A Conversation with Louise McLennan of Lulala

Louise McLennan developed an appreciation for all things vintage from an early age.  She has always enjoyed sewing and has a background in clothing alterations. So it was no surprise to find a selection of vintage clothing hanging on a rack at her market stall, alongside the tables laden with a gorgeous array of her handmade soy candles in unique, vintage glass vessels.

Louise makes the candles by hand in her own kitchen, the sweet, fruity fragrance spreading through her house in rural Waikato, where she lives with her partner and their three adored Chihuahuas, who were keen to greet me as I arrived to meet Louise for our chat about her business, Lulala.

Formerly from Waihi Beach, where she had her own gift shop, Louise has only been living in Hamilton for a year, but she has settled happily there. “I love it. There’s lots to do, lots of creative people and lots of events.”

I asked Louise what got her started making candles. “A friend of mine was making candles for me. I had these old jars and she filled them with wax for me, and then I thought I should just start making them myself. I started with the jars and then decided to go into the vintage vessels.”

The candles sold really well in her shop, but she closed it down when she moved to Hamilton, although there was a period of a couple of months when she lived in Hamilton and travelled backwards and forwards to work in the shop.

Prior to having her own gift shop, Louise and her mum had a tea shop together, serving Devonshire Teas and selling organic tea and tea accessories.

“Running a bricks and mortar store is quite different to having a market stall, there is less responsibility with a market, compared to a shop. You are quite tied down to a shop. The markets are more relaxed, have a fun vibe and you can meet lots of other creative people.”

Although, Louise says selling at markets can be a little stressful too and she wouldn’t want to do them monthly. She prefers to go to the bigger annual markets. “Getting my gazebo up is stressful because it’s a bit dodgy! Also I have to remember everything I need to take, especially if I’m travelling an hour or two to get there. Packaging up all my candles and transporting them is risky and when I get to the market the positioning of my stall is very important because if I’m in the sun the candles sweat.”

The candles have a memory, so the first time they are burned they should be left to burn until the top layer is all melted. This ensures that the candles burn evenly on subsequent lightings. People often ask Louise if the vessels themselves get hot, but she assures me that they don’t because they burn at a low heat.

As well as selling her candles at markets, Louise has her candles in stores around the country. She is keen to increase the wholesale side of the business. “I love seeing my candles in all the different stores and seeing everyone’s different ways of displaying them.” One of her clients, a store in Te Puna, supply their own vessels, which Louise fills with wax and returns to them to sell.

Louise has also made bespoke candles for weddings, filling supplied champagne glasses or making hanging candles. “Sometimes people have a special vase or heirloom piece that has been passed through their family, which they want to include in a table setting on their special day and I am happy to do that for them.”

The candles come in a range of sweet and fruity fragrances, including Pear, French Vanilla, Moroccan Orange, Coconut and Lime, Island Fruits and Peony. “They are very true to their scent,” Louise tells me, “My top seller is French Vanilla. My personal favourite is the Island Fruits, which is a new addition to my range.”

Louise has recently begun to make tea-lights too and is also planning to expand Lulala by including beauty products. “I would like to make natural balms and moisturisers in the same fragrance families.”

I ask Louise what challenges she faces in her business. She explains that during the production of the candles, the process can be quite temperamental, because when creating the candles the wax must be poured at the exact temperature. “In winter, if I pour them too cold they crack, in summer they sweat!”

Another challenge is sourcing a regular supply of vintage vessels. She buys them mainly from op-shops and is initially reluctant to reveal her favourite ones. “Yes, it is a bit of a secret,” she jokes, “but my favourites in Hamilton are the SPCA shop and the Hospice shop in Victoria Street. It’s nice to know I am supporting those causes too.”

There are not always a lot to be found though, as they have become more popular with people in recent years. “Some days I come back with a box-full and some days I come back with nothing – except maybe something for myself, like a vintage dress or something for the house! So I don’t usually come home empty-handed!”

Louise doesn’t have a website at the moment and admits she hasn’t utilised social media much to market her business, although she does have a Facebook page. “Yeah, I do need to work on the social media side of things. But my stockists are quite good at that, so I’m getting some exposure that way.”

Louise has a goal to have at least ten more shops stocking her products in the next year. She also intends to set up a website and focus a bit more on social media marketing.

Her family and friends are very supportive. “Everyone’s pretty encouraging and they love seeing me do well. Even though it’s just something small, I’ve had a really great response. It makes me feel good.”

The most enjoyable part of being the owner of Lulala, for Louise, is seeing the finished product and seeing her customers so happy with their purchase for themselves, or their satisfaction of finding the perfect gift for a friend.

You can find Louise on her Facebook page.