Earlier this year at Life Instyle, I met one remarkable woman whose story I’ve been wanting to share with you ever since.
Kere is the founder of totally natural and ethical candles company Loobylou.
Several years ago, her life took a sudden turn, which would have knocked most people to the ground, but she used it as a catalyst to build the life she always wanted.
It’s hard to tell this story for her, so make yourself a cuppa, sit back and enjoy our chat with Kere today…
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Tell us what inspired you to begin LoobyLou candles?
“This is always a little convaluted for me because in hindsight it came from a few places,” explains Kere.
“It’s been written about a bit, that the actual idea for Loobylou happened in a hospital room, which is completely true — but I think it had been building for a while.
“I worked as an Interior Designer with several retail spaces in the Northern Beaches of Sydney for many years and throughout this time, I’d fallen hard for candles.
“I always put a lot of effort into sourcing good, and what I believed to be ethical, environmentally considerate brands. However, as I researched these candles and what they contained, I became jaded — ‘natural soy candles’ that were actually a soy blend, or finding that the fragrance did not smell all the way through, or simply becoming fatigued by the same old offerings in relation to fragrances that were available. I realised that the candle industry was not, and is still not governed by anyone. What this means, is that brands can (and do) basically state anything about their product — and the consumer believes it. Why wouldn’t they?
Suddenly Kere’s life changed course when she was diagnosed with cancer.
“I knew realistically I could no longer be an Interior Designer because it’s pretty impossible to maintain that role when you’re in isolation, juggling (even still) hospital appointments, and immuno-supressed.
“I’d always wanted to find 100% soy and ethical candles that didn’t contain stabilisers, chemical emulsifiers or any unnecessary additives, that was single pour so the fragrance load was the whole way though, and that offered transparency without the hype or deceptive marketing (it’s not scientifically possible to ‘triple scent’ a pure soy candle by the way). Equally, I wanted unique blends — not just a variation of the same pre-mixed candle by numbers scents offering which were beginning to saturate the candle market.
“So from that hospital room, I decided to leap. With no money, a grim diagnosis and nothing to lose, I became both a candle maker and a fragrance designer. I didn’t see that coming!”
That’s quite a leap to make, how did you turn your idea in to reality?
“There were a lot of physical and mental barriers to overcome to be honest. Mental barriers are the ones that make or break — and have broken me in creative ventures before.
“Loobylou felt different from the beginning though. There was something there just has allowed me to really trust the process. But it’s still daunting — there’s so much to learn! Be it graphics, websites, packaging, shipping, social media — it’s a lot.
“Because of my health, and personal situation (I’d lost everything by this point), we had no investment capabilities and Loobylou has grown at a really slow rate comparative to other ranges at this level, and has meant we’re had to learn and do a lot on our own.
“The first Loobylou candles were poured with my early cohort and one of my dearest friends Emma. We used her twins recycled baby food jars, and Moccona coffee jars, teacups from Vinnies and anything we could get our hands on while we explored the future game. Every time we sold a candle, that meant getting something else, more wax, trying a different fragrance, or eventually getting actual jars!
“It’s still just me doing the making with occasional helpers, and I’m still passionate about being a cash flow positive business. I still love doing what I do, and the growth has been organic and comprised of repeat business, and word of mouth which I’m really proud of. Those customers, and friends that have been with us since the baby jar days, and supported the journey are always going to be so special to us — and are now my trusted new product testers!”
How has the brand changed or evolved over time?
“Extraordinarily so,” says Kere. “Looking back, the wearing of so many hats confused a lot of things — but the biggest was that I didn’t initially treat myself as the customer. I was used to retailing / designing where your role is to hear ideas and translate them. With building a brand, everyone is keen to give you their thoughts and input. Coming from where I had, I tried to take them ALL on, and be all things to all people. I’m sure a lot of the ‘advice’ came from a good place, and my own lack of confidence probably dictated most of it — but it did become a little muddled and lost, and resulted in brand confusion in the beginning.
“A really good friend of mine, who is an extraordinary interior designer himself, and one of our first retailers gave me some really good advice one day. He simply reminded me, that ‘I’ in fact was my target market. And if it would look good in my living room, I could style it anywhere. This was the turning point for me, and for Loobylou. Everything was clear, I did my own graphics from that point — and I made sure I was happy with them. That in itself is fun, not coming from a graphics background — but I’m a visual thinker, and it’s ultimately been a really great decision. When I tell people I’m personally responsible for literally every single part of Loobylou, I’m seriously not kidding.”
You’ve just launched a range of new products, can you tell us more about those?
“Which ones? I’m driving Adrian crazy with additional lines,” laughs Kere.
“The Aroma Mists were first — and that was equally my idea, and from listening to my customers. I’d wanted to do it for a while, but wanted a base that was chemically non-invasive, and gentle. We had 17 different product testers testing them when we launched and feedback was amazing — especially relating to how long the fragrance last in a space. It also led us to have a second (smaller) size option for cars and handbags.
“The bath salts were next because who doesn’t love a bath? And one that is doing you so much good while you recline and recharge? One of my life’s greatest pleasures is having a bath, lighting a candle and reading a good book. I’ve got bath salts, and a candle range. Now I just need to write a book to complete my own creative trilogy!” jokes Kere.
What have been some of your biggest career highlights so far?
“Honestly, just still being here (medically and as a brand). We’re all aware that it’s a fairly saturated market — so to be still be climbing higher is really special, and never ever taken for granted. Selling one candle to someone has never counted to me as a customer, but it’s the second, third, fourth — that’s a customer — and that is so validating.
“Launching the I AM … MORE THAN THIS range, which donate profits to the Leukaemia foundation was pretty special. We’re over the 3k mark now with donations which is pretty brilliant for a sole trader with only a gorgeous boy Friday for help! The people that will be helped by that donation make me teary. Not just that, but people often send me emails, or messages on Instagram telling me that reading my story prompted them to go give blood, or go on the stem cell registry. That feels universally game changing to have been the catalyst for that kind of human generosity. And what a privilege and gift to still be here to do that — because of one of those generous human who donated their stem cells / bone marrow to me.
“Whenever someone compliments a photo I took, or graphics, or the emotional connection they had with one of my fragrances — I can’t imagine that ever not being a career highlight for me.”
Kere, let’s not forget about Loobylou’s recent Gala Award nomination in the ‘Ethical’ category at the Gift & Style awards! Huge!
Can you let us in on any goals or new products happening?
“I actually just had a meeting whereby I commissioned some samples from one of my all time favourite ceramicists/potters. I have always wanted to have a range where the candle, and the vessel are something special. All our vessels are reusable, but this guy’s work is pure art. I’m still exploring how to go about it — whether it’s a special order (giving a fragrance choice) or linked only to one of our ranges, whether it’s a retail only product for us, or feasible for wholesale.
“Loads of things still to consider — but I love the idea of a handmade candle in a handmade vessel — both made in Australia. Watch this space!”
Thank you Kere for sharing your story. I found it so inspiring when you shared it with us earlier this year and I hope that reading it today, you’re feeling a newfound sense of motivation or gratitude. Life is short, and it’s what we make of it! Be sure to check out Loobylou’s online shop for her complete range of bath salts, hand wash, ethical candles and more.