Reader's Digest spoke to Bianca White to find out more about how she transformed from a primary school teacher into a candle-selling small business owner
How did Bable get started, and how would you best summarise what you offer?
It all started in a really strange way — It was just a project I did for myself, hand-painted candles as a gift for a friend whose dinner party I was attending. I shared a photograph on Instagram, and before I knew it, I was suddenly getting so many messages from my friends saying, 'Oh my god, Can I have one?' or 'You should try this design'. Et voilà, Bable was born! It was a wonderful, unexpected thing, and as my inbox of requests got more and more full, I began the business, hand-painted candles with all kinds of fun motifs. Still to this day, my friends that I gave the original gift to laugh about how it all just came together so organically.
Have you undergone any formal training/ previous roles that have helped with what you do for work now?
No, I honestly haven't! I was a reception class teacher beforehand, and I just completely stumbled across this. I've always loved throwing dinner parties, and my house is full of colour, designs and patterns, but I've never thought of myself as a creative person. I don't think there's a direct link, but so much of what I do now is Instagram-based, so I do feel like my classroom experience helps me to talk well on Instagram Stories and be confident about the presentational side of things. I'm getting a lot of requests to do workshops, so that’s a little like teaching! I never thought the two would connect, so it’s been really interesting to see how the disciplines do overlap.
"I've always loved throwing dinner parties, and my house is full of colour, designs and patterns, but I've never thought of myself as a creative person"
How did you know you were ready to take the leap from teaching to working full-time on Bable?
I started in the summer holidays, and then after one month, I just said my mum, “Should I quit my job and just do this full time?” and she just said yes, just do it, take the chance. So I handed in my notice! I had no clue what I was walking into, but the demand was there and I just thought I should just take a risk. My headteacher was a bit taken off-guard and said I could continue teaching part-time, but I had to turn that down because I thought that if I was going to take this chance, I really wanted to throw everything at it. So in January, after I’d worked my terms notice and the mad Christmas rush which was busier than anything I've ever experienced in my entire life, I started doing Bable full time.
I know it sounds crazy to go full time after only a month, but I really didn’t think twice. I was a bit naive; I did think that quitting my job would give me more time for painting, but it's not been like that. I'm busier now than I was when I had two jobs! But my reception class were so sweet about it—I showed them the website and they were all really excited and picking their favourite designs which was lovely. It was nice that I was able to show them that I was going to do something tangible, that they didn't think I was just disappearing into thin air.
How does your work compliment your personality?
It compliments it 100%. All my friends and family say that I am ‘Bable’ and often call me it as a nickname. I am fun, quirky and colourful, and my work has let me become friends with so many fascinating creatives who have really enriched my life.
Decorative candles are having a real trend moment - what is it about the form that really speaks to you, and that you think speaks to other people?
I think that they are doing so well because it's just a touch of something special, and with the hand-painted aspect, they have a real feeling of uniqueness to them. A lot of people have been ordering personalised ones for celebrations with loved ones names on them or things that they like which will mean a lot to them. With so many of us spending so much time at home during the lockdown, they add a real touch of quirky, individual joy.
I find with my customers that they buy them and have them on display, but only burn them for a very special occasion. When they're celebrating, they light them and send me a message that they've finally lit their special candle, which is really touching. I do get scared that it's just a trend thing, but then I remember that candles have been around as a celebratory item for so long and are used all the time, so hopefully, there will be some longevity to it.
"With so many of us spending so much time at home during the lockdown, they add a real touch of quirky, individual joy"
What does a typical workday look like for you?
All days are completely different. I started by trying to catch up with all my emails, the admin side of things. I'm not the best at sticking to that, but I'm trying to get better! I then packaging up things for the post office, which always takes longer than you think it is going to take. In the afternoon, I do the creative stuff; if it's a sunny day, I always try to take a couple of photos outside in the natural light, and then I sit and paint, often long into the evening.
I do often work until it's quite late—the part about a small business being so much more than a 9-5 is completely true! It takes over your whole life. When you really want something to succeed and do well, you kind of do just naturally put the hours in. But boundaries are still important; you’ve got to remember to hold something back for yourself.
What do you like to do to switch off?
When everything gets a little too much, I will go for a walk along the river and listen to a podcast; Holly Tucker’s ‘Conversations of Inspiration’ are my favourite.
I'm also a massive foodie; I'm one of those people that have a list on their phone of all the restaurants they want to try out. I love exploring new places, and my list is very long now that we've been in lockdown. I've got a few lovely bookings coming up which I'm very excited about and is another good way to remind myself to take breaks. It’s a nice way to take time to celebrate your successes—it’s easy to stay constantly striving for something without actually stepping back to appreciate any of it.
What would you say are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
It can be a bit of a problem, but I love doing the new designs. I like to keep it fresh and I'm always updating what I do. People sometimes get frustrated when things go out of stock, but I just love to reinvent and not do the same things over and over again.
My least favourite thing is packing the orders. I'm such a worrier that sometimes when I pack loads of boxes I think oh my gosh, are the right candles in there? Is the label on wrong?! Whenever I walk to the post office, I always worry that I've sent the wrong thing, but nine times out of ten it's completely fine, and even if there is a mistake customers are always really nice about it. When I first started my business, I used to handwrite all the addresses and the fire disclaimer that goes into the package, but because I'm dyslexic I was always making mistakes and would have to start again. It was a very long process, but now thank God, I've got a label printer, and postcards.
"I used to handwrite all the addresses and the fire disclaimer that goes into the package, but because I'm dyslexic I was always making mistakes and would have to start again"
What has been the most valuable business lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Get a label printer! But really, I think the main thing is to just trust your gut instinct and roll with the punches. You will make mistakes a lot of the time, but you've just got to train your mind to see it as an opportunity to improve and a good thing to make your business better. Sometimes an email will slip through the net and you’ll miss a big chance or an opportunity with a brand that you would love to work with, but then you've got to remember that when you've got so many other things coming up, you can't do everything. You have to let some things go.
Something that has helped is being confident to recruit assistance when you are in a position to do so. I’ve got some fantastic painters working freelance on my team now, because it got to the point where I physically couldn't get everything done. It can be so intimidating to hire people, but often it's what you need to do in order to grow, and it was one of the best things I ever did. It has freed me to do so much more, but also having a business can be lonely—you can bore people if you keep talking about it the whole time. If you employ people that are really lovely and that are invested in you as a business, they want it to grow with you and they enjoy talking about it, often as much as you do.
I'm also trying to learn how not to compare myself to others. It's so hard; you're so involved in your business, what's good, what's bad, what's coming up, what you've missed out on, but you don't know what other people are doing. And so you automatically think, “oh my gosh, their business is growing, are they getting all the opportunities that I should be getting?” But you've got to remember that you are what makes your business special. A bit of jealousy can be useful, but you have to channel it in a positive way and think about how it can energise what's next for your business.
And what has been your most tangible achievement?
I'm the type of person who is very tunnel vision, always head down and moving forward. But I've just completed a pop-up event in Selfridges, and I've never done anything like a real-life event in that way. It was extremely full-on; before I'd even started I was exhausted from painting the most stock I’d ever had to make. But the feeling of people coming down to see you, actually being able to take a step back and have a look at my stall with all my candles in professional packaging... it was all so beautiful being in Selfridges, surrounded by all these amazing established brands. It was something I could have never imagined a year ago when I didn't even have a business, and it just made me feel really proud.
In five years’ time, where would you like to see the business?
This is something I've been thinking about quite a lot recently as the country re-opens; I really want to make a big splash in the event industry. I think that's what brings me the most joy, creating new things, tailor-making for customers. I'd love to work at parties and festivals, and I've got quite a few weddings coming up, but I always want more and more. And I would also love to branch out further into homeware—just a small homeware line of candlestick holders, tablecloths, really cute items to host with.
If you weren’t in this line of work, what other career would you love to have?
Just before I painted that first candle, I was enrolling in a flower course for the summer holidays, so I would have gone down that route. That's why my Instagram is very floral; I always love to have fresh flowers in the house. I would love to do something involving that, but it’s one of the hardest medium to work with, because flowers are so temperamental and so delicate. Maybe one day I can merge the two.
Lastly, a very important question – if you had to recommend one candle to a new customer, which would you pick?
This is quite an easy question for me! It's not necessarily the candle I like the best, but the one that represents the brand my best, the one that took my business to the next level, has to be the lemons. No matter what new designs I put out, it remains my best seller; it reminds me of the summertime bliss of the Amalfi Coast and the neutrality of the design just goes with everything. I’ve seen more candle companies forming that all do lemons as well, so there must be something in the psychology - yellow is the colour of the season! It’s just a lovely reminder of where all of this really started.
Read more: A history of the mullet
Read more: Caring for and styling post-pandemic hair
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter