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With 2020 behind us I think we’ve all taken a collective sigh of relief. Inauguration has come and gone so it’s official we’ve got a new Commander in Chief. Plus Howard University is in the White House! While all of that is well and good, it isn’t why we’re here today. What I want to talk about isn’t the White House but all of our houses and what’s in burning them. We’ve been confined at home for the better part of almost a year. During quarantine some things have become obsessions for us all; from plants to reality TV. But I’d reckon to say that the real champion of 2020 was something much less assuming. 2020 my friends was the year of – the candle.

Many of us have trekked to Bath & Body Works at one time or another to reach across someone for a three wick, overly scented candle. What 2020 showed us was that candles are a hot commodity. And they wanted all the smoke, no pun intended. Over the course of last year we watched as brands pivoted and many were born out of necessity. Some folks needed to channel their creativity into something that would replace lost income. The public benefitted from it even amid the hits and the misses. As a person who already loved a quality candle last year brought more into my life. And maybe, like me, you encountered some you wanted to light again and again and some that needed to be snuffed. What I learned overall is that several didn’t cut it for various reasons. Scent, packaging, or the wick; something wasn’t right. So I want to break down what I consider a good candle.

What makes a good candle?

A quality candle has to hit three notes for me to purchase time and time again. Those are scent, packaging, and the burn time. If a brand can nail down all three it will secure its place in my rotation. If not, it’s likely going to end up in the garbage, sayonara. Let’s get into it!


Obviously scent is a huge factor in whether or not a candle will land a place on my mantle or credenza. What I found with most of the candles that crossed my path in 2020 was scents faint, unpleasant, or simply not a good mixture of oils. I think in an effort to capitalize off of popularity many newly minted candle makers didn’t do enough research in how to properly build scent. Instead there were some that were too overwhelming and others that didn’t even make a blip on the radar. For me a great candle can permeate your home without taking your olfactory hostage. I should still be able to cook in peace or taste my food without also tasting the candle. Otherwise it is intrusive and not calming.

Candles should be like a great background soundtrack, something that’s affects your mood but you didn’t even notice why. A scent should welcome you, be inviting, and lets you know that the place you’ve arrived is glad to have you. For me very few candles have been able to achieve that. But for those that have? Kudos!

Some of my favorite candles are those with fresh, airy, and light scents. During the year of the candle, the brands that did that consistently for me were Otherland, Boy Smells, and Overose. There are certainly plenty more but these are the three that have been on a constant rotation in my home. They have a good array of scent choices but also the smells allow life to happen with them. The first time a Boy Smells candle captured my attention was at Chef Mei Lin’s restaurant, Nightshade. The LES candle lit in the lavatory was the perfect accouterment to the space. It was fresh, gave the room an air of chic, was clean. I bought it the next day.

Your candle should create a mood. Let that guide your scent choice. Study which pair together well and think about how they fill a room. Musks and ouds may be overpowering for a room candle near a kitchen but could be perfect for a bedroom. Something heavily floral may be a bit much in a space where people are lounging, but in a bathroom? Thumbs up.


The next most important component of a great candle is the packaging. What I took note of during the year of the candle was that many creators didn’t pay attention to the vessel. Think about where you want a candle placed. Normally it is on display, which means your packaging should compliment a multitude of spaces. If your jars are brightly colored, don’t fall away into the background, or are simply not attractive – you’ve missed the mark. For me packaging is the foreplay and if you’re going to get to home base you’ve got to hit all the marks.  Now I recognize that for some, this makes no difference. However once you begin to really pay attention to package design you’ll begin to take notice of it everywhere. As a self-taught graphic designer I know that typeface, placement, and colors can all effect the way buyers consume a product. The trend right now is leaning toward minimalism. All white boxes with black typeface. The font is usually Helvetica or some other minimal sans-serif font.

The reason for this is because overly designed products or their boxes will distract from the purpose of the item. If you’re looking for your candle to be considered a luxury item think about leaning away from a noisy box or vessel. Personally I also like when candle makers think about what the candle will look like when it isn’t lit. Smoke and soot are real aftermaths to think on when making candles. Will the smoke or soot create a black ring around the jar? Is that going to detract from the look after it’s lit? This is something that candle companies need to ponder when they’re in development. These are the elements customers want even if they don’t know it.

Another element to consider is obviously adding matches. One thing I haven’t seen many companies do yet is offer a lighter. Branded matches are great but I collect matchbooks and love them, I’ve yet to see this done often either. Think outside the box! Especially if you’re going into a business that may be saturated with options.


Thirdly and finally, the wick. Though very integral to a quality candle it seems like it isn’t given much thought. I, for one, am partial to a wood wick simply because I enjoy the sound of the crackle as it burns. Yet most candles come with a classic white wax wick. It is likely the most cost effective option but what I would love for candle companies to give some thought is perhaps doing a black wick. Since the wick is going to burn and turn black anyway, why not begin that way? It brings a different element and to be frank stands out.

Candle connoisseurs such as myself know how important it is to cut a wick prior to lighting each time. However some wicks are too thick or difficult to cut making that necessary step almost impossible. When purchasing candles check the thickness of the wick so you know if your trimmer will be able to handle the job. That said I also think candle companies should consider adding trimmers to their packaging more than they do. Some brands have it covered but many are still missing that key element. Wicks also determine the way a candle burns and how quickly. This is something that can quickly turn me off from a candle, but get it right? You’ve earned your spot.

2020 brought with it a host of drama and everything under the sun but it also brought about a spirit of entrepreneurship that I loved to see. Anyone who knows me knows that business is near to my heart. People taking the reins on their lives and diving into their creativity to get paid? I love to see it. Candles were a market that plenty of people dove into head first. Some may have created something that lasts and others, well, you tried and that’s what counts. I am always game for discovering new brands and seeing what people bring to the table. I am excited to see what 2021 brings out of us all.

Were there any brands you loved in 2020? Drop your favorite scents and companies in the comments I’d love to see what is igniting your senses in your home. Until then.

Comments +

  1. Kali Monroe says:

    Im a self professed candle whore and I’ve had the privilege of two of my best friends delving into candle making in the past year and a half. Eclectic Energy/GGX makes great “intention” candles that come in tin cans and jars alike with both wooden and cotton wicks. Soulful Bliss Spa Boutique makes awesomely beautiful and uniquely scented candles that come in the cutest reusable jars. I was recently gifted two candles from A Scent Story and their Jilly from Philly and Terry McMillan candles from the Women’s Writer Collection smell amazing AND tell a story! I also enjoy DW Home candles as well!

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