“The first lockdown was hard for everyone and being stuck at home was so mind-numbing that I needed something to occupy myself other than work,” says Aliyah Allen, 26, the founder of candle company Allen At Home. “I’d always been interested in doing my own thing and candles were in the back of my mind.”
While in lockdown in South London with more time on her hands to research and practice her craft last year, Aliyah took the opportunity to just get started alongside her day job as a digital designer. “The pandemic allowed me to gain a new skill and do something different and I haven't looked back.”
Why candles? “I just like smelling nice things,” she says. “A lot of the expensive candles I could never afford, and the cheaper ones are poorly made, so I wanted to create something in the middle. I like the feeling a candle gives just after you've finished with the day, relaxing and winding down.”
Aliyah runs the eco-friendly and cruelty-free business from home and has recently added other homeware items such as hand soaps, diffusers and coasters to her candle range.
Running a company solo can be a lonely business, but the family group chat is her sounding board. “When I was coming up with the name I was brainstorming with them what to call it.” As a designer, she also has several design friends who share advice about branding. “It’s helpful to bounce branding ideas off them and ask for feedback.”
“It’s all my own ideas, my own branding and it's something I can say I created”
For Aliyah, this flexibility is the best thing about running a small business. “I can usually dedicate time to doing it after work, on weekends or sometimes at lunchtime I might package up some stuff to take to the post office. I can choose when to dedicate my time towards it.”
Aliyah also appreciates the relative ease of managing a “compact” business that she has total control over. “I can manage my time quite well and I don’t bite off more than I can chew,” she explains. “I like that everything is my own. It’s all my own ideas, my own branding and it's something I can say I created.”
“When people who I don't know buy something it’s always a surprise”
Being so intimately involved in every aspect of the business means it’s even more flattering when people buy her products. “Your family and friends do it because they love you and want to support you, which is great, but when people who I don't know buy something it’s always a surprise,” Aliyah says.
“That's the bit that shocks me most and it motivates me to make my brand look as good and work as well as I can, because other people are looking at it and are interested in candles.”
The most challenging thing for Aliyah right now is how much work is involved in running Allen At Home. As well as producing the products – a batch of four candles takes her about an hour to make – there’s the admin side of things, such as processing orders, updating the website and social media accounts, and making sure her inventory is up to date so she doesn’t run out of components she needs.
“There was a point during the pandemic when, because of Brexit, there was a wax shortage,” Aliyah remembers. “My supplier was struggling to ship it over, so I had to buy things in bulk because I ran out of wax and I had to close the shop for a while.”
Already a Monzo current account holder, Aliyah joined Monzo Business in April to help create a clearer division between the money she was investing into her business and her personal finances. “It’s easy to use, you can separate money that’s for expenses, or supplies and things like that. That's helpful when I'm breaking down how much I've spent on supplies versus how much I've made,” she says.
“It got to the point where I wasn't coping and I had to take a break because it got too much”
Aliyah’s long-term aim is for her candles to be stocked in major outlets, and she doesn’t rule out running the business full time if she can make it work financially. In the meantime, she’s looking into setting up a market stall in her local area. “The big dream would be to have a massive studio where I can make my candles and do everything in one space, and possibly employ someone to help me with the admin side.”
Balancing her business with her full-time job and personal life is “still a work in progress,” Aliyah says. “It got to the point where I wasn't coping and I had to take a break because it got too much. I never had time to rest. I was working nine-to-five Monday to Friday, but Allen At Home was dedicated to my weekends and after work, so I never really took time for myself.”
Having recently moved to a house with a dedicated space to do “candle stuff”, Aliyah believes she’ll be able to take a step back when she needs to, but she’s still learning to switch off. “Running a business is ongoing, there's always something to do!”