When the founders of home fragrance brand Black BLAZE Joe Zhou and Ray Zheng were dreaming up their home fragrance brand, it was always going to be connected to nature. “The eagerness to get close to nature is planted in everyone’s hearts. Regardless of what kind of environment we live in, we'll always find a way to get closer to nature,” says Joe. It was the Australian-native wildflower, the banksia, that inspired the name Black BLAZE. “We are amazed by a banksia’s life cycle. In the warmer months, after bushfires and back-burnings, banksia seeds shoot out into the ash left behind by the fire. This ash nourishes a new banksia to grow. Sometimes, I feel like this story resonates with ours,” says Ray.
This month, McMullin & co. have launched a scented candle collaboration with the creative duo – a beautiful, curved candle vessel which resembles the abstract lines of a body and carries three scents inside. The creamy white textured vessel is designed to use long after your candle has burnt – think of it as a piece of home décor you’ll love for years to come. And of course, being Black BLAZE, the three heavenly scents will transport you deep into nature. “The Bushwalk scent is infused with citrus herbs and eucalyptus. While the light, earthy fragrance of Rainforest Sunlight smells like a rainforest after the rain. The Vetiver & fig is clear and calming and reminds me of a salty breeze scent. There’s the freshness of moss and a hint of sweetness from fig,” explains Ray.
Here, we speak to the inspiring founders of Black BLAZE about starting their brand, their love of nature, and why rituals create memories.
You travel, smell and bottle the smells of your favourite places around Australia – with summer holidays approaching, where is your favourite destination in Australia and why?
Our favourite summer holiday destination would be Palm beach in Sydney. It’s not far from us, so it’s always our first choice for a weekend day trip. It allows us to escape from work and instantly switch into holiday mood. We always find the sunset scene astonishingly beautiful.
You developed Australia’s 1st wooden wick candle – why is this candle so unique and tell me about the experience it creates?
Black BLAZE is one of the pioneering candle brands that uses wooden wicks. Compared with cotton wicks, wooden wicks bring a more natural burning experience. The healing sound when wooden wicks burn is another unique feature of them. To achieve the perfect burning experience while keeping the joyful burning sounds, we've experimented with dozens of combinations of types of wood and different sizes to find out our current choice - a double wick which combines maple and cherry wood. We're proud that since the birth of our first candle, we still use the same raw materials and ingredients.
Does the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi-Sabi inspire your work?
Before establishing Black BLAZE, Ray worked as the chief editor of Kinfolk magazine’s Asian version. The Nordic minimalism and lifestyle this magazine represented have influenced us a lot. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic philosophy worshiping crafts and imperfections. To appreciate wabi-sabi, the first step is to learn to speak to oneself and speak to nature. Wabi-sabi influenced us in terms of product design and the interior design of our Paddington store.
We've heard a clever explanation of wabi-sabi. It’s about a Japanese monk master cleaning a yard full of fallen leaves in Autumn. After finishing his cleaning work, he would walk to the tree and lightly shake the trunk on purpose so that a few pieces of leaves fall. I found that this story has a sense of zen and wisdom.
We're trying to interpret the wabi-sabi aesthetic philosophy and the minimalism lifestyle into the modern design language, introducing our customers' to timeless everyday products.
You’ve collaborated with McMullin & co. – how did this collaboration come about?
We first knew of McMullin & co. from its beautiful ceramic vases. A few years ago, our Paddington space stocked McMullin & co's bestselling vases. We're glad to see that McMullin & co has developed as a mature designer brand whose products varying from furniture to homewares. We were delighted to join this creative adventure when Alice, the founder of McMullin & co, reached out to us to see if we’d like to do a scented candle collaboration.
Tell me about the candle vessel you’ve created in collaboration with McMullin & co?
The candle vessel follows the classic McMullin & co design. Simple, elegant, and fun. The asymmetric shape drafts abstract lines of the body. We also love the rough texture of stoneware. It feels natural and comfortable. You can touch and feel the warmth of the earth. It’s designed to be a centrepiece and we encourage people to reuse the candle vessel as a decor when the candle is burnt out.
Your favourite colour is cream white – tell me why you picked this as the colour for the candle vessel created with McMullin & co?
Cream white is the natural colour of soy wax. It looks like the colour of white sand on a sunny day. It’s bright, but with a warm hue and it brings you a sense of calm. It makes people feel cosy and peaceful. That's what we want to deliver to our customers - a relaxing experience which enables them to slow down and enjoy aromatic moments with our candles.
Being around creative people is so important – tell me about some of the creatives you surround yourself with?
Our works offer us the opportunity to work closely with creatives on everything from product development to campaign photo shoots. That's also a big reason why we love our job. We have worked with talented local stylists such as Jono Fleming and Kerrie-Ann Jones on our campaign shoots. We always learn so much from their understanding of interior styling and love how they style our products.
As nature and travel are always important inspirational sources for Black BLAZE, we recently presented a monthly online journal titled Traveller’s Notebook, hoping our audience can keep inspired. We invited our friend, Liz Schaffer, the chief editor of the British independent travel magazine Lodestar Anthology, to be our guest author of the journal. Liz is originally from Sydney, now based in London. For Liz, Australia is both home and a travel destination. Her words are beautiful and warm, and intriguingly tell stories about her travel around Australia and thoughts on the road.
We're also inspired by Alice and the team's enthusiasm for original design and their courage to expand into new areas. We know how complex the creative process can be, from a single idea to a product, so we admire what Alice and the team have done.
What was the most challenging part of launching your own business?
I believe the most challenging part for any start-up business is courage. Especially when you are trying to devote yourself to a new career that you may not be familiar with. We can plan for the best but cannot predict the future. It may work, and it may not. We faced self-doubt at the beginning of this brand journey, and when I look back now, I realise that knowing what we're really good at from the very beginning and using this to build our brand is the most crucial part. Be unique and stick to your aesthetic and style; there will always be someone who can see and appreciate you.
What is your advice to someone looking to launch their own product – is there anything you wish you had known before you launched?
Being yourself and telling your unique story via products. Your design and positioning are your brand's most valuable assets in the market. Be unique, even if you think it's not perfect yet. Being trendy is tricky, as it changes. However, your style will remain.
Finally, why are rituals such as lighting a candle so important in our lives?
Rituals create memories. Rituals make an ordinary day different from others so that we can remember those moments. The things we call rituals are generally simple but joyful, such as lighting a candle or decorating a festive dining table. Ritually conducting these things brings us a sense of certainty and belonging. The dancing fire of candles at the party or the welcoming aromas before you come home – those moments subtly deliver our feelings.
Nowadays, spending time with yourself is crucial and it’s essential that you feel relaxed and calm in your own spaces. It's like a recharging process with healing power. Lighting a candle is part of this healing ritual. The crackling sound of a burning candle is the best white noise for concentrating and relaxing.