Let’s Not “Mass Produce” Handcrafted Candles

How many of us have been told something like, “These candles are really expensive! I pay this much at Bath and Body Works”. The message we hear, and sadly accept, is that our candles are not as good as mass produced candles and, therefore, worth less money. The reality is the potential client in front of you is wholly uneducated on the subject of handcrafted versus mass produced, and you’ve just walked into a golden opportunity to educate them. But hold on, how can you educate them if you believe their statement to be true? Well, you can’t. Not yet anyway, but by the end of this article you will have plenty of ammunition and a newfound confidence in your craft and your brand.

How are mass produced candles different from handcrafted candles? Mass producing anything requires a formula that is exactly the same every single time. This can be a positive, as it can ensure consistent quality, and it can be a negative in that everything is always exactly the same. Mass production requires workers to do the same job, in repetition, all day long, frequently for a very low wage; what Marx called the ‘cog in a wheel’. Mass production can also require that the cost of goods to make the item be as low as possible, thus lowering the overall quality of the finished product. So in the end, we've got a product that leaves no room for creativity, that is low quality, and requires repetitive work. Many potential customers may have heard that handcrafted is better than mass produced, yet they have no idea why, and as a result, can’t see the benefit of paying more for a handcrafted item. Take a moment and really think about what mass production is. Better yet, go on YouTube and look at videos of candles made this way. Watch the process of mass production, and ask yourself, “should human beings live like this so we can buy two-dollar t-shirts at Walmart?”. If you feel at all unclear or insecure explaining the benefit of handcrafted candles to your clients, I implore you to think about your own feelings on mass production. When you’re clear about your own values, you will be able to make your case for handcrafted goods to anyone in a confident and concise manner.

When it comes to ingredient transparency, handcrafted candles beat mass produced every time. Companies that mass produce candles don’t want their customers to know what is in them. Yankee Candle or White Barn have no obligation to disclose the contents of their candles to the general public. Although White Barn’s “Island Margarita” label says ‘made with essential oils’, we all know that there is no essential oil that smells like a margarita. It likely has a very small amount of ‘an’ essential oil in it somewhere, but the intentional message to their customers is ‘this is an essential oil candle’, when clearly it is not. Conversely, you, as a maker, want your clients to know all of the wonderful, ethically sourced, phalate-free, natural ingredients in your candle. When your clients buy a candle from you, they know exactly what is in it. They get to decide what chemicals their families are, or are not, exposed to. You are empowering the consumer by your commitment to ethical labeling. The difference is transparency, and you’ve got them beat every single time.

Your clients know who made their candle. Think about this for a moment---you made that! The candle they are holding in their hand and smelling was once in your hands while you created it. Your candle comes with the knowledge of its authenticity. Your client got to meet the maker of their candle. Isn’t that something? How many objects do you own that you can say that about? Whether the answer is ‘a lot’ or ‘not many’, I’ll bet you value each one of them. I collect unique, ceramic handmade bowls and I can tell anyone who asks why they are so much better than a bowl from Williams Sonoma. I can also tell you all about the person who made it or the mission of the company. This one-degree-of-separation is a huge advantage of the handcrafted movement, and something mass production cannot offer.

Here’s an interesting fact many of your clients questioning the value of a handcrafted candle may not know: many candles available at big box stores are made in factories overseas. In this case, we have a situation where there is even less control over, and knowledge of, the candle’s ingredients. We can assume that our idea of fair labor practices are not followed, and the carbon footprint of shipping these candles around the globe is substantial. These candles are of poor quality, they are cheap, unethically sourced, and they are disposable. Does this sound at all like what you make?

Handcrafted goods keep craftsmanship alive. In the age of automation, we have to ask ourselves, is there value in crafting something by hand? Not everything needs to be handmade, but not everything should be made by machine either. Just because we can make something using a machine doesn’t mean we necessarily ought to. Should the art that hangs in galleries be made by machine? Obviously not, and neither should a beautiful candle. Some objects deserve to be handmade because they require the art and expertise of a craftswoman. One of my favorite chairs is the Adirondack. I love everything about this chair: the style, the feel, the comfort, and the aesthetic. Cheap, machine-made versions are everywhere, but a handcrafted Adirondack is a thing of beauty, a lot more expensive, and worth every penny.

Handcrafted goods are cherished. When we purchase something we know was made by a human, when we get a little piece of the story behind the object, or even get to meet or talk with the maker, we value the object so much more than something mass produced. Living in a modern society requires us to fight not to fall into the ‘everything is disposable’ lifestyle that plagues our lives. Your handcrafted candle is the opposite of disposable or dismissible. You are reducing the waste we create by offering to refill your client’s candle jars, (for a price, of course), because your candles are recyclable. Can you imagine walking into White Barn with your empty candle jar and saying, “fill ‘er up”? Imagine the looks you would get!

And lastly, let’s not forget the most important reason to buy handcrafted---it’s quite simply a better product. The candle you make is head-and-shoulders above any mass produced candle in terms of quality. From the high quality wax you use, to the unique, (or perhaps blended by you!), fragrance oil you use, and the exclusive candle glass you pour into, your finished product is the obvious winner.

Many of our potential clients say negative things about handcrafted candles, and it’s almost always about the price. Rather than assuming the would-be client has made up their mind, take the opportunity to educate them. The old adage, “never attribute to malice what can be attributed to ignorance” is especially true in this case. Always assume that the person isn’t aware of the benefit of handcrafted candles and take the opportunity to kindly educate them. If you present the case for handcrafted candles and get buy-in from them, the natural conclusion is that the handcrafted candle is worth more money. In fact, you don’t even need to draw that conclusion for them; show them the value and they arrive at this conclusion without any further help. Your beautiful, quality product can speak for itself, but sometimes needs a bit of assistance from you!

July 03, 2020 — Vanessa McGee