so was my house and I had no income, which meant that I kept her. Her name came because of my love of astrophysics and is the NASA call sign for the cool bit where a rocket has got to actual space and the big engines are jettisoned. Main Engine Cut Off. I was saving it as the name for a big dog but then it’s a funny old world. The story goes that I needed to try to get rid of the smell of the cat litter in my utility room so I trialled a lovely new fragrance there, it worked, I called it I Love You But You Smell and drew Meco on it. She is pretty, shy and it took her three years to pluck up the courage to sit on my knee. I find it very sad that she was thrown out at barely more than a kitten to starve and count myself lucky to have found her. Now she is a perennial box dweller, Bandit’s official disapprover (she thinks he’s an idiot but he doesn’t seem to care) and likes to sit quietly in the garden if someone else is with her. She is happy, safe, incredibly quiet, will probably never get over whatever someone did to her even after all these years and I still feel a wash of love and pride on the rare occasions that she sits on my knee.
Bert is a force of nature. Her actual name is Liberty after the Duran Duran album, but she’s just Bert. In 2017 I specifically went to Hull Animal Welfare Trust to adopt a male tabby kitten following the loss of my elderly and beloved tabby, Arbie, and to find a friend to the eternally maternal Meco, who was incredibly lonely but finds it hard to adjust to older cats. Bert was having none of it and decided that she was going to be chosen instead and I have learned never to argue with a cat. Having been rescued from a hoarder as a tadpole, hand reared and recovered from cat-flu, it was a long wait of many weeks for her to get over ringworm and she was noted to be the naughtiest kitten and always the one to keep the rest of the litter awake, climb up anyone who went near her and to escape the ringworm bucket as often as possible. Bert never grew after her terrible start so she’s teeny, but that doesn’t stop her. Nothing does. She is the star of Little Black Cat (I drew her for the label having photographed her playing with a piece of string in my kitchen) and has invented her own verb. Berted : To be pounced on, batted or otherwise disturbed (usually while asleep). Berting mostly occurs at around 4.30am and is always followed by purring and snuggling which negates being told off.
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 and love 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. Much of the artwork revolves around animals and all of my own rescue animals have found their way into Harper’s in one guise or another. This is not a cruelty-free business, it is a business that is cruelty-free and there is a difference. The quality of what is produced here is trialled until I believe that it is second to none and it’s all done without harming animals. It’s no more difficult. It’s no more expensive. It is simply the way it should be. It is so intrinsic that everything must be animal friendly from start to finish because these rescue animals shouldn’t be involved with anything that doesn’t involve kindness, respect and a better way to live with the creatures on this planet. That’s from promoting cruelty free to not using plastic in what we do. In the end it shouldn’t really matter that my bag is animals. I don’t ask everyone to share my ethics necessarily, but businesses should all at least have ethics and support them strongly and with intent. 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. Business should not be business at any price.
In 2012 my only goal was to earn £200 a month so I could afford to go to the supermarket because I didn’t have enough money to buy food. My son would not have been thrilled with empty cupboards. My cats even less so. These days, my long term 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 at going from being a reasonably successful professional pen pusher to selling candles at craft fairs or wherever I could fit a portable table. 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 wasn’t. I had wanted to achieve even a minor part of world domination by December 2020 and to have done so would be 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. I won’t achieve this dream right now in this new coronavirus filled world, but it still remains my long term plan. In the end I cannot feel anything but love for my beautiful, quirky labour of love that supports me and my lot and to the glorious people who choose to buy from it. It’s an odd mix of humbled, proud, ever so happy, consistently believing that every idea is a great idea (I never learn) and always vaguely smelling of candles.