Anna Borrett is Product Development Manager for independent home fragrance brand, Ashleigh & Burwood, based in Surrey, and makers of one of my all-time favourite candles, Pinemingo. As its peak candle time, I thought I’d quiz her on what goes into making our favourite cosy evening companions.
Anna, are there candle ‘trends’ and if so, where do you find them?
Absolutely, there are new ideas and techniques emerging for packaging and candle vessels all the time. There is so much fun to be had looking at different vessels that can be used as candles. I love discovering new decoration techniques. The best moments in my job are seeing something that you know you can turn into something great. I love Pinterest and have boards for everything. I never stop looking around me, from supplier archive cupboards, to garden centre pots and hunting in antique shops or antique markets, inspiration is all around me!
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You have your own candle making facilities at Ashleigh & Burwood, so how do you decide what goes on the production line?
All the candles in our collections have their place. As a Product Developer I try to be able to offer variety in the range; different sizes, a selection of fragrances to choose from and for each item to have a point of difference to the next. A product has several rounds of work to do before it makes it into the line-up for production.
Given that it’s Christmas, it must be the busiest time sales-wise for you – how far in advance to you plan your festive ranges?
We started working on Xmas 2018 in September this year. It’s no real wonder that I never know the actual year we are in, when I have started planning the next Christmas before we have even had this one!
Outside of this time of year, what’s the most popular candle time?
I think candlelight and the warm scent that a candle gives adds to any occasion. Lovely summer evenings when it’s warm enough to still be outside or an alfresco dinner at dusk and then autumnal cosy evenings when its dark early. I don’t think a month goes by that there isn’t a candle burnt in my house.
How do you decide on fragrances and how do you know they’ll convert well to burning?
Selecting and choosing fragrance is a fabulous job. We work closely with our UK fragrance houses. They are experts in looking at fragrance trends and emerging scent ideas that filter down from Fine Fragrance. We review these trends and take them into account for our own brand and our customers. There are often a few fragrances that just stand out as new season must haves (my favourite new scent in the pipeline is Mango & Nectarine). We then have to trial the fragrance in our products. The fragrance house will sometimes need to modify a fragrance for the application it’s to be used in. We then test and trial until we are happy. A well-rounded fragrance, with a range of top, middle and base notes burns best in a candle but I don’t think a particular type of scent works better than others. It just comes down to personal preferences.
How do you test your candles? Do you have the world’s most relaxing and fragrant office?
Our offices do smell wonderful, it’s something visitors always comment on. We’re always trialling new fragrances at the offices, which is ideal to be able to review new fragrance ideas with the wider team which is important to me. I like to gather as much feedback from everyone as possible so we can find the perfect scent!
Any new product has to undergo strict testing and review before we allow it to go into production. Each candle is burn trialled both by our in-house chemist and also by myself and colleagues in our own homes (everyone is always happy to try out new candles at home). We want to test our candles in a home environment to make sure the scent fills a room! The most important thing to me about a candle is that it gives excellent fragrance throw. That combined with a clean, even burn. It’s a real balancing act sometimes. Once we are happy with a candle we then send it for “official” testing to the British standard to double check and rubber stamp our work!
What was your path to candle product development?
I studied Textile Design at university and from there started my career at BHS as a Buyers Admin Assistant on Home Accessories. The home department included pot-pourri and candles and I soon discovered a love for fragrance and realised that it was a pretty special industry to be part of. I moved from BHS to Accessorize and then onto The White Company where I worked up until my children were born. As the buyer for the Fragrance department at The White Company I continued to learn about candles, diffusers, toiletries and all things fragrant. As a buyer you build strong relationships with your suppliers and fragrance houses and I still actually work today with some of the same suppliers that I met at BHS over 15 years ago.
I joined the Ashleigh & Burwood team to head up the Product Development two years ago. With a smaller business my role has become more varied from the traditional buyer role. I am now involved in planning trade shows, point of sale materials and shop fixtures, but I still firmly remain passionate about the product development within my job and ensuring that we can offer fantastic products to the market.
Do you have an Ashleigh & Burwood favourite?
There are so many to choose from, but I think I would have to say “Winter Forest” at the moment. For me is just makes and evening cosier and more enjoyable with its soft woody notes, hints of pine and amber base.
Where do you spend Christmas?
I absolutely love Christmas. This year we will start the day at home at around 6am! I have two small children so Christmas is pretty magical and we will be excitedly discovering the overnight visit from the big FC. We will then head to my parents in-law for our Christmas lunch with 8 adults and 6 children and my sister-in-law’s sausage dog Lenny who doesn’t like to miss out!
What’s on your wish list?
I have recently got into my garden (must be my age!!) so hoping for some roses and bulbs to help me on my way to have a beautiful and fragrant garden. A few sparkly treats wouldn’t go a miss either (note to husband)!
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