What do Adidas, Tanqueray, Nando’s and Elton John have in common? They’ve all collaborated with Cent.Ldn candles!
Part collectible art piece, Cent.Ldn candles are hand-crafted and sustainably-produced to create beautifully scented burns for your daily relaxation ritual. Available in both straightforward glass varieties and over-the-top unique molds, Cent.Ldn was created to start conversations between you and your guests, calling to mind the cultural signposts that make you you.
The company was founded by Hayley Mack in 2020, a silver lining of the pandemic after she’d been furloughed from her long-time career in brand marketing. Once she pulled off a giant boombox candle, she knew she was on to something special, and today, Cent.Ldn sells awe-inspiring candles in the form of football helmets, guitars with giant amps, and even the “Rocket Man” superstar's signature platform boot.
Cent.Ldn hosts community-building events, partners with all manner of cool global brands, and sells globally with select luxury retail partners—but it’s only recently that Mack has felt confident enough to stand up as the face of the brand. We caught up with the formidable founder and CEO to learn more about her journey in business and what advice she has to share with other creative women and entrepreneurs.
What were you doing for work before you were furloughed during the pandemic?
I've always been a creative person, and I've always in my free time been happy to craft stuff with my hands, but my career and background of over 12 years is predominately in brand marketing. I've worked with some of biggest global franchise brands in the world, through the medium of sports, entertainment and music. I've worked with some amazing artists all around the world; festivals, DJs, so I've really had a varied background, but the one thread is working on the behalf of brands, building their strategies and the lifestyle of the brand to life; connecting them with their audience through disruptive ways which really shake things up and do things differently.
I can see the cultural thread of music, sports, etc. that runs through the candles you're making now. Had you made a candle before the pandemic?
I was in Barcelona in February 2020 on a shoot for an amazing campaign with lots of creative people. We flew back to London and were all on such a high, ready for it to go live in April around Coachella, then the world around us started to close in. We were grounded, and the project was canceled. We had all these amazing assets. It was a very confusing, kind of traumatic experience. I've worked since I was 17. I exhausted the banana bread recipes and at-home fitness workouts, and then I was like, “well, I love candles.” I was lighting them every day as a self-ritual to relax, and then I was like, “Right, let's try and do this.”
It started as a passion and experiment. I had a crack at making a candle, and it was awful. It was a glass candle. I looked at it the next day. It had all caved in.
Did you try to scent it?
It was scented. It smelt lovely, but I clearly hadn't done my research. I started to really drill into the candle market; look at other luxury candle businesses and big brands. I learned about the harmful substances put into candles like paraffin and different fragrances that could be harmful when breathed in.The more I dug, the more concerning it became, because a lot of these brands don't tell consumers what's in their products. I think consumers are becoming aware about candles specifically, but some brands have such a strong standing in the industry, it's hard for people to detach.
One of the things I want to do through Cent.Ldn is educate. We not only work with 100 percent natural ingredients; from soy, coconut and even olive wax, but work to zero waste production. Because we are handcrafted, hand-poured, we don't waste any materials. They go back to the wax burner, and we only work with raw materials. We're very strict on where we buy our materials from. Absolutely everything we put out is produced and manufactured in the U.K. from our packaging to our wax pellets, so we have a low carbon footprint.
When did it go from “I learned to make a candle” to retail?
I'd say around July or August was when all this research and experimentation happened. Around September, I'd come up with the idea for the Boombox Candle, and I wanted to create something specifically for an audience that appreciates that era of music. Then it was “what boombox am I going to pick? What would resonate with this audience?” I landed on this incredible JVC model that was used on LL Cool J's album cover when he was 16. If you go back to the album cover, you can't see a difference between our model and the original, and it all played into the storytelling of the pieces.
We want people to have a functional candle, to enjoy it and have that sense of joy and a relaxed moment; but we also want them to buy a product where they can tell a story in their home. We want it to be the centerpiece. We want people to come in and be like, "Wow, that's so cool," And you can be like, "Well, that's not any ordinary boombox, that's this,” and tell the story. Once that switched on in my brain, it became how I would think when working with any brand, trying to connect them with any partnership to tell the story.
That's when it really got me thinking, “I've created this functional candle that is also a collectible. I just need to run with this.”
What was the next step?
I was finding my craft and expertise in the candle market, but that doesn't mean I'm an expert in digital design. I'm not an expert in mold making, and I didn't want to be. It was about finding the team that would be a part of the process at product development.
It was so important to find experts. Our digital designer creates Lord of the Rings figurines digitally. Our mold maker works in Pinewood Studios, and sometimes on Star Wars and The Mummy films, FX and this. Everyone's best at what they do, which makes what we're offering and how creative we can be endless.
I wanted to build our own core collection, which we now have and is sold on our platform and various stockers like Selfridges. We just launched in Australia and New Zealand with Subtype, so we've got very credible luxury platforms where we sell from. On the flip side, we have our bespoke partnership department, and that gets me so excited because I love working with brands. I love that I built my own brand that these global brands want to work with. They find us culturally relevant.
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Who is your audience?
I always wanted to create a brand that went beyond the product, and I feel we're doing that authentically. We've got this community that's very into street culture, fashion and music, and they might not buy a candle, but they want to be a part of Cent.Ldn. They want to see what we're putting out, come to our events and know what's happening. Then we've got our consumer that's more of a luxury buyer that loves their interior pieces in their home, or it might be a gift, etc. The audience is so varied, but the common thread is definitely the appreciation of craft and the “wow” effect that our products have.
For everything that we put out, we have a rule of thumb: it needs to never have been done before—and if it has been done before, how do we do it bigger, better and get that shock factor?
It’s so smart to take something that’s already a part of someone’s lifestyle and merge that with other parts of their cultural cues.
I always have conversations with people and say “I feel so fortunate,” especially when I'm having conversations with brands about potential opportunities—and someone turned it on me and said, "you're not fortunate. Your 12 year career got you to this point; the hard work that you've put in, your experience, your talent. You're meant to be here.”
A slight bit of imposter syndrome, I would say I definitely had that. It's slowly shaking off, but I think women in business, it's a given sometimes that we feel that. In the first year, I was very reluctant to put myself forward as the founder. I naively thought that if consumers perceived it was a male-led brand, somehow it would be perceived better. I was so wrong. I can now proudly say I am the founder. I am the CEO. I have all of these amazing plans for the future, and I'm really happy to talk about it now, and I'm really proud.
That's why I want to do more things like this. I want to show up for women, because it's not a nice feeling to feel like that.
I totally respect and understand that journey. You were learning to redefine yourself to yourself. Congratulations for being at this point.
I've got a lot of people in my life that I'm thankful for. I have a group of women I've met across my career. They really are my dream team. I do believe to get anywhere in life, you need people that you can learn from, become each other's mentors, support in business and personal life. I feel really fortunate to have them.
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I'd love to hear more of what you’ve learned along the way. What are your biggest tips for entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. When you are talking to people, be super passionate about it and don't be afraid to be emotional, because people will buy into it. They love hearing your story and where you come from—which then leads me to identifying your passions and your strengths.
You're not going to be strong in every aspect of business. If you do need an expert, call on the experts. Throughout my 12 year career, I've met and built relationships with a wide network of people from all different creative backgrounds; photographers, videographers, communications people, editors, journalists. Use your network. Go through your phone book. It might not be that specific person that can help you, but perhaps they know someone.
The things you are strong in, put the hours in. The first year, I was up at 6 a.m. and in bed at 2 a.m. I know it's not for everyone, but I was passionate. I believed in what I was doing.
In the very beginning, I remember someone said to me “why are you incorporating a business? Why don't you just do an Instagram shop?" I said, "No, this is going to be big. If I want to play with global brands, I need to be taken seriously.” If you've got aspirations to work with big businesses, put in processes they respect. Get a great accountant. Have a good legal person on hand if you need to draft contracts. Set the groundwork.
Do your research in whatever you're doing. Research your USP. What makes you unique? Identify your target audience, research your competition, and know where you lie in your area whether it's a service or it's a product. We're a unique candle collectible in a luxury position, somewhere in between, the Kaws and Medicom collectible toy, and between Le Labo or Byredo [candles]. It's new, and it’s fun that we're going to go for it because we want to be in a lane of our own.
Take calculated risks. These don't need to be money-making risks, or spending money. It may be an event you're being asked to go to and you're not quite sure who's going to be there. There might be someone you meet. Always use opportunities to network.
Seek mentorship, whether that's with relationships you've got or new people that you meet—and embrace failure. Learn from your mistakes, and take time to learn. You can teach yourself most things, in terms of the business side. There will be moments when you feel you know absolutely nothing. Just stay focused and persistent. Nothing happens overnight. Stay grounded, and just keep going step by step.
If it ever feels overwhelming—which often it does for me, I cry probably every two weeks, but I feel overwhelmed because there's a lot of positive stuff happening. It's about prioritizing the positive opportunities and knowing where to put my energy, when to grow the team at the right time and so on. I will openly say that I would ask someone else in business who's done this before. I'd love to have a mentor tell me where I should invest and put my money into growth areas of the business.
Overall, just treat your business as your lifestyle. It fluidly runs in everything I do. There's never an off switch. So if you're down for that, you can do it, but it is a big commitment. I sometimes feel this weight pushing me on, and it's just friends, family and the community of Cent.Ldn who I've started to know on a personal level who are so supportive.
Join the growing Cent.Ldn community by following the brand on Instagram, and shop the full collection of core and bespoke candle products at centldn.com.
Photography by: Courtesy of Cent.Ldn