Back in the summer of last year, we came across Maya, the creative mind behind Garden State Candles.
We visited her in her home studio to learn more about running her own candle company and being a general #girlboss.
LFB: Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself/yourselves and how you got started in your field/industry and how Garden State came to be?
Maya: Bonjour! My name is Maya Sriqui. The question “where are you from” is always a trip around the world for me, I was born in Washington, DC from a French mother and a Moroccan father. I went to university in Montreal, QC to study economics, but discovered a deep appreciation for set and display design along the years. My independent spirit always craved for something to call my own, and Garden State is just that. It has allowed me to concretize my desires and I couldn’t feel more free and happy with my decision.After two business development jobs in startups, I made the rational decision to quit.
I had some sort of epiphany that life is simply too short to work robotically for a company and an end goal that meant nothing to me. I had no specific driving passion, but many interests and knew that I wanted to work with my hands and heart. I’ve always loved candles and how they made me feel, but the more research I did, the more knowledge I gained about the candles I was burning in my home. They were packed with paraffin, dyes, black smoke, and synthetic fragrances. I hadn’t realized all the toxins I was breathing in and how unhealthy these candles actually were. I wanted to change that, and as an avid animal lover, I also somehow wanted to incorporate Louee, my rescue (from the SPCA in Montreal) into the brand. So, I decided that with every Garden State purchase, a portion of the proceeds would be donated to Tierschutz in Berlin, which is why he is the face of the brand.
LFB: What makes you love the process of making candles?
Maya: I love it all! From conception, to fragrance blending and testing, this is such a therapeutic process to me. I let nature inspire me, whether that be a plant, fruit, flower or herb – mother nature knows best. I am able to play with my creativity and offer a beautiful and good for you candle that will hopefully transport you back to a forgotten memory. That in itself is exhilarating to me.
LFB: Can you tell us a bit about your creative process? How do you pick scents, do you ever make a scent you dislike, or get the percentages wrong, etc?
Maya: I love to cook, and have always admired my dad for never following a recipe. Instead, he just knows what flavours go well with one another. Finding that perfect blend of fragrances, is like cooking in some ways. Some scents just marry perfectly together, while others can be surprisingly at odds! I let my memories and the people I love guide me in my scent choices.
My father is from Morocco, so to honour my childhood memories of my first visit to Fez and all the wonderful cookies my grandmother used to bake, I created an orange blossom fragrance, Luxe, for my autumn collection. Every time I light it, I am transported back to my childhood. This is the beauty of scents, they take you back and let you reminisce for a while.
Candles are made up of top, middle and bottom notes, once those have been chosen, I usually fragrance my candles between 5 and 6% depending on the fragrances potency. I remember once I tried making a honey and lemon scented candle, sounds nice right? Well, it simply turned out to be awful, my boyfriend came home pinching his nose, and as it turned out I had put a total of 20% fragrance! You live & learn.
LFB: Why Berlin?
Maya: Berlin is such a great city to learn, create and grow in. As a French-American, I wanted to take advantage of my dual citizenship and live in Europe for a period of time. Berlin hasoffered me the opportunity to start my very own business, thanks to its relatively low cost of living, as well as meet the growing and inspiring creative community.
LFB: What is the best part about being a small business in Berlin?
Maya: Feeling like I am not alone! There is such an amazing community of makers here, who are taking that first leap to turn their dream into a reality. I am part of the Berlin Kreativ Kollectiv, and feel so thankful to this group of inspiring women. We organize events, markets, pop-ups and workshops, bringing together the best of the Berlin creatives. It really feels like a family, where everyone is genuinely interested in helping out the other. Berlin is such a spontaneous city too, and it has enabled me to meet and collaborate with some truly amazing individuals!
LFB: What is the hardest part about being a small business in Berlin (and in general)?
Maya: Finding your groove. When you are starting your very own business, there are so many unforeseeable things that just come up. Like how often do you have to re-order your materials, how much stock should be produced, what is the shipping process, etc Establishing a proper strategy and getting organized is key! The hardest part for me is imposing that routine on myself. I decided to allocate days for computer work, production, and meetings and that has already relieved a lot of stress. When you are starting off, you want to make a name for yourself and tend to say yes to more things than you actually have time for…That’s okay as long as you stay true to your word and pull through, but having those pre-set days in your weekly calendar really help me with structure.
LFB: Can you tell us what you think about the relationship between local and corporate? Is there a way for consumers as well as producers big and small to work together?
Maya: Absolutely! I consider myself to be a small business, and I am so thankful to the retail shops that carry Garden State. I carefully select which stores I would like to be a part of, as this is essential to my brand and goes hand in hand with creating a unique and memorable experience for every client. The corporate world has introduced me to trade shows, which in turn have enabled Garden State to blossom across Europe. Our handmade candles can now be found in Berlin, Paris, Prague, Brussels, Martinique, and soon London. With the right tools, the corporate world is extremely helpful. Take for instance social media – so many connections and collaborations were made possible for me through these platforms.
LFB: What is something that many people tend to not realize when it comes to being a small business? (perhaps the price of your product in comparison to the price of candles from a giant corporation like Yankee Candles?)
Maya: For me, I really struggled with timing my supply orders. It took me a while to figure out how and when to restock on wax, fragrances, oils, jars, business cards, labels, etc… It just felt like once I ordered my jars, I would be out of wax and didn’t have enough business cards for my next market. The harsh reality of it is that you need to spend money before you can make some, which is why I had created a crowdfunding campaign. The funds of the campaign allowed me to stock up and really concentrate on the creation and production process of my candles and in turn, allowed me to ship out candles when orders came in directly. It’s so important to any business to offer a quality customer service.
LFB: How many years have you been doing what you do?
Maya: Garden State blossomed in April of 2017, but I’ve always had a passion for the arts & crafts. I gained tremendous knowledge and creativity from my experiences in set design for the theatre, and in window & store display design for Anthropologie in Washington, DC. That combined with my background in economics, allowed me to establish myself as my own entity this year.
LFB: What kind of advice do you have for people who want to start their own business
Maya: It’s easy to get discouraged – so don’t! Get organized – lay out your business plan, write out where you see your business going and be patient. Even when things start to pick up, you may self doubt or feel overwhelmed with stress, but if you allocate your time properly and believe in what you are doing – that will reflect and speak for itself. I personally compare my workload month-to-month and see where I need to spend more energy to be more efficient. Also, don’t be shy to talk to people. On the contrary, speak about your ideas and utilize that feedback, it’s extremely enlightening, helpful and before you know you will be part of such a strong community.
LFB: What kind of advice do you have for people who have already started their own business but are struggling?
Maya: There are always ups and downs in a business. If you are struggling, you need to ask yourself why and what can you do to overcome this. I would suggest you take a closer look at your strategy; who your target market is, if your branding is appropriate, if your cost is too high, do you have a social media presence, have you worked on collaborations with bloggers or other artists before, etc… There are so many channels where you can improve your business and shine! Be open to constructive criticism, be patient and remember, nothing is perfect, it’s all about adapting and changing.
Workshops: For Monthly workshops, check out Garden State Candles’ FB & eventbrite. Garden State Candles’ next workshop will be held on the 20th of January.
Photography: Rae Tilly