The scent of suc­cess

The Bearded Can­dle Mak­ers chose pas­sion over pur­pose to forge a life on their own terms

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BUSHMILLS ANSWER THE CALL -

Step into The Bearded Can­dle Mak­ers’ work­shop, and the first thing you’ll no­tice – be­fore you take in all the sur­faces clad in re­claimed wood, or spot Teddy the dog snooz­ing un­der the desk – is the smell.

It’s a com­bi­na­tion of all the scents con­cocted by founders Michael Mor­ris and Mark Kelly, from smokey turf to zingy grape­fruit and lemon, and it hits you as soon as you en­ter their stu­dio.

“If I could de­scribe it, and recre­ate it, I would,” says Mor­ris, who gave up a ca­reer in retail to pur­sue his pas­sion for in­no­va­tive aro­mas. “As the melter warms up, the smell just gets bet­ter and bet­ter – that bit of heat just seems to bring it to life.”

The workspace is lo­cated in the gar­den of Mor­ris and Kelly’s home near Down­patrick, Co Down (tucked be­hind a “mas­sive beach that no one knows about”), and rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of three years of cre­ativ­ity, de­ter­mi­na­tion and sheer graft.

Ev­ery aroma – from the cof­fee-scented can­dle in­spired by their favourite coastal café, to the spe­cially com­mis­sioned Bush­mills Black Bush can­dle, with its rich tones in­clud­ing ap­ple, honey and teak­wood – takes two or three months to per­fect.

The busi­ness has its roots in Belfast-born Mor­ris’ child­hood, when fam­ily hol­i­days spent camp­ing in the west of Ire­land in­tro­duced him to two big loves – the great out­doors and, more un­usu­ally, scent.

“It was very nat­u­ral smells, the smell of a for­est or wood­land – I just had an in­trigue for it,” says the 35-year-old.

“I’ve al­ways had a fas­ci­na­tion with how a cer­tain smell can send you back in time to a mem­ory.”

There was also the rather dis­tinc­tive scent of the VW camper van the fam­ily travelled in. “It was the smell of slightly damp old cur­tains, and toast; we were al­ways burn­ing toast ...”

In adult­hood, Mor­ris moved away from this early in­ter­est and went into steady jobs: first in com­put­ers (“I lasted two weeks. I thought, ‘I can’t do it.’”), then in retail.

“I never re­ally found my way un­til my mum gave me some old school books where I’d writ­ten sto­ries about smells. That sort of kick-started the ideal of get­ting into an in­dus­try where scent was in­volved.”

En­ter­ing the al­ready quite crowded can­dle mar­ket, Mor­ris and then-part­ner, now-fi­ancé Kelly (who jug­gles his ca­reer in in­surance with the busi­ness) saw the po­ten­tial for prod­ucts with un­usual aro­mas based on sto­ries and ideas, rather than tra­di­tional scents.

Be­fore sell­ing a sin­gle can­dle, they spent a year learning about melt­ing, pour­ing and the sci­ence of scent, and buy­ing count­less types of wax, wick, oils and con­tain­ers to per­fect their prod­uct.

They re­fused to cut corners, test­ing thou­sands of dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of wicks and us­ing soy wax from fam­ily-run, sus­tain­able soy farms.

A par­tic­u­lar hit with cus­tomers is the Real Turf Fire can­dle, which took even longer to get right than usual.

“In the end we ac­tu­ally created a way of smok­ing the wax to make it smell of turf. We still have our own scent in there, to give it a bit of a boost, but the smoky smell you get from it is real turf,” says Mor­ris.

“We run a stall in St Ge­orge’s Mar­ket in Belfast and we see the re­sponses straight­away; some peo­ple get re­ally emo­tional when they smell it. It brings back mem­o­ries of child­hood.”

A ca­reer ded­i­cated to scent has left Mor­ris with an even more height­ened sense of smell – which can have its down­sides. “It’s like a mus­cle that gets stronger and stronger. I’ve def­i­nitely no­ticed an in­crease in what I smell and pick up – it’s un­for­tu­nate when they’re spread­ing slurry in the fields!”

About ten months ago, Mor­ris de­cided to give up his day job as a retail man­ager. It was a bold move, but he in­sists he had no fear. “It was the best feel­ing ever. It felt so nat­u­ral. When the mo­men­tum is there you just have to go

The Bearded Can­dle Mak­ers, Mark Kelly and Michael Mor­ris

with it.”

It’s this drive and fo­cus on staying true to them­selves which led to the pair’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bush­mills. “When Bush­mills started out all those years ago they were do­ing their own thing, their own way, and do­ing it through pas­sion,” says Mor­ris.

“I think they recog­nised the same re­silience in us, and that we were try­ing to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

To­day, Mor­ris is work­ing harder than he ever did in his old job, with in­ter­est from stock­ists in Tokyo, New York and Aus­tralia.

But ev­ery day he makes sure to step away from his beloved workspace and take springer Teddy (a favourite with The Bearded Can­dle Mak­ers’ In­sta­gram fol­low­ers) for a brac­ing beach walk.

If there’s time, he might even head to the Mourne Moun­tains for a hike, or out west to surf at Strand­hill, County Sligo. “I choose what I do each day and live well,” says Mor­ris. “Hav­ing that choice, be­ing able to choose how to use your time is a sign of suc­cess for me.”

I choose what I do each day and live well, says Mor­ris. Hav­ing that choice, be­ing able to choose how to use your time, is a sign of suc­cess for me

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