Raised on a farm approximately 30km from Quandialla with her parents and four older brothers, Sarah Ryan has a strong affinity with western NSW. Calling a 970 ha farm “Richmond” near Quandialla home, she runs an SRS Merino stud alongside her husband and their children Reuben (10), Monty (6) and Clementine (4). Completing the fabric is their team of working Kelpies and Esme, a mini dachshund.
Having studied Art Education at the College of Fine Arts UNSW and afterwards being a Visual Arts teacher in various high schools, Sarah has always had a love of art and creative pursuits. She used to exhibit in art galleries and still tries to make and draw things when she has the time, but the business she started in 2012 certainly keeps her busy. Quandialla Candle Co came to fruition when Sarah was pregnant with her third child. As a nod to an historic find in her back cottage, Sarah has created a unique candle business with a timeless aesthetic brimming with nostalgia for her hometown. The Australian Florals and Honey candle is definitely a fragrance you want wafting through your home.
Sarah was kind enough to answer some questions about her inspiration, business strategy and how she juggles being a working mum. For someone who still finds the time to volunteer at her children’s school as the garden specialist for their Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden, Sarah has some good advice to share. Read the interview below.
What motivated you to first launch Quandialla Candle Co?
The motivation for launching the candle business was all about my love of good design and vintage packaging. I found an old yeast tin from the 1940s in the back cottage and thought it would make a great candle so I sent a picture of it to my designer friend Dan Phelan at Safety Pin Design and he came up with the logo and branding which has remained unchanged to this day. I had always had a love of candles but wasn’t keen on the usual glass jar designs. That also got me into making candles in the old Fowler preserving jars.
Your brand has a distinct style. How would you describe your style aesthetic?
My style aesthetic is vintage/old timey. I love the art deco designs on old food tins and boxes too.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Best piece of advice I received was to keep focussed on what I wanted my brand to be. I guess it meant not necessarily taking every opportunity that came along. In fact, saying no to things helped me keep it special and unique. I certainly don’t want to be the next candle juggernaut!
What has been the biggest “pinch me” moment in your career?
Biggest “pinch me” moment? Not sure I have had one! Being featured in Country Style Magazine was a big help to the business but the best moments are when I finish putting together a new product with a new fragrance, stick the label on and package it up. It feels good to see an idea come to fruition.
How do you juggle being a working mum?
Juggling being a working mum is hard! It’s very important to me to make sure the business doesn’t interfere with family life or the kids too much. I keep it manageable so that I can still be home every afternoon when the kids get home from school, so I can still do canteen and can still go to the Saturday sports, swimming carnivals and school assemblies. Kids are only little for a short time! I try to work flat out in the studio on the two days when Clem has pre-school. My studio is in the village so I am not trying to make candles when I am at home with the kids. Family is more important than anything.
What are some of your favourite things to do as a family?
We love going out for paddock BBQs whether it be here or at my parents’ place. The kids run around and play cricket and we cook a few sausages and have a few wines under the big trees on the creek. We also get away each summer for a week to escape the heat and give the kids their beach fix.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?
The biggest challenges are time and distance! There never seems to be enough time to get everything done whether it be candle related or home duties. And distance is a challenge because it’s expensive to freight my supplies, which are quite heavy, all the way to Quandi. Oh and the heat! Candles don’t like heat very much.
What is your favourite thing about the rural life you lead?
My favourite thing about rural life is the pace. It’s laid back, it’s clean, it’s quiet and there is always a park right outside anywhere you want to go.
Name three inspirational women you admire and why.
- My mum - She raised five of us on a farm and both she and dad managed to send all of us away to school when funds were pretty tight. She has faced some pretty rough times but has never lost her mental strength or sense of humour. She loved us all fiercely too.
- My cousin, Rachael Flynn who has been a massive help with guiding me with business advice. She has built a fantastic business (Red Tractor Designs) and like a true artist has looked to her surroundings, rural life and upbringing for inspiration.
- The last one is all the female teachers I have been taught by or taught alongside who tell young girls it’s ok to be different or weird or arty or whatever! Girls have enough hang-ups without being told what they ‘should’ be doing.
If you weren’t working in the job you have now, what would you do?
If I wasn’t making candles I would be making art. It’s my first love.
How do you plan to grow Quandialla Candle Co?
I plan to let Quandi Candles grow organically whilst looking for new stockists in new places. I am not into the big ‘hustle’. That is so not me. As said before, it has to fit in with my family life. I might consider trade fairs in the future, but I still want my candles to be a little bit special or hard to find.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
One piece of advice I would give to someone starting out would be ALWAYS remember to be kind and honest with your customers. People can always smell a rat and you want your customers to keep coming back!