So, you’ve got this idea for a business with one of your best friends? Sounds good, right? And, according to Sarah Slade and Naomi Reilly, the founders of luxe candle brand Seven Seventeen, it really is. Oh, and all about timing, hard graft, late night phone calls and DIY delivery.
It’s no secret that we love candles. I have them in every room of the house (bar my children’s). And, yes, there’s a glut of them available – but there’s definitely room for more. Especially when they’re UK-produced, made from natural plant wax and – here’s the best bit – luxurious but affordable (in a world where candles can tip the £50 mark). At Seven Seventeen, candles cost from just £14. Which means the difficulty is: which ones to choose? I fancy Lime Basil and Mandarin for my desk, Moroccan Rose for my bedroom, and then Black Pomegranate or Wild Fig and Grape for when the nights draw in. Shop them all here and follow Seven Seventeen on Instagram @sevenseventeenuk.
Founders Sarah and Naomi are, like Alex and me, journalists and friends. They had always wanted to work together – and here’s how their story began…
S: Naomi and I met while studying for our BA at the University of Creative Arts in Surrey. After graduating I started out doing the PR for Levi’s, which was lots of fun and meant I travelled a lot. Eventually, though I realized what I really wanted to do was pursue a career in interiors journalism so I went to work at British ELLE Decoration, beginning all over as an intern and working my way up through the ranks. Since becoming a mum to Max (6) and Sam (2) I now combine freelance writing and styling with co-running SevenSeventeen.
N: I’m also a magazine journalist by trade – a career inspired aged 11, by reading Just 17 and My Guy cover to cover at my local youth club. One of my first jobs after graduating was at Now, where I edited the weekly style section, and I went on to be ELLE’s commissioning editor before becoming a mum to Iris (8), Florence (6) and Arthur (3) and going freelance, writing about style, beauty and features for titles such as Marie Claire and Red.
What made you think ‘now is the time to strike out on our own’?
S: We’d always talked about doing something together, but the timing was never right, either because of the ages of our children or our workloads. Then one day the excitement of setting up shop outweighed the unknown and we decided to take the plunge.
N: After fifteen years in journalism I definitely felt ready for a new challenge. The industry has changed a lot since we started out, with magazines closing to make way for new digital platforms. It felt time to try something different. We’d talked about setting up a brand as we both have a similar aesthetic vision and a passion for beautiful things, but it was our mutual friend Molly Gunn of Selfish Mother who gave us the final push to do so. She basically told us to stop talking and just go for it. SevenSeventeen was born shortly after.
S: Our parents’ generation was all about the job for life but it’s definitely more acceptable for people to think about pursuing other passions and interests with career changes now, I think it’s good to have new experiences.
What came first: deciding to work together or the idea for this particular business?
S: Working together. Having shared a flat at college and knowing each other’s personalities so well we were pretty sure it was a good idea. Luckily for us – and our circle of close friends – it was!
N: A lot of people are wary of working with friends, but think of the pluses! You get to work with someone you already like, trust, respect and can have a laugh with. Sarah and I know each other so well that being upfront with each other is never an issue.
S: Both being mums, we loved the idea that we could carve out a business to fit in with family life. It sounds clichéd, but children are little for such a short amount of time and we liked that working for ourselves would mean we could be flexible with our time. We’re often at the computer in the evenings but if that means we get to go to sports day or hang out with the kids at the beach on a sunny afternoon, then we’re happy with that.
Did you discuss doing anything else – or was it always candles? And why candles? (I mean, I love them – I need no persuading that the world needs more options, but I’m intrigued to know!)
N: When we found our supplier we knew we had to make plant-based candles our thing. The throw of the candles is amazing and the unique vegetable formula burns extremely cleanly and evenly. We were instantly impressed by the quality and were convinced others would be too.
S: We toyed with other interior product ideas, but in the end lighting a beautiful candle as a way to unwind in the evenings was something we could really buy into as busy working mothers. We’ve long been fans of exquisitely scented candles, but when it came to finding brands that didn’t cost a bomb, they were few and far between. We believe SevenSeventeen fills that gap.
N: Working in women’s magazines where we were surrounded by a constant influx of candles and beauty products meant that we knew exactly what we did and didn’t want in our own collection, and the scent families we were drawn to. It’s amazing to be working on a product that not only smells divine, but also looks lovely on the mantelpiece.
Describe your brand in three words.
S: Affordable. Luxurious. Playful.
N: Yes this!
Do you think it’s easier or harder to set up a business with a friend? Are there notable advantages/disadvantages you can pinpoint at this stage?
S: I think it depends on the friend and the circumstances. We’re lucky in that we’re both pretty easy going, appreciate the same design styles and share similar ideas about where we want the business to go next. It helps massively that we are in the same boat juggling family life with work – a big plus of catching up on business on the phone every night is that we also get to let off steam and air any of the day’s stresses and support each other that way.
N: As friends it’s also important to make sure you share similar goals and ambitions for your business, which we do. As well as daily catch-ups we have fortnightly planning meetings where we discuss the longer-term goings on of the business.
S: So far we’ve had no major disagreements. Of course we’ll differ on opinion sometimes but we both make an effort to be respectful and constructive of each other’s viewpoints. Whether it’s something branding or event related, we usually come to a compromise that works for both of us.
Why did you decide to support PANDAS Foundation? Do you have a personal connection?
S: Like most women, we both know friends who have been affected to varying degrees by post-natal depression and we’re really keen to help get the message out that it’s okay not to be okay.
N: The problem is that with all mental health issues, there is a stigma involved and people simply don’t talk about it. One of my friends suffered with PND for six months before finally working up the courage to admit to someone that, hey, I have a problem. And the danger of not talking about it and getting help is that it can spiral and can have long-term effects.
S: We were drawn particularly to PANDAS because they don’t just support the women suffering from pre and postnatal mental illness but their families and friends too. Many partners haven’t a clue how to help the mother of their child seeming depressed, unmotivated, uncommunicative, anxious, or uninterested in their baby.
N: The thing is that this isn’t just baby blues, it goes deeper, which is why we’re so pleased to be able to support PANDAS. We’re thrilled to have donated £3,000 to date with the help of our lovely customers.
What do your days look like? Are you juggling running the business with other work/children etc?
S: It’s a complete juggle like all other working mums will know! We pretty much set up the business over snatched phone calls on the school runs!
N: We’re at the point now where we’re considering recruiting someone to help with sending out our orders but, truthfully, it’s a tough one. The flipside? It’s immensely rewarding and exciting to be working on a brand we’ve built from scratch – and on a product we love! Lighting a SevenSeventeen candle helps us clock off from the chaos – and it’s such a buzz when we hear that it’s helping other people to do the same.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business? I think a lot of people think they could do it – but actually doing it is another matter…
N: The financial implications of starting up a business can be daunting, but there are ways of starting a new venture without giving up your day job to begin with. We started SevenSeventeen alongside our day jobs at first and slowly managed to tip the balance from there. Six months on we’re able to spend more time on SevenSeventeen to the point where we just take on the journalism opportunities that really incite us – which is a fantastic position to be in.
S: Trust your instincts always!
Is it harder to separate life/work when it’s your own business? How do you do it?
N: Yes! You often see pictures of women in business laughing over a mug of tea in a light-flooded kitchen with a Mac and a minimal moodboard just out of shot but the reality is a lot more chaotic. There’s the constant wrestling of children and business time. The sheer logistics of storing several hundred candles in our period terrace homes. And then transporting them to the delivery office on foot. With a child or three hanging off your arm!
S: And then there’s the sporadic nature of getting a hundred orders in one day and maybe only two or three the next.
What are your plans for the next year/5 years – any exciting developments you can talk about?
S: We have so many ideas for the future of SevenSeventeen with new product lines that we are certain our customers will love. We’ve had to resign ourselves to the fact we can’t do it all at once though. There is only so much time in the day.
N: In the immediate future we have two new summer fragrances hitting the site in a few weeks time and we’re working on some exciting collaborations with some inspiring designers.