Throughout the last decade, I have had the honor of getting to know hundreds of incredible, inspiring entrepreneurs who are working to make us healthier human beings. Today I’m excited to introduce you to Stephen Tracy, the founder of Keap Candles, who is as beautiful inside as he is out. We instantly clicked when we met last year in the west village of Manhattan over a cup of tea. As a company, Keap is breaking through the toxic candle scene and waking people up to the awful toxins in the wax and wicks of candles. Shocker, right? We all grew up inhaling that junk. Move over Yankee Candle. (p.s. Yankee Candles are FULL of toxins). Please do not light them or inhale them. Move on and upgrade your candles; you’ll learn why and how after you read this interview. I have a feeling you’re really going to love these candles.
Today, Stephen is telling his story of starting Keap from scratch in Brooklyn, what makes these gorgeous candles different from all the toxic candles out there, and he’s offering us all a touch of inspiration along the way. I couldn’t resist featuring Stephen because I adored his energy and his work is exceptional.
I think you’re really going to enjoy this. xx
What led you to create Keap candles?
Harry and I were roommates on Keap St. and we loved scented candles (read: we had multiple drawers full of candles at any time). But the more candles we bought, the more frustrated we were how hard it was to find out what was in them. It started as a pet project—we Googled things, took perfumery courses, began making candles in our kitchens, and toured candle manufacturers. We basically did anything we could to learn more about how candles are made and what’s in them. The more we learned, the more we came to understand that there was very little care about what went into candles (with more care about profit margins). So we decided to do something better and started Keap!
What have you learned about toxicity and candles over the years?
Mainly that this is something that’s been ignored; there’s very little scrutiny on it unlike in the beauty industry. For example, candles do not require any labeling other than the safety warnings about fire-risk. So a $10 or $70 candle could both contain the same sooty waxes like paraffin and you’d have no way of knowing. This lack of scrutiny means that “toxicity” in candles is mis-used and poorly defined. For example, essential oils are not inherently safe to use in a candle at any level just because they’re natural. We voluntarily test our fragrances against an internationally recognised set of standards to assess safety based on scientific studies. It’s certainly worrying to think that other manufacturers are under no pressure to assess their fragrances for safety.
What is something that everyone should focus on when looking for non-toxic candles?
I think looking to companies that take this stuff seriously, so you know they’ll do the hard work and research for you. That means companies that don’t just blindly applying labels with subjective words like “natural”, but rather having clear, transparent principles about sourcing and really think about what goes into their products. It can be surprising to learn that some natural ingredients are banned at certain levels in perfumery. When you think about it though, it’s not like plants create extracts to be used in creams and candles; many of the world’s most toxic materials come from plant species. Also, words like “natural” which aren’t regulated can mean anything; and everyone will define them differently. So it’s important as a consumer to know which words are regulated (e.g. “organic”), and which ones are not (e.g. “natural”).
What are your candle wicks and wax made out of?
Our wicks are all cotton wicks, and we steer clear of other metal-based wicks for cotton. Fun facts: the use of lead in wicks has actually been banned since 2003—I don’t think there is a single candle out there that has lead wicks, despite many of us candle-makers acting as if this were a really exciting feature. .
What are your two favorite Keap candle scents?
That’s tough, as we’ve been lucky enough to develop all our fragrances directly with our master perfumer so they’re all labors of love. In general, favorite smells are highly integrated with personal, emotional memory. So I love our scent Waves—reminiscent of the sea air in late summer— as I grew up on a small island of the coast of the UK called Guernsey. The fresh smell of the sea was never far away. My other favorite is Wild Figs. It has a very sensual aspect to the smell, that makes it a scent you keep wanting to come back to for another smell.
What was the major turning point for you in your journey so far?
My greatest life turning point was coming out as gay. I grew up in the UK, which is famously conservative, and then I went to a boarding school which was extra-conservative. Finding the confidence to break free of societal expectations was terrifying and also liberating. It taught me to live to the beat of my own drum, and I’ve been happier ever since. In that way, it made making the leap from corporate job to candle-making easy, and taught me not to compromise on the integrity of our ideals. Ever.
Tell us something about Keap that makes your candles unique…something that we wouldn’t know by looking at your candle vs. a toxic Yankee Candle.
Our fragrances are made by a master perfumer who has spent over 25 years perfecting his perfumery skills. To give you an idea of the extent of this mastery, there are only ~200 master perfumers in the world. What that means is that our scents are complex—sometimes as many as 50 ingredients—all blending together to create the final feeling. Cheaper scents tend to rely on just a few cheap ingredients blended together hence their lack of depth, and why they grow boring quickly.
What’s your wellness routine? Do you have one?
Mine is morning-focused and quite quick, but if you start the day right it tends to head in the right direction. I wake up, drink as much water as I can and I add a little coconut oil. I find that having some fats first thing in the morning helps “unfog” my brain more than coffee. I then make my lunch for the day—typically roasted veggies and green with a simple lemon olive oil dressing. More recently I’ve started taking a moment to set my mind off on a positive note for the day by thinking about everything I am grateful for. It’s surprising how big a difference such a small thing can make when done daily.
Top 2 favorite songs:
Oh gosh, that’s tough. There’s very few genres I don’t like, and I’m always trying to listen to new stuff. I think it’s one of the rare things that connects us all together as humans. The last two tracks that played on my Spotify: Stevie Wonder, Master Blaster and Sampha, Plastic.
Life changing book you’ve read:
Alan Watts – The wisdom of insecurity. A book written 60 years ago that is a philosophical antidote to today’s hyper-connected world.
Where do you live?
In the West Village in lower Manhattan. It’s my attempt to pretend I never left the charming cobblestones of Europe! My favorite spot near me in New York is Jack’s Stir Brew. It’s a tiny neighborhood place right by a fire station; the firefighters are often sat outside chatting, drinking coffee and eating donuts and the tourist inside of me gets very pleased.
When do you feel most at peace?
When I crawl into bed at the end of a day. I let go of the day, and I don’t worry about tomorrow, and then often in seconds, I am asleep.
The place where you go to find inspiration:
Nature in any form. In the city that means green spaces (so few in NY though!). On the weekend that might mean escaping to the beach or upstate. Vacations are the real time for a full recharge and inspiration; I would always rather visit the wilderness than another metropolis. The mountains of Scotland, or the desert of New Mexico. I don’t really mind where, as long as it’s big beautiful, and there’s not too many other people.
Fill in the Blanks
The future… is up to you.
Happiness… dark chocolate.
Sundays are… lie-ins.
There’s a time and place for… breaking rules.
There is too much… technology.
There is not enough… silliness.
In the end…it’s about leaving the world a little better than we found it.
SHOP the STORY
Check out Keap for more information; these candles make FABULOUS holiday gifts for all of you in search for housewarming or holiday gift suggestions.