In which Stella talks about 'Natural' wax, bees and chemistry.
A conversation between Krystal 'Stella' Coss and Apossentials.
Stella Says candles are made from 100% natural wax blend which has been described as making them 'truly unique'. But the word 'natural' is used by many candle producers - what makes Stella Says candles special?
Summed up very quickly - Stella Says candles are made from organic, ethically, sourced un-hydrogenated, non-bleached waxes and oils which are readily available from the natural environment without requiring excessive industrial processing.
And they're handmade made by you?
Yes; they're handmade by me, in small batches. They're about as far from industrial as it's possible to make a high quality scented candle. I believe that they're something that you can burn and enjoy with a clear conscience (and I do!). That's what makes them special!
Are you implying that other 'natural' candles are not actually natural...?
I'm not implying - sadly, in a number of cases they're simply not. As anyone who's ever asked me why I don't use soy in my candles will know, nothing gets me more worked up than 'natural' candles that are made from an oil extracted from a genetically modified plant, treated with hexane to hydrogenate it (ie so that it's a wax at room temperature) and then chlorine to bleach it. Even more infuriating are candles that describe themselves as 'natural paraffin', 'natural mineral wax' or any of the hundred other labels that manufacturers use on petro-chemical derived waxes or wax blends to sanitise their original source.
That sounds...somewhat misleading.
I think they would argue that point! Crude oil is after all natural, soy is a plant, hexane can be found in many fruits and chlorine gas is naturally occurring...
But it's not exactly what I understand when I think of 'natural' in this context.
Well, again, there is no legal definition of the word - so one persons understanding of 'natural' isn't necessarily that of another and no rules are being broken. But, in either case, it convinces us that what we're buying is somehow more innocent, but it doesn't take a huge amount of research to find out that all is not quite as innocent as it seems.
So is that what drives you to make your candles?
More or less: Stella Says candles came from my desire to make a candle that was as chemical (though not chemistry) process free as I could make it: In my early days of candle making, I experimented with many different kinds of wax to try and find a wax that I could work with. I researched their origins and production methods and the characteristics of each - for example their melt point and ability to hold a fragrance. Soy was a very strong contender for a base, it was becoming increasingly popular as a reliable substitute for beeswax; it's far less expensive, its very easy to work with and it's relatively odourless, so for a candle maker it offers some obvious benefits.
But you chose not to use it, why? Isn't soy sustainable and renewable, carbon neutral? Certainly not all of it's GM.
Actually, in 2014, 82% of all land used to grow soy was planted with GM soy (and about 95% of soy wax is from GM soy). There are a number of good candle producers who definitely use none GM, ethically sourced soy wax, but you need to be pretty sure of your candle maker to know that your scented candle isn't made from it. In fact, if you're concerned about it, ask them - those who are using none GM will be very glad to tell you.
And just for the record, my objection to GM is not some sort of anti-science agenda, there are clearly benefits to be had from engineering crops with higher yields and increased nutritional value. But the fact is that GM soy plants were engineered to be resistant to a particular type of herbicide (Glyphosate) and several studies have suggested that the result of this resistance is an increase in the use of this very broad spectrum chemical (since we don't need to be as careful in its use) with notable impacts on biodiversity and a rise in glyphosate resistant weeds (good articles here and here).
And the sustainability argument?
Well, there are increasing concerns about the amount of land used to grow soy, with deforestation being chief amongst these. There's plenty of research available on this subject as well, so I won't go into detail, but suffice to say it makes for disturbing reading. It's true, of course that the vast amount of this soy production is for animal feed and that candle manufacturing is responsible for only a fraction, but nonetheless - they're my candles, and as well as my concern over the glyphosate use, I chose not to add to that demand.
So is it the chemical treatment or the agriculture you object to in soy candles being described as natural?
The chemical treatment was what convinced me that soy wasn't 'natural' in the way I understood it - the GM and the agricultural issues further underlined my decision not to use it.
OK, so you object to soy, but - what about the bees? Are you not replacing one bad with another by exploiting them for your candles?
In short; yes I am exploiting the labour of bees to make my candles. However, this has been done with due consideration being given to understand the source of and production method for the wax I use; I ensure that it is ethically sourced. It is not a perfect solution, and I understand that for vegans my candles are problematic. I did think long and hard about whether I should use a plant based wax instead, and eventually made the choice to use beeswax due to it's being a by product of honey production, as well as my conviction that the use of beeswax is less damaging and more sustainable than the use of other waxes, requiring less processing and treatment by chemicals to make it a usable wax: The wax I use is filtered through clay to obtain a lighter and less aromatic wax, for example, rather than being bleached.
So, in summary, Stella's candles don't use soy wax?
No, they don't! Stella Candles are one hundred per cent beeswax and virgin coconut oil - my own blend. Actually we haven't talked about the coconut oil, but I should mention that its food grade, unbleached, none GMO, wet milled, hand pressed and from a fairly traded organic cooperative in Ghana!
Thank you. Can you tell us more about that blend of beeswax and coconut oil?
Yes, of course. As anyone who makes candles will tell you, their creation is both a science and an art and it took me over eighteen months of dedicated research, sourcing and blending to create a wax that would stand up to being used as a candle, who's constituent waxes were ethically produced, sustainably sourced and minimally processed. It took me several more months of testing, testing and retesting before I had something that I could be confident enough in to take to market. Then each individual scent blend was itself formulated, tested, and tested again.
I'm immensely proud of what I've created: I love candles and I wanted to make the best one I could, using ingredients that sit well with my values. I believe I've achieved that.
Thanks for the chance to talk with you again.
''Stella Says Candles are Truly Unique'
Each and every candle is lovingly crafted in very small batches, entirely by hand, from start to finish. The special wax blend, contains no fossil fuel derivatives like paraffin, no parabens or phthalates and has not been genetically modified, treated with petrochemicals, bleached or hydrogenated to become a wax.
This very special blend is created with only 100% pure & natural beeswax and raw, organic, wet-milled, hand-pressed & fairly traded, extra virgin coconut oil.
The best-selling “Brittany Sea Salt” fragrance is paraben & phthalate free and Stella has created all of the other beautiful scents by blending only pure essential oils, creating a truly unique and 100% natural candle, right down to the wooden wick, which crackles gently as it burns to add that little something extra special to the atmosphere.