We Are Harper’s
So this is me, Star Wars nerd, F1 enthusiast (Hamilton fans need not apply), 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.
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 at the unit. 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. She is also the contact for every shop that Harper’s supplies and is the sounding board for every brilliant and daft idea behind Harper’s Candles. My premise is that if Julie thinks its a good idea then it probably is.
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 markets in Hull. 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 I will pull duck faces, stick my tongue out at the camera and generally put myself out there when duty calls, 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) this little business of mine simply would not manage. She also bakes a bloody marvellous lemon drizzle cake, is my active enabler for gummy sweets and buys excellent birthday recipe books.
Media and PR
I first became aware of Lisa in 2012 when someone wrote an actual blog about my candles and I couldn’t believe it. I was a little overexcited, as was my mum who has a print of it in her scrapbook. That blog was ThatLisaClare and I still think it’s the prettiest blogs I’ve ever seen. Over time I noticed that Lisa was a regular online customer and then in 2013 I met her at an event in Derby and after a marathon gossip (which involved very little selling of candles which I was supposed to be doing) we became friends on social media. From that moment onwards I realised the deep and smiley joy of being friends with someone who smothered my feeds in photos of two rescue ferrets who were most loved and always up to something despite it. Pedro and Jasper made my day for years on end.
Lisa started ThatLisaClare in 2010 because she was poorly and writing about shiny things cheered her up. When she met a crowd of PR people she realised that she should be doing that too, so she studied and ended up with a degree in Public Relations & Communications from Greenwich. Being already proficient in the art of taking a good photo or two was just cherry on that particular cake and she has been freelancing ever since. I didn’t think I would ever be able to tempt Lisa into working with Harper’s but during a chance phone call in summer 2018 over a photo of her favourite candle that she had just posted on Instagram (Let Sleeping Kittens Lie before you ask) I said as much and she replied that I didn’t know what I was talking about because she would love to. Much excited chatter followed and a whole new world wide web was born…
Sadly in 2017 both of Lisa’s beautiful ferrets died and that left a big Pedro and Jasper sized hole of happiness for many people and their social media accounts and obviously Lisa was heartbroken. It took some time before she was able to look for another animal to call her friend and confidant and when she did, she adopted Poppy because giving her home and her heart to an older cat was something she just wanted to pour herself into. And thus another media legend was born and all of us, her friends, were warmed to have our pages filled with another furry friend, but this time one who sits on a window so she can shout at cars and dogs and everything else she doesn’t approve of while her mum takes photos and makes her famous. Aside from being a smiley, chatty and an ever so slightly bonkers media genius, Lisa professes to love animals, houseplants, interior design, walking in the Peak District and living a cruelty free lifestyle. What she won’t admit to are the love of cocktails, an amazing dry sense of humour and a candle addiction that I can prove.
Harper’s Logo & Icon
Flo is now a thirteen year old Jack Russell rescue 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) and only selectively deaf when she wants 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 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 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 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.