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Interview - Bronwyn Gascoigne of Gascoigne & King

Creative People

8th June, 2012
Lucy Feagins
Friday 8th June 2012

Gascoigne & King candles setting on Bronwyn's dining room table! Photos - Lucy Feagins

Bronwyn Gascoigne inspects her latest batch of candles

Gascoigne & King process - from soy wax flakes to pouring and packaging the finished product

You may know the beautiful Australian candle brand Gascoigne & King, but I'll bet you didn't realise their exquisite candles are all hand poured in Sydney - at Bronwyn Gascoigne's dining room table!  (I didn't!)

I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Bronwyn, whose story is a little unexpected. Bronwyn's background is in IT - and she is a qualified motor mechanic by trade! She says this unlikely background has in fact been the perfect combination for running her successful boutique candle making business, which she launched with partner Dean King in 2008.  Since then Gascoigne & King candles have gathered a loyal following, and have secured a string of high-profile retail stockists across Australia as well as internationally.  (One sniff and you'll know why!)

A visit to Bronwyn's home and studio really is quite a sensory overload!  It smells AMAZING. The space also has a truly unique sense of serenity about it - which I must say in large part can be put down to Bronwyn's calm, somewhat meditative temperament.  She really has a kind of 'zen' about her.  Most days she works alone, pouring her candles carefully by hand, filling her home with the most amazing perfume. She's very measured and thoughtful in her approach - focusing on making her candles with precise attention to detail and lots of love.

Gascoigne & King candles are made from 100% soy wax, in the most seriously incredible range of perfumes.  For an ex-IT person, Bronwyn really does have an uncanny gift for fragrance blends!  My personal fave (and Bronwyn's too, as it happens!) is 'Belle' - a green, leafy fragrance that includes geranium, spearmint and bergamot with a clean citrus finish.  It's really impossible to convey via the interwebs just how truly juicy and fresh this fragrance is!

Massive thanks to Bronwyn for sharing her story with us today and for passing on a few of her beautiful candles for our giveaway earlier this week.  Do share the love with a little visit to Gascoigne & King's website and online shop!

Tell us a little about your background – what originally drew you to making candles and launching Gascoigne and King?

I have been making candles since 2008. I started making them for myself and it grew from there. Friends gave me encouraging feedback - a few even suggested my candles would compete with some of the more established brands. This inspired and spurred me to develop and refine a number of fragrances for the initial range.

Before Gascoigne & King I worked in IT for a European software company, but as the candle business grew I knew exactly what I wanted to do – build my own brand, work for myself and create something meaningful. Working with my hands is important to me, I am a qualified motor mechanic by trade, which not many people know.  Strangely enough, my sales and marketing background in IT, along with my experience as a mechanic has been the perfect combination for a candle making business!

As a self-taught candle-maker running your own busy little business, what main challenges have you faced with your product development and building the Gascoigne & King brand? It must have been a steep learning curve at first!

I think the biggest challenge was to produce a high quality candle using soy wax, and keeping the whole product as local and environmentally sound as we could. The production component of candle-making takes a lot of time, especially the testing stage to get the candles to burn well with the fragrances I have developed and the wax that I use. It’s a lot like cooking – you start with simple ingredients but attention to detail and genuine passion are necessary to create a perfectly refined finished product. And of course it helps if the chef has some skills to bring it all together!

We have always wanted to keep the product as Australian as possible, which isn’t as easy as you might think, particularly when we try to offer great value for money. It’s all working well now, though initially it did seem to take forever to get all of the pieces to fit together. The boxes are made in Sydney using sustainable sources and recycled materials, our printing is done in Surry Hills, our website is built and managed on the Northern Beaches, and our graphic design is all local. It costs more but it is important to me and the Gascoigne & King brand that we support local businesses and share our success with them as much as possible.

You still make all Gascoigne & King candles at home, pouring each one by hand – amazing! How do you manage the workload, do you have any assistance, and do you have plans to grow beyond the dining room table anytime soon?

It would be great to keep things in-house for as long as possible. I can make a lot of candles each week with the present arrangement so there’s no need to rush out just yet. It’s manageable at the moment, however we have just picked up new retailers in New York and LA and our Australian retail base continues to grow, so I might need to look at options down the track when the overseas market has had good growth. I want to keep things simple and streamlined, focusing on making high quality candles with lots of love.

I have a couple of helpers when I need them. My mum helps out, but I need to keep a close eye on quality control when she lends a hand!  She has a brilliant work ethic, and with her green thumb and love of gardening she is exemplary good at picking up all of the subtleties in the candle fragrances. I also get help from a local man – a recovering addict with a disability. We met at the park a couple of years ago walking our dogs and now he is part of the team. He takes his time getting things done, but he loves to talk and we really enjoy each others company.

Which is your favourite Gascoigne & King candle?

I love all of my fragrances but I think Belle is my favourite. It changes from time to time – the seasons really influence how I feel about the candles. I like the freshness of Belle. Its main elements are bergamot, bamboo, spearmint and sage. Belle reminds me of gorgeous summer mornings, sitting in the sun with a coffee and the smell of freshly cut grass.

The house always smells incredible, and on the days when I am making candles there are always people walking a little more slowly than usual past the front door wondering what is going on inside. The neighbours always know when I am working on orders.

Can you list for us a few resources you turn to for a bolt of creative inspiration?

From time to time I check up on various perfume sites, though most of my inspiration comes from within. I do get friends and family involved when I am looking for a genuine and honest opinion on something new. I try not to have too many external influences so to keep Gascoigne & King unique, but having said that I am always buying new fragrances, soaps, candles etc. in the name of research of course!

I also love to travel, and much of the inspiration for my fragrances comes from places I have been and love to reminisce over. Scent evokes a real sense of time and place for me – it can be very emotional. A particular smell can immediately transport me back to the time and place that I first experienced it, and I have so many wonderful memories that I relate to this way.

Of course, nothing beats getting out and meeting people if I ever need a little more inspiration. I hand deliver many orders to my Sydney retailers (I wish I could do the same for them all), so I get the opportunity often to talk to wonderful and inspiring people every day.

Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

At 83 my father Ray Gascoigne continues to inspire me with his amazing ships-in-bottles!  After spending a lifetime on the sea in the merchant navy and as a commercial fisherman, my father now uses these experiences to create these miniature artworks.  He is incredibly creative with a rich imagination, and the focus and level of detail that goes into each piece has to be seen to be believed.

I am always inspired by my retailers with their commitment and ingenuity to stay successful in a presently difficult market. They all dig deeper and find new ways to make things work.

The guys at Workshopped in Surry Hills do a brilliant job at promoting and supporting Australian designers, helping them to develop and market new products. Shelf/life is another favourite, embracing ethical design and awareness.

On a personal level, I love the artist Hugh Ford. He is an Australian artist and I am in love with the humour and colour he embodies in his work.

What are you most proud of professionally?

Definitely believing in Gascoigne & King and making the decision to pursue it full-time early last year. There have probably been more stable economic times to give up a professional career and invest in your own business, but I just knew it was the right time and the right thing for me to do.

Keeping the product environmentally friendly is something I am also proud of. For instance, knowing the boxes we use haven’t travelled half way around the world keeps me rather happy! We try to keep everything as close to us in Sydney as possible. I’d like to make a bigger statement about using palm wax, so maybe that will happen when my amazing olive oil soap hits the shelves later this year.

My relationships with our customers are something I value very highly. We have had most of them from the very start. Our first stockist, Magnolia Interiors in Brisbane, gave us a handwritten order on the spot, and they continue to order from us today. We know our customers well and they understand our story and the Gascoigne & King philosophy, it's a win win relationship.

What would be your dream project?

Collaborating with various people over the last few years has been great fun – I have made candles for all sorts of events and clients including Vueve Cliquot, InStyle, designEX, Australian Fashion Week and even produced some one-off candles for Lady Gaga’s dressing room – so I would love to keep that type of fun stuff going. It also helps get the brand out there and recognised.

My dream project though would have to be working more with disadvantaged and underprivileged people. Those who find it hard to get work, or even social acceptance, due to dependency issues, physical or psychological disabilities. It is very rewarding to offer people in these situations opportunities they may not have otherwise had. Particularly as the business grows there will be the need to involve more people in making the candles, so it will be ideal to get a fun team of people together to achieve this.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to the Gascoigne & King olive oil soap. Hopefully it will hit the shelves at the end of August. It has been a labour of love – the process of having moulds made, samples prepared and so on has been a long one. It's been worth it though, and I have learned so much along the way.

True to our philosophy of keeping the development and production local, we had the soap moulds handmade in Victoria and the olive oil used will be 100% Australian. The soap itself is also going to be handmade is Australia. I am a perfectionist, so I know the end result will be beautiful. I can’t wait to see what everyone thinks!

Sydney Questions

What is your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

I live and work in Surry Hills and it is my favourite neighbourhood. I love the eclectic style of the people and places. There are great families and businesses in Surry Hills. Everything is in close proximity, you can pop around the corner and catch up with friends or visit lots of amazing restaurants and bars in just a matter of minutes. It’s brilliant to have a great night out and be able to then walk around the corner and be home.

Surry Hills is also a creative and inspiring environment to live and work in. There are fashion and homewares retailers, graphic designers, rag traders, PR agencies and educational institutes, not to mention the brilliant new Library and Community Centre, rehabilitation clinics and charity organisations. Everyone just gets along so well. It is also walking distance to the CBD, Chinatown and places like Centennial Park, which means I get plenty of exercise and rarely have to drive the car anywhere!

Your fave shop in Sydney for beautiful things for the home?

It is no coincidence that Gascoigne & King are stocked in some of Australia’s best boutique stores. I hand deliver my candles when I can for a couple of reasons... one is that I get the opportunity to see what is happening in the retail space, meet my customers and most importantly go shopping!  SPACE and Top3byDesign are hard to go past, Magnolia Interiors in Brisbane and The Assembly Hall in Victoria are great too.

Where/what was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

Chairman Mao in Kensington. They cook authentic Hunan province dishes that are fully loaded with chilli. You get a starter when you arrive of stir fried cucumbers and chilli, then I suggest trying the sliced pigs ears, smoked beef with garlic shoots, and eggplant with chilli – all incredibly hot but unbelievably good.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Preferably in bed with the paper, but Saturday morning usually means school sport all over Sydney (so I do my rain dance on Friday nights) followed by coffee and breakfast somewhere local with my husband Dean and our whippets George & Selby. Reuben Hills, Twig café, Deus all are a walk away and worth getting out of bed for. The dogs love Centennial Park, so we often wander over with a stop off at the EQ Farmers Market to pick up a few fresh ingredients for dinner.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

It’s hardly a secret but White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale. Have breakfast at Café Giulia up the road beforehand. Perfect.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email