There’s something unparalleled and calming about lighting a candle and breathing in a new scent. Whether it be earthy, floral or fruity, it is one of life’s simple pleasures.
Samara & Mila Sydney makes hand poured, soy candles with beautiful scents that make you slow down and appreciate a single moment in time. With the concept of mindfulness at the centre of the brand, it’s no wonder that this label is taking off with such great momentum.
“Just the act of pausing to breathe it in makes you slow down, to clear your mind and focus inward. I want to enable people to create beautiful living spaces through pure, clean scents being supported by simple, modern design. As the scent is the focal point of bringing mindfulness, it has the ability to bring back old memories and start new ones,” explained founder Diahann (Dee) Lichaa.
The journey of Samara & Mila Sydney is an inspiring one. Starting the company in June 2015, it has been a year of growth and learning on the fly for Lichaa.
Speaking to Kochie’s Business Builder’s about the inspiration behind the brand, it is clear that the concept stems from a love for family, friendships and memories.
“One year ago I lost my best friend to breast cancer at the age of 41. I had supported her through such a brave fight in the 3 years before her death but her body could no longer fight. This is devastating at any age, but for someone so young, with a daughter the same age as mine – it broke my heart. It really made me consider all those big questions in life – what am I doing? What is meaningful to me? What is my legacy?”
Lichaa began to explore mindfulness, being present and how to bring this to life within the context of family wellbeing. She then enrolled at the International School of Colour & Design and completed her Certificate IV in Colour & Design.
“This helped me focus on the ‘what’. I am now mid way through my Diploma in Styling which is helping me to refine the ‘how’.”
Having toyed with the idea of starting a business for a while, the decision to take the leap came with a slight sense of relief, says Lichaa.
Candles were always part of her home life and she liked the way that they could evoke different moods depending on the scents.
“I use them as a focal point for how I want the energy in my home to be. I’m quite fussy about how clear the scent of a candle needs to be. I was forever rummaging through shops to try and find beautiful candles that were not only beautifully packaged but delivered a amazing scent throughout a space – be it a lounge room, bedroom, bathroom or office.”
New beginnings and new lessons
This love for candle shopping developed into market research and spurred Lichaa’s foray into her first hand-poured soy creations.
“I did a lot of A/B testing on my friends – which wick is best? What combination of scents make you feel energised, relaxed or clear-headed?”
“Then I learnt about how to make and market a product and get it out to market and how to balance the ‘hand poured’ aspect of my product with the demands of getting product shipped.”
“The most important thing was getting moving and start shipping . I could learn the rest along the way. I started making the candles at home in my kitchen and have now moved my candle making to a warehouse in Sydney.”
Finding your tribe and marketplace
From there Lichaa focussed on where to find her tribe – the customers who had an affinity with what she was trying to launch as well as the friends who had the skills to fill in the gaps.
Online has been a key marketplace for Samara & Mila.
“Most of our earlier customers came to us via social media and word-of-mouth. We sell via our own website and have also just started being stocked by an online home decor store called HART : LDN.”
“We have ‘bricks and mortar’ stockists – a small number of homeware stores. I’ve also brought on a few clients in the corporate world – companies that gift Samara & Mila candles as corporate gifts, Real Estate Agents who use them as corporate gifts and during open home inspections or used as part of a Mother’s Day Gift Box.”
Sensing your point of difference
As Lichaa’s extensive candle sampling revealed, there’s a lot of competition out there but her unique scents and approach really makes her product punch above its weight.
“I use double strength oil in my candles to ensure it lasts the full burn of the candle. I also like to mix it up and stay away from the more stock standard scents.”
“I also pride myself on using all natural ingredients and at this stage I personally hand pour, label, polish and package each individual candle along with sending a personalised note with every purchase.”
Last year’s Christmas scent ‘Falalala’ smelt of beautiful, fresh pine trees and was a complete knockout.
“This is a fairly well-stocked market so being brave is starting to be noticed. The Senior Stylist of Home Beautiful Magazine recently commented on one of my Instagram posts that ‘it is refreshing to see a variety of unique scents’.”
Beginner’s challenges and staying true to yourself
Having bootstrapped the business, it has been important to quickly and accurately resolve problems and figure what works and what doesn’t.
It was vital for Lichaa to determine what the minimum viable product was that she could ship to get revenue whilst being true to the vision of what she wanted to achieve.
“My original range was 4 different scents. I sold at markets, walked into homeware stores and called up old mates to try and pitch.”
“The first 6 months was just trying to figure out what would resonate and what would sell. I made a promise to myself not to be too precious about things that didn’t take off. I tested everything from wicks to lids to boxes I sent them in. And I always follow up for feedback.”
“But the most valuable thing is just to start. Start small and build, but just get going.”
Big things to come
Lichaa has her sights set on growth over the next few months and is constantly working to improve and test new things.
“I am passionate about the experience my brand brings to everyday lives. Such a small thing – lighting a candle, to bring you back to what’s important.”