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Archive for July, 2012

You know I’m an old fashioned kind of gal… and whilst that doesn’t extend to burning kerosene in a lamp, I’ve always been a little partial to that look.

I’ve also been looking for years for a holder that would provide wind protection for our tapers (which are one of my favourite candles to burn).  Perfect for outdoor light, bedside light, electricity outages or romantic evenings these Lampe Lights are something special. [Apologies for the pink tinge to the photograph – i can’t work out how to fix it!]

Lampe Light

With the 20cm tapers a little too tall, we’ve also created brand new 12cm taper candles which come in a bundle of 10.

12cm beeswax taper candles

And they’re a little bit gorgeous for all sorts of things… I did a little testing this week in a Wee Willie Winkie.

Wee willie winkie with 12cm taper

And just to finish things off with more pink tinged photographic work, here’s the taper a little burned down in the Lampe Light holder.  The (very neat and gorgeous) drippage at the base is because I was carrying it around to performance test it.  Neat drippage gets a big tick from me.  Prefer not to carry it around though and prefer no drips!

Just to finish off with a pink tinge

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From my perspective addressing sustainability and ethical issues in business is about addressing every single little thing that you CAN control, rather than throwing in the towel because of things that you can’t.

From a business ethics perspective the bottom line for me is that I have a very broad definition of who the ‘shareholders’ of Queen B are.  If you look at our company register, the sole shareholder is me.  However, I consider the shareholders to be our worker bees (staff), our beekeepers, the myriad of other Australian companies that we buy from and our customers whose lives we light.  Where a listed company may make decisions that are completely contrary to the best interests of their workers or growers on the basis that it is in the best interests of their shareholders, I don’t. Happy workers are my shareholders. Financially viable beekeepers are my shareholders. And where most companies simply focus on cutting costs by sourcing goods cheaper (typically overseas), I don’t.  Australian manufacturers and suppliers are my shareholders.

It’s definitely a fine line to walk and often not the easiest option. With our customers as a shareholder, we haven’t put our prices up at Queen B in over 5 years and yet all of our costs have risen. We may make less per candle, but my philosophy is that so long as we keep growing, we are able to support the rising costs. Happy customers with lives that can be candlelit affordably are our shareholders – and having never spent even $1 on advertising, our customers are also our greatest advocates.

To be honest, issues of sustainability, supporting local businesses & toxicity have been front of mind since Queen B was just a twinkle. It was my original driver behind the choice to make candles from pure Australian beeswax only.

There are lots of things that I can’t control at Queen B, here are a few that I can…

Beeswax

Our single biggest input is obviously beeswax. We only use 100% pure Australian beeswax – sourced predominantly from NSW beekeepers. Australian beeswax is about the most expensive beeswax in the world. Obviously we could import it far cheaper from China (and it was a no-brainer to say no to that). We could also get it around 30% cheaper from New Zealand. It’s less easy to say no to that.  I am sure that the vast majority of our customers would not have an issue with New Zealand beeswax (and nor do I in principle), but I would far rather support Australian beekeepers and regional communities. By buying local beeswax, not only do I help pay the wages of our beekeepers and their workers, but they then spend their money in the local community so we support those wages too. It has a money multiplier effect.  Every dollar that we spend with our beekeepers helps to keep Australia’s regional communities viable.

Cleaning Wax

In the first instance I just ensure that we buy clean wax. While this may seem obvious and simple, the vast majority of beeswax candles are made with wax that is dirty. You can read more about it in my post – Why the White Wax Queenie? We took this a step further because a lot of white beeswax is simply bleached which chemicals. We don’t use chemicals at Queen B and clean our wax over 48 hours ‘washing’ it with water and filtering it through a 300 micron filter.  It sounds simple, and yet it was years in the learning.  It is an exacting science to not waterlog or scald beeswax.Wicks & Other Additives

We only use 100% pure cotton wicks at Queen B rejecting any wick with a ‘core’ – be that zinc, paper, cotton or otherwise. We don’t use those silly wood wicks for obvious reasons. We don’t add scents to our candles (be they fragrant oils or essential oils) because combusting an oil creates toxic emissions. We don’t add colouring to our wax for the same reason. For more information on the paint we use to decorate our rolled pillars see the post – The Million Dollar Question.

Candle-making by Hand

I choose very consciously to continue making every Queen B candle by hand.

Most other companies our size have long since moved to mechanised production, but I choose to create the jobs created by hand-pouring, hand-rolling and individually painting every Queen B candle and I genuinely believe that a product made by a human being is far superior to one made by machinery. Not sure how hippy you want to get about it, but I think it creates consciousness in every candle.

 

Packaging

We have 3 different types of packaging at Queen B – printed packaging, sinamay bags and cardboard tubes.

All of our printing is done in Sydney by a family owned, ISO 14001 certified environmental printer. Our printing is done with non-toxic, soy based inks. We use a combination of recycled and FSC certified card. Recycled primarily from the early days before I understood the chemicals and energy requirements of recycling paper. More recently Australian sourced FSC Certified card.

Another range of packaging is made from sinamay which is a waste product from harvesting banana’s. Sinamay is natural and 100% biodegradable.

When we launched our new range of Australian made metal candleholders, I had a vision of them being packaged in cardboard tubes. Fifteen calls to Australian manufacturers later all I had was a series of “no, too hard” conversations. On the sixteenth phone call I got quite shitty and gave the guy a piece of my mind about manufacturers whining about production being done in China whilst saying no to someone wanting something made here, and VOILA. We had a meeting of minds! It required 2 engineering companies to get it to work, but I couldn’t be prouder of our beautiful cardboard tube packaging and we now have a packaging capability in Australia that simply didn’t exist until we fought for it.

Shipping
There’s lots to this one.  Firstly, the biggie, we use Australia Post for most of our shipping because they have trucks going everywhere in Australia anyway.  Hence the carbon footprint we create by sending a parcel is negligible.

In terms of packing materials, we reuse all packaging that comes into Queen B (even bubble wrap and things we have never bought in the almost 10 years we’ve been in existence).  When we purchase boxes, we purchase boxes that are made in

Australia (they’re quite hard to find (look at the photo for a tip) and unfortunately significantly more expensive than imported boxes).  For larger boxes, we purchase second hand boxes.

We use biodegradable corn flour packing foam in our smaller parcels (which disintegrates in water or can be added to compost) and have roped some of our neighbours in to shredding and then giving us their shredded paper!

Candleholders
When we were trying to source Wee Willie Winkie candleholders, we couldn’t find any that were Australian made. So, we found a local foundry and worked with them.  The difference between the our Australian made ones and the overseas made ones are absolutely noticeable.  To me, its a no brainer.  The thing I love is that when something is well made, it has longevity.  I can guarantee you that Queen B candleholders will be prized items from antique stores in 100 years!

Same goes for our Bee Light holders – they are all made locally by a metal turner. They may cost more (both the holders and the packaging are expensive), BUT every one that we sell doesn’t just line my pockets (and someone’s pockets overseas).  We earn less ourselves but support other Australian manufacturers and help to keep those skills alive in Australia.  Honestly, that’s what rocks my boat.  In fact his father came into the hive today with his girlfriend (both in their late 70’s) and he told me that he had used Queen B candles to seduce her!  Can’t put a value on that.

Community

Being part of a community is in many ways my lifeblood. I am very blessed (and blown away) to have a group of (primarily) women who do all of the packing at Queen B on a volunteer basis. I can say hand on heart that there is no way that Queen B would be in existence were it not for their generosity and support.

I have an immediate community of other locals and foster that with “slow cooker Thursdays” (lunch) in winter.  And I love being a part of the broader beekeeping community and have volunteered for many years on the Honey Stand at the Royal Easter Show.  And of course every second year we bring together some of the Queen B community with our Hive Warming parties!

Charity

This is an interesting one because in many ways Queen B is run as a charity in that it has never really been overly profitable. Having said that, I’d obviously love it to be. We are inundated with requests for free product and my approach is that nothing worthwhile in life is free. Our bees work diligently to make the wax. Our beekeepers work extraordinarily hard to collect that wax and we work long hours to create Queen B candles. They are costly to make and worth paying for. The exception to that rule is causes to do with depression and anxiety which we support because I feel strongly about them and because they aren’t ‘sexy’ generally struggle to garner support.

In summary, I guess for me it is all about being accountable.  I try to make conscious decisions that will make a difference to as many people as possible.  If I’m going to spend a dollar, I would like it to benefit more than just me.  Love that money multiplier!  These things have a ripple effect, but ultimately have to start somewhere.

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Oh if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question!

A little history first – and I’ll be quick.  Way back when, in the days when Queen B was still just a sparkle in my eye, I took up candle-making as a hobby (or therapy to treat anxiety).  I took up painting at the same time (and carpentry!).  It occurred to me that it would be great to be able to modernise the look of beeswax candles – to use the beeswax as a canvas.  However, most paints are toxic, and generally paint won’t ‘stick’ to beeswax with any sort of longevity.  It may stick for a while, but then it peels off… or seeps into the wax.  We didn’t want peeling off, and we didn’t want seepage because ultimately when that wax is melted and drawn up the wick (to fuel the flame), the colouring is then combusted and you then breathe that in.  [Just for the record, that is also why you won’t find any coloured – or fragranced – beeswax candles from Queen B]

Long story short, about 18 months of R&D later, we came up with our formula.  Our pigments are sourced from an Australian company (no surprises there) that has been in business for over 50 years.  As they also provide pigments for children’s finger paint, their products are independently tested and certified heavy metal free every 3 years.  They have never failed certification.

We are aware of a ‘competitor’ making all sorts of claims otherwise about our candles.   It’s very sad that this is the case . Please do not be misled by this deceptive conduct (and if you have been, please pop me a note). While I consider the benefits of legal action versus unnecessary cost,  I will continue to run Queen B with the integrity and thoroughness of research that is our hallmark and to hope that consumers will find this information and will trust not just what we say, but the feedback of our customers over the years. It would be completely incongruous given everything we do and stand for, for me to put a toxic paint on our candles.

On another note, just in terms of how the decoration works when your candle is burning… when burned in an indoor environment with a centred wick, our candles are designed so that the outside layer remains (creating a lantern effect).  If burned in an environment where there is a breeze, you will get a larger flame and the outside layer may melt, HOWEVER, our clever formulation means that the decoration simply sits, inert, in the pool of wax.  The colour does not leach out of the paint.  And contrary to what is stated on our competitors website, it is impossible and against the laws of physics for the wick to draw up solid paint and therefore also impossible for it to be combusted.

Sadly, I know that this misleading information is influencing people.  I get the emails.  I get the phone calls.  Our retailers call me telling me that they have received a call from this guy and that he has told them that by stocking our candles they are responsible for birth deformities.  If it weren’t so serious, it would be completely laughable.  Some days it really gets to me, but other days I am reminded of all the epiphanies I’ve had and that the world is a beautiful place, full of wonderful people and that if I just continue to live each day with integrity that somehow this will work itself out.

Phew… it’s actually good to have that out there.  I’ve been putting it off because I am REALLY OVER NEGATIVITY but at the same time knowing that I have to do something because it is affecting us.  So, we clear the slate.  State the facts.  And now we’ll just get on with lighting special moments, one drop of bee created wax at a time.

Cate x

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I’ve heard in the past that a goldfish has a 7 second memory… and I was struck this week, time and again, by the same lessons.  Lessons that I’ve learned in the past but ones that hit me like epiphanies again this week.

On Thursday I flew to Melbourne for a funeral.  A friend drove an hour to the airport to pick me up and then another hour out of Melbourne to the funeral.  I arrived to a cascade of hugs (or is it a muddle of hugs, or a congregation of hugs, or a flock of hugs?).  There’s a lot of magic in a hug.  I was among friends… all there supporting a friend.  After the service as the hearse drove away I was quietly observing the scene.  I had a moment of enlightenment.  When you strip everything else away, all you’re left with is your friends.  The lives you’ve moulded.  The lives you’ve touched.  The people you have loved and who have loved you back.  And yet very little of what consumes my mind space daily  boils down to those simple facts.

Hugging annuals

Bunches of hugs

As if that weren’t enough of a gentle kick up the backside, I got an email the next day with this

I know this stuff.  I’ve read it.  Sometimes I even live it.  [I’ve bought the poster as a reminder.] I love my job.  Quitting is not in my dictionary.  I definitely over analyse.  I rarely think life is simple… and yet I have moments when I remember it is.  I am truly blessed to have met some wonderful people and to have created some wonderful things with them.  I am definitely living my dream.  I try every day to share my passion – not just for beeswax candles, but for bees, beekeepers, cooking, talented friends, my family, Australian made, the planet, travel and living each day with integrity (whether I get it right or not).

An epiphany is a blessing and a challenge.  A blessing when it changes the way we live, even if for only fleeting moments here and there.  A challenge to live up to.  And the wonderful thing about living like a goldfish is that I get to have the same ones again and again and to be freshly winded by their brilliance every time.

Thanks for being on the journey with me and for allowing me to travel your journey with you… even if just for this moment.

Cate x

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