What if you had a business dream and you were told that you wouldn’t be around long enough to see said dream come into fruition? How would that make you feel? Kere Baker, Looby Lou Candles was in this exact situation and she refused to give up, she simply worked through her pain and found the motivation she needed. Kere’s story is the stuff of true inspiration! Her strong spirit and incredible work ethic ensured that her dream wasn’t a mere dream and this is exactly why it became a reality. Let’s get to know the unstoppable force that is Kere Baker.
SO, WHO ARE YOU, LOOBYLOU?
When thinking about the premise for this blog, ideas came thick and fast. But I kept going back to: what would I want to know as a young creative wild woman? What do I wish someone had told me? Then my mind goes back to my 4th form (year 9) Art teacher, whose name I forget – but whose lesson I never will. The subject was clay, and the topic was symmetry. It was the first time my heart beat faster creating in a visual medium. I had a big idea and made an asymmetrical vase, and an incense holder (I was 14 and had really stepped into my love of fragrance by now). In my memory, the vase resembled the Dirk, one of my favourite Dinosaur Designs vessels. It was the first time I’d been early to class as I bounded in the next day. I waited impatiently while everyone received their wares fresh from the kiln.
You see friends, I had “strayed too far from the brief” and my hard work had been squashed up and put in the waste clay bin, gone forever. I was beyond livid, and freely shared my opinion at the hypocrisy of being taught that Art was about freedom of expression, and having my expression thoughtlessly discarded without my knowledge or permission. I’d have paid to fire it if given the option, it wasn’t about a pass or fail, but the option was not afforded me, and my creation that I’d poured so much love into, was treated as garbage. I was marched from that class under the proclamation of said teacher that I “lacked the discipline to succeed in any creative field.” It taught me two very important things. Firstly, people can be so wrong about you (on every level). I’m so disciplined that these days, I’ve swung way over into the OCD camp. Not even remotely kidding. I’m monitoring myself more these days, but a lack of discipline is not a term anyone who knows me would use to describe me. I both like and dislike that about myself in equal measure.
And I learned that failure was never ever going to be worse for me than the regret of never trying something new. I would never choose to not leap because of someone else’s idea of how I should express my creativity. Because on that day I believed eventually I would find my safe place to land. Why? Because I cared about that chunk of clay, like it was an extension of me. And creating something I was proud of, made my heart beat faster. And even though I’ve never worked with clay again, I learned so much about myself that day. And I’ve devoted my life to chasing that particular dragon. Candle making though, I can honestly say I didn’t see that one coming, though in hindsight I’m surprised it took me so long. I was always (and still am) a huge candle lover, and they have always been the lifeblood of my home and business.
As a retailer, I had become fatigued by the same old offerings from the ever-growing candle industry, and had become really jaded that the brands I’d long supported weren’t as ‘natural’ or ‘handmade’ as I’d believed before. It was perhaps because of this, I began looking into making candles myself in a gentle, environmentally safer and more ethical way. I wanted an actual handmade hand poured product made in single considered batches. If I were to do this I wanted every part of our business to do it’s best to ‘tread gently’ if you will.
I began my creative life with an Interior Design/Styling background, specialising in Art and Colour solutions. This was followed by a move into Retailing, then the creation of a creative studio space for all manner of Artists, designers, makers and anyone wanting to build creativity into their lives. I think you could say I’ve circled the creative industries from several different perspectives.
Loobylou (candles with conscience) was a name coined not just for our product, but the overall philosophy of the business. We are passionate about not adding any chemicals, additives, or stabilisers. We celebrate the Artistry of actual scent creation at Loobylou, and I think it’s a really big point of difference we offer our retailers. Some of our candles have as many as 11 different oils in them to get the right scent balance. We can spend many months researching and testing our product, and we look only for the best. We have 6 different oil suppliers, and 79 different oils spanning our regular ranges.
Managing inventory is often a challenge, but there’s a sense of the unique and an exclusivity that we offer that is at the very heart of Loobylou. We are genuinely motivated by a love of candles and eternally inspired by the connection between emotion and fragrance. I will forever remain that weird kid that asks strangers what perfume they are wearing, and whether or not it suits them! I still pause to smell freshly-oiled furniture, moss, cut grass, and can tell long before rain arrives due to the scent I pick up in the air. A simple hair product can still bring such nostalgia I’ll be moved to tears. That powerful link between fragrance and emotion is well documented, and it’s a sense I feel honoured to be connected to in such a profound way. Some of my best selling candles are those that initially people were very confused by the sounds of, and have since become firm favourites.
We single-pour our candles, using the same fragrance ratio through the whole candle. To be honest, I consider anything else to be really deceptive to the customer, and I was shocked recently to discover that this is a continuing practice. We need to manage the temperature balance of both the pouring room and the product really carefully because we don’t use any additives or stabilisers – we’ve got but one chance to get it right!
We recently made the change from clear jars to opaque to protect our candles from light exposure (especially for our retailers with fluorescent lighting) because we were not prepared to use the stabiliser that could stop this from happening. It was definitely a more expensive choice for us to absorb but again we’re playing the long game, and the product is worth it. Our chosen jars are also coloured from the outside, so the flame doesn’t come into contact with spray paint and release anything to pollute your environment, again another expensive choice – but we think you and your health are worth it.
I’m a huge believer in the transference of energy when a product is hand-made – it’s important to me that the person making it loved making it. In that single act, they were putting something good and beautiful into the world. I want to feel about each candle the way I felt about my clay vessels, and after each pour is set I go bounding in to the studio to see how they turned out. It is for this reason our Classic Collection feature a quote which is intended as a moment of pause for gratitude and reflection. And so the cycle of good continues in a very small, but meaningful way.
Loobylou gave me a project, and a reason. It allowed me to see a possible future, which was once entirely in doubt. It’s been written about a bit of late that the idea for Loobylou was cooked up in an isolation room of Royal North Shore Hospital. While I was making such big plans for my future, the psychologist was sent in to see me. My nurse, bless her, was concerned that I wasn’t fully aware of how sick I was, and that my future wasn’t to be assumed. Fortunately they were quickly aware this planning was an important part of my recovery.
In the background of this idea, was always to get Loobylou to a point where I could somehow give back in the future. Even back then, the idea for a range to support the Leukaemia Foundation was already sparking there in that room. I was so thrilled to get the chance to launch this range, “I am…More than this” last month at Life Instyle, where our profits from every candle go directly to the Leukaemia Foundation. While my original thoughts for Loobylou are deeply rooted in a life-affirming cancer journey, there was also a genuine need to translate my creative background into a new beginning, and a potential contribution to my family.
The first Loobylou candles were poured with my early accomplice and one of my dearest friends Emma. Initially we used recycled baby food jars from her girls, Moccona coffee jars and anything we could get our hands on while we explored the possibilities and processes. Every time we sold a candle, that meant getting something else, be it more wax, trying a different fragrance, or eventually getting actual jars! While I’ve always been the nose and creative driving force of Loobylou, Emma was the early maths and science.
My artistic mind found words like ratio, viscosity and the concept of weight vs volume more than a bit perplexing. Emma moved to New Zealand quite early in, and fortunately, my beautiful husband Adrian helps me when needed (and made me a lot of spreadsheets to help with calculations!) Plus, if you’ve ever met him at Life Instyle – you’ll know he’s in his total element there.
We believe in treading as gently as we can in every aspect of Loobylou. We will always create hand-crafted natural products. We will always believe in and celebrate the artistry and originality of candle making and our philosophy is to not offer a pre-mixed product. All our candle vessels have been designed with re-use in mind, and our workspace is finished with at least 90% reclaimed fixtures and fittings. To this day we still go as far as to recycle packing materials, and even shred phone books, which would otherwise end up in landfill.
Our aesthetic has changed a lot since the early days, until I finally realised that I was trying to be all things to all people. My background in design and art had exposed me to so many different styles and ideas, that I think I was trying to tick all the boxes. It took a very good friend (an interior designer) to remind me one day that I was in fact my target market. He pointed out that if I didn’t think it looked good in my home, how could I sell it? It was my penny dropping moment. I’d been so busy trying to please all my past clients and customers that I’d somehow forgotten to treat myself with the respect that I’d given them. After all, now I was the client, if you will. The aesthetic had to be authentic to not just my brand, but also to my personal style, and the look I wanted to build on. This was the point where things really changed too – because this was the point where I believed the packaging finally matched the quality of the candle itself.
It’s still just me doing the making (yes there is a little control freakiness going on there) with occasional helpers with the packaging and packing. I get asked often, if our products are ethically made, and people are shocked that I really do actually hand make them, fresh to order. So while I could be kinder to myself sometimes, I also get to wear what I like, sing at the top of my lungs, dress like I shouldn’t be allowed in public some days, and truly honestly love making your candles. If that counts as ethically made, then I’m all over it.
Launching for wholesale at LifeInstyle was by far one of our better choices too. Remembering here that my background was design and retail – and LifeInstyle was the only trade show I attended by choice, where I could trust the quality of the products, and had always been the platform that supported Australian made and designed the most. I knew how stringent their curating selections were – and in those early days of Loobylou, that was one of my biggest goals, to get ready for LifeInstyle. It’s a huge privilege to be filling new orders from our second Sydney show, planning new launches for Melbourne in August – and writing these words here today.
I honestly couldn’t love what I do more, and that the growth of Loobylou has been completely organic and comprised of repeat business, and word of mouth is something I’m really proud of. Anyone can sell a candle once, but when they come back – that’s when it matters most. Those customers and now friends that have been with us since the baby jar days and supported the journey, are always going to be so very special to us.
It can often appear like makers wake up one day and are just winning at life. That can often create a false expectation of overnight success stories that you compare yourself to. Every journey is different, and creative ones more so because they’re tied to a very personal part of who you are.
I’ll leave you with some wise words written by some greats gone before us. There’s another reason our Classic collection features affirmations to celebrate the moment of pause when you light your candle; because sometimes you just need someone else’s words to affirm what you already know. Sometimes, it’s like a little help from a friend, and I hope the words both above and below have felt like that to you.
So here it is, fellow makers, shakers and creators; two of my favourite quotes that propel me, my core belief system if you will.
“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.” – Aunt Frances (Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic)
“there is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky,
And you ask; “what if i fall?” oh but my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson
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