Brooklyn continues to be an ever-inspiring source of Maker energy. On a crisp morning, in the burgeoning Industry City area of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, we visited the space of Tamara Mayne's, Brooklyn Candle Studio. In her light-filled space, we chatted about the importance of community, the inspiration of long dewy hikes, and the source of her candle concepts.
Nativen: First off, where are you from?
Tamara: I'm from Virginia. I was born in California, in San Diego, and then I grew up in Northern Virginia, right outside of DC. I went to college at the University of Virginia. I was in Virginia for most of my life, and then I moved up here to New York.
Nativen: Do you think growing up in Virginia influenced your choice to start making candles?
Tamara: I think that it wasn't really a choice. It was an organic process.
Tamara: I didn't make any candles when I was younger. I was always artistic and I think that was the whole impetus for this.
I got a kit from Michael's. I started making them as gifts... I have a really big family in California, and it's really hard to have to buy gifts for everyone. Candles are a very universal thing, and people always appreciate it.
Nativen: It feels personal, too, because there's love that goes into it. There's a very specific smell. Then when you burn it, it reminds you of that person.
Tamara: It has a very heirloom type quality.
So, I got a kit, and it was like total mayhem. At the time, I was in my studio apartment in the lower east side. It was tiny. I didn't know where to get jars for a decent price. I hadn't learned about this whole buying wholesale thing.
I went to Trader Joe's. I bought 24 tomato sauces in jars and poured them out in zip lock bags and soaked them in my tub to take the labels off. It was just a disaster.
From there… I got really into it.
I'm a very obsessive person. If I get into something, I get into it. Once I got the hang of it and once I perfected the whole process, I was like, "I'm just going to keep going."
I was experimenting with scents and wax temperature and everything, and trying to get the candles right.
Tamara: At the time, I was working as a graphic designer or director in fashion. That was my whole shtick. I was designing labels just for fun for the candles.
Then I posted a shop on Etsy, just to test it out. From there, it was like this snowball effect. Etsy featured me on email. All this stuff started happening. People started discovering me. A lot of stores were asking about wholesale from me. I was like, "I'm making 12 candles total."
I was just learning as I went. After a while, I was like, "I can make a living out of this." I got this 1,100 candle order from this subscription box service a year ago in February. It was like, "You know what, I'm just going to quit my job and see where this goes." It's been a year.
I'm doing it full‑time. I've been doing it full‑time since August.
Nativen: That's very exciting. Congratulations. It's a great way to grow.
Tamara: It's awesome. [laughs] Thank you.
Nativen: You've lived in New York for a while. What do you love most about Brooklyn? How do you think that's integral to the work that you're doing here?
Tamara: I just love the creative energy and, I guess, the hunt for authenticity in Brooklyn. Everyone, I think, wants whatever they purchase or whatever they eat to be real and local. It's almost laughable. People make fun of it all the time, the whole artisanal scene, but I think there is something to it. You want something that has a story and something that has a process.
Around this area right now, there's a really great entrepreneurial energy. Just people starting things and going on their own.
Nativen: The artisans movement, the locavore movement that's happening in Brooklyn, I think people laugh about it, because it seems like one of those fleeting trend things; but it really does feel like a movement. It feels like a reaction to the way that branding has developed over the last 20 years. People actually want something that means something.
Tamara: There are just so many disposable products out there, just too much stuff. I think about it and I'm like, "I'm kind of part of this,” but I try it as much as possible to use stuff that will be reused, like the mason jars, that people use as drinking glasses. The wax is sustainable. I try as much as possible to not create a negative impact in the environment.
Nativen: Yeah… In Brooklyn, what's your favorite restaurant?
Tamara: If I could eat somewhere every day I’d say, Good Fork, which is in Red Hook. It's what Steve, my husband, and I really love about Brooklyn. It's this mix of cultures and they’ve created something totally new out of it. The atmosphere is really great. I love Red Hook, it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Nativen: It's like one of the last neighborhoody frontiers in Brooklyn just because it's not accessible to public transportation in the same way, I think people there still get to feel more like, "We're a good old fashioned community.
Tamara: It's not going to stay that way for long? [laughs]
Nativen: Definitely not. Do you have a favorite home goods store in Brooklyn?
Tamara: On Smith Street, there's this store called ‘By Brooklyn.’ It's right on Smith and Degraw. There’s always awesome stuff, and it’s all made in Brooklyn.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite clothing store here?
Tamara: I would say Beacon's Closet in Williamsburg.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?
Tamara: I would say my favorite park in New York and Brooklyn is Prospect Park. It's a lot more naturey, I feel like, than Central Park.
Nativen: Definitely. It feels like a refuge from the city. Do you have a hidden gem in Brooklyn?
Tamara: Yes. There's this place. It's a couple of blocks away from our house. It's called Black Mountain Wine House. I love it. It's so cozy.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in Brooklyn?
Tamara: It's just the general inspiration. I feel like seeing stuff that other people do, meeting other people, talking to other people, it's all combined. It's inspiring and the impetus for the packaging for the scents, for the whole business. It's just the air. [laughs]
Nativen: Yeah, an inspiring...
Tamara: Brooklyn Air.
Nativen: That's definitely one of the blessings about being in Brooklyn. It's just being surrounded by all of that and using it as a fuel to keep growing.
Tamara: It's fun to get out there. If I need to clear my head and get inspired, I'll just walk down, browse in the shops and just walk around the neighborhood.
I'll come back and feel completely energized and inspired. Full of ideas. It just attracts that type of thing
Nativen: It's contagious here.
Do you have a favorite candle that you've made so far?
Tamara: I would say I really like this guy.
Fern and Moss is a mix of this oak moss and spruce and a few other things…
Nativen: It's really fresh. It has a sweetness to it, but it’s not cloying. It just gives that fresh edge in a really warm and lovely way.
Tamara: The label is a vintage engraving of ferns. I use a lot of botanical vintage engravings that I source from archives. This one was actually sourced for something for my husband and I's wedding, which was in August.
The scent is inspired by this hike that we did in Northern California. We were on a road trip with my brother‑in‑law and his wife. It was this beautiful hike: rainy and dewy, but Fern Valley… I think like Jurassic Park or something was filmed there, or something was filmed there. There are ferns everywhere. There was this beautiful waterfall. It was just an awesome place, so fresh and beautiful.
Montana Forest is probably my other favorite just because my husband and I got married in Montana. It's funny, because these are inspired by places that aren't Brooklyn, but at the same time, I feel like it's like this mix of things.
Nativen: It's bringing your world to you. It's so beautiful that each of your candles has a correlation and a story that relates to your life, and that's what makes it so personal. You can tell, when you smell a really beautiful candle, it's coming from a place of love.
Tamara: Yeah… It's not like we came up with this in a ward room with droppers, testing stuff out. [laughs]
Nativen: Smell is one of those really beautiful scense‑memory correlations that to be able to do that with a candle and have it for you. It's like you're archiving your history through the scent, which is so beautiful.
Tamara: It's very cool.
Nativen: It's a great way to catalog the story. What part of the process brings you the most joy?
Tamara: It's hard to say. I would probably say the entire process is very meditative for me. When I was working as a designer, I was in front of the computer all day. It was creative but at the same time we're like, eyes are straining and you're sedentary. I would say I really love the mixing and pouring process.
To me, that's where everything culminates. Everything from wicking to pouring to mixing to cutting the wick to labeling, it's all a production process. I don't really think of it as so. Seeing the wax pour out, it's very peaceful. You play music and I take off my shoes and I'm just sashaying around.
It's pretty awesome. Also, I really love designing new products, coming up with new concepts for packaging and lines.
I still need to be doing that stuff, creating things, coming up with stuff.
Nativen: It sounds like you've met a good business match for yourself. You've got a little bit of the Zen, and still so much of the creativity. You are conveying a really beautiful story, and so you get to do that for yourself now through your design and stuff, too, which is great.
What part of the process do you think is the greatest struggle for you?
Tamara: It's working on customer service. Number one. Because I'm so sensitive, and when people don't like a scent...It happens sometimes, because people order them online, and they don't always love stuff.
I take it to heart all the time, but you’ve just got to let go. That part's very, very hard for me, and I'm still learning.
Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do, but haven't done yet?
Tamara: Travel the world. [laughter] There are a lot of places that I want to travel to. But my husband and I are going to Greece and Turkey this year. We're taking our honeymoon.
Nativen: That's exciting.
Tamara: Yes, so that's really big. I want to go to Asia. I want to go to India. I want to go all over the place. That's the one thing about...what was a big impetus for starting this business working for myself is being able to travel.
Nativen: If you weren't making candles, what do you think you'd be doing?
Tamara: Probably art direction, photography, styling, a lot of what I am doing for this company. But I would be doing that, probably, or starting another new, different business.
I would always be an entrepreneur, no matter what. If I wasn’t doing candles, it would be something else.
Nativen: Yes. I think once you get the bug, it's hard to go back.
I don't know if you listen to music when you work, but do you have a song that's on heavy rotation at the moment?
Tamara: Yeah. I listen to Haim right now.
Nativen: What are three words that you would use to sum up your work?
Tamara: Nostalgia, Craftsmanship, Aroma
Nativen: Is there anything that you do with your work to specifically connect with your community?
Tamara: I've donated a few gift boxes to different charity events. I haven't been able to do a lot just because I’m so small right now, but I do that from time to time.I also participated in the Red Hook Maker's Market a few months ago, and that was a cool thing for the Red Hook community.
Nativen: It's great to be participating with other artists, and building awareness within your community and getting people excited about that.
What's the most helpful advice you've received, or what advice would you offer to creative's that are looking to start their own thing?
Tamara: I got some pretty good advice, actually. I would say this is probably a compendium of advice. But when I quit my job, I was reading "The Icarus Deception" by Seth Godin. It was just about how the Internet has taught a lot of young creatives to leverage, and take advantage of the marketplace and go global, and not have to be sitting at a desk all day, and not having to be at the mercy of a corporation.
It allows us all to be a lot more entrepreneurial, because we have this huge advantage of being able to reach people globally, and being able to be equals to big companies. Because we have all the resources, especially as designers.
I would say, all designers or creatives have the power to do this. There are tons of resources. You just have to be resourceful and just keep at it.
Nativen: Do you have a hero, or someone who's helped influence your work really largely?
Tamara: I would say my hero now is my husband. Because he's been so helpful, and so supportive, and just really helped me get through these rough patches. It's been really great!
Nativen: What are five objects you can't live without?
Tamara: [laughs] Let's see. I don't want to say my phone, but I’ve become a little bit more addicted to my iPhone.
I would say my DSLR camera. I love it so much. I bought it refurbished online. I always have that with me when I'm travelling.
My sketch book or my file-o-fax, which also doubles as my sketchbook and it's embarrassing.
It’s like the old school file boxes falling apart. If I don't write in it, it's not going to happen. I tried to use my iPhone for a while to do all my planner type stuff. I just didn't do any of it.
Kind bars. [laughs] I always have Kind bars.
And my candle [laughter] I actually carry a travel one of these little guys, it gives me cuddle times.
Nativen: It's good. It's carrying your story through...
Tamara: Just in case. [laughs]
Nativen: Emergency fragrance situation.
Check out Tamara's candles here.
Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler
This interview has been condensed & edited
all images copywright of Nativen