Houston Chronicle



- By Diane Cowen

Our tables could have been set for a ladies-who-lunch affair, except that the board in front of me didn’t have a plate on it and my tablemates weren’t all women.

Centerpiec­es of beautiful faux flowers and champagne glasses let us know there would be treats. And an assembly of vessels and utensils — a small amber-brown jar, candle wick, miniature whisk, a tiny metal pitcher, clothespin and a glass beaker with fragrant essential oils — let us know there was a little bit of fun work ahead.

It was a candle-making class at Neiman Marcus on Saturday, and about a dozen of us — mostly people who were invited because they’re regular customers of the luxury store — were gathered to meet 26-year-old Maya Sriqui, who founded her Garden State Candles company a little over a year ago in her Berlin kitchen.

Her eco-friendly candles are sold on her website — gardenstat­ecandles.com — and Sriqui, who grew up attending a French private school in Washington, D.C., is traveling to various U.S. cities to conduct workshops on candle making.

Sipping champagne and nibbling on lemon tarts, chocolate truffles and chocolate chip cookies, we spent a fair amount of time smelling her array of essential oils so that we could create our own custom blends for our candles.

Sriqui studied economics at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, before launching into a series of unpaid internship­s in film production, event planning and theater design in Europe. Just for fun, she started making candles to give as gifts. Before she knew it, those friends were asking to buy them.

In two quick weeks, she raised $3,500 on Kickstarte­r and in April 2017 launched Garden State Candles. Although she bought a commercial wax-melting machine, every other step of her candle-making process is done by hand.

Additional­ly, her candles are soy based, use no dyes and use essential and botanical oils, not just because they smell good but also because they have therapeuti­c aromathera­py properties.

Sriqui’s start-up company — she said she and her boyfriend wanted to live in Europe and chose Berlin for its culture and low cost of living

— is tapping into the growing home scents industry. According to the marketing research firm NPD Group, Americans spent $80.4 million on luxury home scent products in 2017, with candle sales grabbing a 56 percent share.

Viewed more broadly — beyond the luxury market — Americans spent $3.2 billion on candles of all prices in 2015, according to the National Candle Associatio­n. Some 90 percent of candles are purchased by women, and 70 percent of households use candles at one time or another.

For Sriqui, making candles is a creative outlet that people can do for fun or to create gifts to give to friends. It’s a way to disconnect and destress, she said.

Also, she has firsthand experience that candle making is part of the growing trend of side hustles, where people with full-time jobs use their hobbies or passions to create extra income. Two people who attended her workshops in Berlin have launched their own small, candle-making businesses.

Sriqui promotes the use of soy wax because paraffin is a by-product of the petroleum-refining industry and, she said, when you burn a paraffin or paraffin-blend candle in your home or apartment, you’re releasing petrol-carbon soot into the air. Soy wax also burns more slowly; the 4-ounce candles we made should last 24 hours.

“I have always loved candles and I thought soy wax was just a trend, but it’s not. Paraffin wax has petroleum in it, and if you’re burning this in an apartment, you’re breathing all of that in,” she said. “Dyes have carcinogen­s and when you burn them … it’s toxic.”

Sriqui uses natural cotton wicks dipped in soy wax to strengthen them; other manufactur­ers, she said, treat wicks with a lead-based product that would add even more toxins to the air.

(Environmen­tal Protection Agency and South Carolina State University reports on candle usage concluded that while the products can produce pollutants that may have negative health effects, occasional paraffin candle use was unlikely to pose a health threat.)

After hot-gluing our wicks to the bottom of our jars, Sriqui gave us each a pitcher with 4 ounces of wax melted to 65 degrees Centigrade. We added our essential/ botanical oil combinatio­ns and whisked them 20 times to the left and 20 times to the right before pouring the whole mixture into our jars. A wooden clothespin was used to hold the wick upright and centered.

Getting our custom blends of oils just right was a lesson in scents. Sriqui explained the top note/heart/base combinatio­n. Top notes are what you smell immediatel­y, but that scent evaporates quickly. Top notes tend to be fresh and citrusy, compared to a middle note that’s more mellow or rounded, such as vanilla.

The heart, or middle notes, are the scents that emerge just as the top note dissipates; you’ll get to them 10 minutes or longer after a candle is lighted. The base notes are what you smell the longest; you’ll likely smell them even after the candle is extinguish­ed. Mine was a combinatio­n of blood orange, fig and vanilla.

Sriqui’s blood orange and rosemary is her signature candle and a bestseller of her summer collection. Other great scents are lavender (for stress and headache relief ), geranium and citronella (both bug repellants.)

She’s also working on a PMS candle — with chamomile, clary sage, rosemary and geranium — that she said can ease menstrual cramps.

If you doubt the ability of scents to set a mood, Sriqui cites a 2005 study in Japan — conducted by Takasago, Japan’s largest producer of fragrances, so, yes, it had a vested interest in the survey’s outcome. Those who worked on computers made 54 percent fewer typing errors when they smelled lemon, 33 percent less using jasmine and 20 percent less using lavender in the air.

Before the class was over, Sriqui also issued a few tips and safety precaution­s.

The first time you light a candle, you should let it burn until the entire surface has melted. If you don’t, wax will melt down in the center, leaving a deep tunnel without ever really melting the wax along the sides.

Each time you light your candle, snip off any burnt wick that’s left so you don’t add soot to the air. Don’t burn a candle more than two hours at a time, and never let a candle burn unattended. Safety first, of course.

 ?? Steve Gonzales photos / Houston Chronicle ?? Candle-making workshop participan­ts mix their unique fragrance at Neiman Marcus.
Steve Gonzales photos / Houston Chronicle Candle-making workshop participan­ts mix their unique fragrance at Neiman Marcus.
 ??  ?? A workshop participan­t pours his fragrant wax.
A workshop participan­t pours his fragrant wax.
 ?? Steve Gonzales photos / Houston Chronicle ?? Kathy French, left, and her daughter Kasey choose fragrances during a candle-making workshop led by Garden State Candles founder Maya Sriqui at Neiman Marcus.
Steve Gonzales photos / Houston Chronicle Kathy French, left, and her daughter Kasey choose fragrances during a candle-making workshop led by Garden State Candles founder Maya Sriqui at Neiman Marcus.
 ??  ?? Sriqui uses natural fragrances when creating her soy-based candles.
Sriqui uses natural fragrances when creating her soy-based candles.

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