This Brother-Sister Team Brings Innovation to the $3.5 Billion Candle Industry
In 2019, Eva Eckerblad and David Bronkie co-founded Siblings, a sustainable candle company, to address the industry's major waste problem. Here's how they did it.
For more than 5,000 years, people all over the world have used candles to add a little light to their lives. In the United States, the slow burn in candle sales really began to ignite in the mid-1980s, with an increase of consumer interest in scented varieties. That trend continued into the 1990s, and for the first time in more than a century, agricultural chemists started to develop new types of waxes to replace the commonly used, fast-burning paraffin.
Fast forward to the present day, and candles are still enjoying a moment of massive popularity — perhaps more so than ever before. As of 2019, the candle industry was valued at a staggering $3.54 billion, and that figure is expected to grow to $6.64 billion by 2027. Like those in many industries, however, candle-sellers face a new challenge moving forward, one fueled by the purchasing power of sustainability-minded millennials and Gen Zers: how to create a high-quality, eco-conscious product that people can feel good about.
It was a challenge that Siblings co-founders Eva Eckerblad and David Bronkie (yes, they're real-life siblings too!) set out to meet in the fall of 2019.
"The U.S. is definitely focused on trends, and there's just more of a throwaway culture in general"
It all started when Eckerblad, recently returned to the U.S. after a period of living in Stockholm, noticed a remarkable difference in the way Swedes viewed the longevity of household products. "[In Sweden], people buy fewer things, things that are better, more expensive to start, but then they last forever," she says. "There's also an emphasis on buying things that are made with natural materials that will age well. Then, I came home to the states, and noticed that it wasn't quite the same. The U.S. is definitely focused on trends, and there's just more of a throwaway culture in general."
Even before Eckerblad's experience in Sweden, both she and her brother were familiar with the art of sustainable living; they and two other siblings were raised on a farm outside of Buffalo, New York, by parents who composted and reused "before it was cool." As luck would have it, when Eckerblad returned to the U.S., both she and Bronkie were ready for a change — and to make a difference. They wanted to find a project that would help tackle the problem of excessive waste.
Eckerblad had candles on her mind after her time away. "I was burning a lot of candles in Sweden," she says. "They have a long, dark winter there, and they use candles to create a nice, cozy atmosphere, kind of like the Danish concept of Hygge. So people are just making their homes nice and comfortable and cozy during those darker months, and I kind of got hooked on candles and kept up the habit when I moved back to the U.S."
"We saw this huge opportunity to create candles that are clean on multiple fronts"
Every day, consumers are left with countless empty vessels once a candle has burned down to the wick, and while the containers are technically reusable, people don't always know the best way to go about it. Millions of them are simply thrown away. Naturally, the vessels lend themselves best to their original use: holding candles. Eckerblad and Bronkie decided to make reusing them for that purpose a reality by launching Siblings, the candle company that sells beautiful, durable vessels and packages of scented wax, which can be melted in a microwave or on a stove top at home, then poured into the container.
"We saw this huge opportunity in front of us to create candles that are clean on multiple fronts," Bronkie says. "From the natural coconut wax that we're using to the non-toxic fragrance and essential oils in our bags, made of plant-based, compostable materials. The majority of candles are a paraffin wax, which is toxic and shouldn't be burned in your home anyway. And people think their empty vessels are getting recycled, but the reality is that not much actually gets recycled in the glass realm."
The first step was figuring out how they would package the product. Eckerblad and Bronkie prioritized quality so that consumers would be encouraged to reuse. "We decided we wanted to use a ceramic vessel," Eckerblad says. "We thought that if it was something handmade and really beautiful, it would be a piece you wouldn't ever dream of throwing away. And that was our goal: to create something so timeless and beautiful that you'd essentially just keep passing it down, and if you took care of it, it would become an heirloom."
But the siblings also needed to find a way to package the wax, to design a plant-based, compostable bag that would also allow users to melt and pour the product at home. "We had such a unique challenge in that we needed packaging that could withstand extreme temperature changes as well as be durable for shipping and handling, and just be functional and easy to use for the consumer," Bronkie says. "So it was the trifecta of trying to figure out what was going to work, and there's always room for improvement." Currently, Siblings' packaging is 60% compostable, with plans to make it 100% compostable by later this year. There are also plans to make their scents traceable back to the seed.
"Our candles are the same quality as an $80 Diptyque candle"
Once the packaging logistics were worked out, the co-founders faced another question: Would consumers actually get behind the whole idea? "The initial phase was just us trying to learn how people were going to interact with it," Bronkie says. "It was so new. We were giving people a bag of wax and saying, "Hey, melt this in the microwave or the stove top.'" Fortunately, they did. "People responded to it really well once they actually tried the product," Bronkie adds. "And they kind of became hooked after that."
Today, Siblings continues to spread its mission with candles that are sustainable, quality, stylish and affordable — a mark that popular designer candles frequently miss. "We won't compromise on the quality," Eckerblad says. "Our candles are the same quality as an $80 Diptyque candle." Siblings' candles begin at $24, with the limited-edition spring scent costing only $2 more.
Eckerblad and Bronkie's innovation offers a solution to a problem consumers have had for years but may have only recently started trying to solve. It almost goes without saying, though, that this kind of creativity in the sustainability space is only the beginning — as consumers continue to demand more from their products, companies will have to rise to the occasion to stay relevant.
"Siblings lives where self-care meets home care," Bronkie says. "And it's such an interesting space with endless opportunities to bring to life zero-waste essentials that return to their organic state when they reach the end of their life."
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