San Francisco, California
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Geometric candles, wall art, and other home decor
Co-founders Greg Perkins and Evgenia Valieva are using 3D printing to revolutionize the luxury candle market.
Ocean mist. Fresh grass. Rainwater. Sea salt and orchid. Rose musk. Applejack and orange peel. The names alone are enough to evoke vivid reveries and are just a few of the more than a dozen scents in which Embla candles are available.
"We love the ambiance a candle brings to a room," Perkins says of the inspiration behind Embla's flagship product. "In France, a lot of people put a candle right inside their door so they can walk in and be transported. We were fascinated with that philosophy."
Using his background in 3D modeling and drawing upon his love of modern art and architecture, Perkins uses Formlabs desktop 3D printers to create geometric candle shapes out of plastic in his 500-square-foot workspace in San Francisco's Mission District.
"We then mold that shape and fill the molds with 100 percent beeswax," Perkins explains. "Printing the 3D shape can take up to nine hours. It has to be cleaned up by hand before we create the mold."
Once the molds are filled, the Embla team freezes the candles to speed up the curing time and lock in the fragrance. "With our industrial freezer, we can cure a candle in as little as 15 minutes, or 40 minutes for the largest candle," Perkins says. Standard beeswax candles traditionally require 24 hours to cure.
Additional time is spent perfecting the finished geometric candle by hand. "You have to clean them up with an X-ACTO knife to take any imperfections off," Perkins continues. "That can take 20 to 30 minutes per candle."
The company sources its beeswax locally from family-owned beekeepers. "Our fragrances come from Grasse, a small town in France," Perkins adds. "It's considered to be the perfume capital of the world."
Embla ships 3,000 candles annually and donates 10 percent of each sale to San Francisco's Planet Bee Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to inspiring environmental stewardship by teaching students about honeybees.
So far in 2019, the company's revenues have tripled from the previous year, thanks in large part to Embla's target demographic of Millennials. "They're drawn to our vibrant fragrances and usually flock to the colorful displays [at local pop-ups], which are very Instagramable," Perkins says.
In addition to occasional pop-up shops around San Francisco, which Perkins notes are "really good for building brand recognition, interacting with people, and gathering data," Embla candles are available through the company's website.
"We include Embla tokens with each candle," Perkins says. "They're little metal pieces pressed into the bottom by hand. When our customers collect five of these tokens, they can send them back with a free shipping label from our website. We get to recycle those tokens and the customer receives a free candle in return."
"We're excited to bring something to market that hasn't been done before," Perkins continues. "There's a need for unique luxury candles made from premium ingredients, but in the past, these candles were always in a vessel. Ours aren't, and on the thank you note inside each box, it says, 'Congratulations on thinking outside the jar.'"
Challenges: "Our biggest challenge is the same as that of many San Francisco small businesses," Perkins says. "The price of real estate here is skyrocketing. Fortunately, we're very happy with where we are right now in the Mission District." He notes that Embla has no intention of moving in the near future unless they happen to find a larger space that's also affordable.
Opportunities: Perkins says he's working on expanding Embla's product offerings. "So far, we're having some good luck with wall art," he adds. "We see a great opportunity in pretty much any home décor you can think of."
Needs: "We're in a great place right now," Perkins says. "We'll expand and get more employees and equipment as we earn it. We want to take things step by step and grow organically as opposed to looking for outside funding."