Introduce yourself, your business name and where you are from.
My name is Kristen and I’m half owner of Pommes Frites Candle Co. I grew up in Northern Virginia, but I currently live in downtown Los Angeles. By the way… our business name, Pommes Frites may translate to belgian fries, but it’s actually just a goofy play on my last name (Pumphrey). That’s what happens when you start a business at age 22!
You made your first candle at the age of 12, what inspired you to do that?
My sister brought a candle-making kit home from Michael’s craft store, to make and sell candles for a home economics fair. In true little sister, “me too!!” style, I learned to make candles and continued to make them for easy gifts throughout high school. When I started my business after college, it was a no-brainer to make candles again, I already had the tools!
Tom and Kristen in their studio
What does the day in the life of Kristen Pumphrey entail?
During the week I usually work from 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. or so. Work usually entails emailing with the shops that stock us (both independent boutiques and our national brands), developing new scents, making sure all the orders are heading out and receiving supplies. I usually take time each day to post on our instagram (@pfcandleco), play with our dog (an Italian greyhound named Max), and go for an iced coffee. Weekends, I love to explore our neighborhood in DTLA, or get away from it all on a quick camping trip.
Your candles smell amazing, what inspires your scents and how do you know which scents to combine?
Thank you! There’s two ways we go about picking scents: brainstorming sessions and direct inspiration. We do a scent brainstorming session once or twice a month, where we will pull out all the oils we have on hand, dip blotting strips, and just start smelling combinations together. A little bit of this, add some of that, mix the oils together. Then the whole team will stop what they’re doing and smell the results. For direct inspiration, we may think something like “we want to create a scent inspired by Big Sur” and we will take a trip to that location and smell everything we can, just taking it all in, and taking notes. This usually gives us a base to start with, a few notes that were prominent to us, then we will take that inspiration to our brainstorming sessions for further development.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Travel and nature are huge inspirations, visiting national parks, camping, or even visiting a nearby botanical garden. We want to produce scents that invoke feeling or meaning and that also smell really, really good.
Can you share the making of a soy candle with us?
Our soy candles are poured in small batches, but we work from a larger batch to get there. We will melt anywhere from 50-150 lbs. of soy wax at a time. Once the soy wax is melted and has come up to temperature, we add fragrance oil into our giant wax melters.
From there, the wax is poured off into metal pitchers, allowed to cool, and then poured in into pre-wicked jars in batches of 8-9 (or 12-16 for the mini size). We use the same method I used when I started making candles, just with fancier equipment and on a much larger scale.
What inspired the packaging for PF candles?
My design skills are pretty limited, having never taken a class in graphic design, but I wanted to make something that felt authentic to me. I loved interchangeable stamps and used them in packaging across the board (when our company used to make more than just candles), so one day, after feeling frustrated with designing on the computer, I went back to basics and just started hand stamping our labels. I wanted the candles to be simple enough that they can exist in your space every day without being too fussy, toeing the line between rustic and clean design.
What is the one scent that we will always find burning in your home?
It depends on the room! For our living room, I like Neroli & Eucalyptus and Summer Breeze. Sweet Grapefruit is always either uncapped or burning in the bathroom. When I’m at work, I like to burn Campfire on my desk.
Have you ever mixed a scent that made you say ‘what was I thinking’?
Absolutely! Luckily with our brainstorming session, it usually doesn’t get past the initial phase. There have been a few combinations that I’ve smelled and said “NOPE!”. My biggest no-no when it comes to a scent is if it gives me or any of our crew here a headache then it gets eliminated from the list. We work hard to make sure our candles can be enjoyed by even those with fragrance sensitivities.
Besides candle-making, what other hobbies/interests do you have?
Camping, bike riding, tending to my ever growing plant collection. And as I said before, traveling and experiencing new places. We try to take a weekend trip at least once a month. We live and work in the heart of downtown LA, so escaping from city life is awesome.
Describe your personal style.
Mostly utilitarian with a little bit of California hippie thrown in. My job is always hands on. You can find me unloading a pallet or unpacking wax or mixing fragrances, so I tend to wear things I don’t mind getting messy. In the summer I wear simple cotton dresses and Vans sneakers. In the winter, I’m all about jeans (including AEO jeggings!) and a simple tee shirt. I usually always wear little stacking rings and copper or bronze skinny cuff bracelets. But my favorite thing to wear, hands down, is a poncho. I can’t wear them at work,just not practical enough, but on a camping trip I usually don’t change out of one. I have this awesome one my dad gave to me when I was a kid; it’s from Argentina. It’s one of those things I didn’t appreciate until I was older.
Tell us something surprising about you that no one would guess!
I may be a candle maker, but I actually studied to become an actor. I did 4 years of rigorous training at NYU’s Tisch School, and right before graduating, I realized it wasn’t the right choice as a career for me. I got involved in the DIY community, and haven’t looked back since. In school, they constantly told us that you have to make your own work – sometimes there wouldn’t be somebody who would want to give it to you or take a chance on you. It was a really important lesson to learn – and one I clearly applied when starting PF.
Anything else you would like to share?
We’re so happy to be able to partner with AEO for their Wear America initiative! It’s awesome to us that the candles that are handmade in our studio by our crew of six can be enjoyed by a wider audience, and that handmade on a larger scale is possible!
What is your favorite scent from PF Candle Co? Tell us in the comments below!