Sara-Jane Cross turned a lockdown hobby into a brand by mixing oils with soy and coconut wax
It started off with making gifts for family. Trapped at home in lockdown, Wapping resident Sara-Jane Cross decided to try a new hobby. She sent away for a kilo of wax on the internet and all the ingredients necessary to make her own scented candles, got melting and posted the finished products off.
“I made seven different ones,” said Sara-Jane. “My mum said they were amazing and that I should sell them.
“My boyfriend came up with the name – Wapping Wicks – and we started in November because I’d decided I needed to hit the festive market, which is huge for candles. I started making one called Christmas Frost in batches of six.
“There are all sorts of secret ingredients in it, lots of spices – a combination of orange, pine wood and cloves. It just smells like Christmas and it completely took off. At that stage I had no website and it was a bit out of control. I was making candles at 11pm to keep up with demand.
“I’d come home from work, do the deliveries in the pouring rain and spend the weekends making as many as I could.
“I’ve always wanted to start my own business – to be honest I didn’t know whether people would buy them, but the orders kept coming in through Instagram so I created a website when I couldn’t go north over Christmas and after that I was in a lot more control.”
Sara-Jane, who is originally from just outside Chester and moved to east London eight years ago, has spent the time since developing her range, which now includes many different scents, wedding favours and even candle-making kits for those who want to give the craft a go themselves.
“I really want to see where it goes, where I can take it,” she said. “I use soy and coconut waxes and was passionate from the start about making sure I wasn’t using paraffin.
“I feel like there’s a gap in the market for natural wax so I’m going to see what this Christmas looks like because September to
March is the sweet spot in terms of sales – generally people buy candles when it’s colder weather.”
Sara-Jane, who works in the insurance industry when she’s not making candles, uses recycled jars for her products and donates 10% of the profits she makes to charity.
“I’ve raised money for Action Medical Research and the Countess Of Chester NHS hospital where my nan passed away so I wanted to give something back to the nurses there,” she said.
“I’ve also supported local charities including East London Cares, which tackles loneliness among the elderly. People have sent their ideas in via Instagram about who we should support.”
So far, Sara-Jane’s range of products includes Pomegranate Kuro, Winter Frost, Pomelo Breeze, Velvet Peony, Rosewood and Seashore. She also produces limited editions and is always looking to develop new scents.
“A lot of the ones I’ve come up with have been based on feedback I’ve had from people,” she said.
“Seashore, which features vanilla, coconut and amber, reminds me of the seaside and being by the river in Wapping.
“I’m working on one at the moment for friends, which has peppermint and eucalyptus, and my brother has decided he’s into candles so I think there’s a bit of a male market out there – I haven’t got a masculine scent at the moment.
“It’s all about experimenting, just finding something that smells amazing.
“The black and white branding is just me – I love it – and I do a bit of art, sketches of buildings, which are all monochrome too. I’ve done some of Wapping and I definitely want to combine the candles and those images in the future.”
That’s a move that’s likely to go down well with Sara-Jane’s core customer base which has seen strong sales locally.
“Some people order 10 at a time and give them out to family, especially customers who are living in Wapping,” she said.
“A lot of my customers come back and you see orders coming from the same housing development after one person has bought some.”
With strong sales in her first year, Sara-Jane said she would ultimately love Wapping Wicks to turn into her full-time activity, but for now she’s content to keep making her candles from home.
“You have to be really precise,” she said. “You measure out the wax, the scent, which is a blend of different types of oils.
“Then you melt the wax using a bain-marie, as if you were melting chocolate, until it gets to about 65-70 degrees centigrade. You take it off the heat and wait for it to cool down to about 55 degrees and then you add the scent, stir it in and pour it into the containers you’ve prepared.
There’s a little sticker on the bottom of the wick that holds it in place and a centring piece for the top to keep it straight.
“I have to use sellotape when I’m making my bigger candles because they have three wicks.
“Then you have to let the wax set for a couple of days – I always have lots of candles standing around in my house at different stages of the process.”
Prices for Wapping Wicks candles vary, starting at £14 for Seashore or Winter Frost. A three-wick Pomelo Breeze candle costs £26.
Local customers can get 10% off their next order by returning jars to Sara-Jane for recycling.