Green lights the way


Things are looking bright for the country’s sole halal candle manufacturer.

DIM the lights, strike a match and transform your living room into a santuary of flickering calm. That’s what Simon Yeoh, 41, has been doing since the 1990s.

Yeoh and his business partner Vincent Chong, 39, light candles around the house on a regular basis – for dinner, over a glass of wine, or simply to relax and take in the aroma of tropical flowers, cinnamon or patchouli.

Lucky for them, they have an endless supply of candles to do this. After all, they are the directors of Organic Candle Manufacturing Sdn Bhd, a factory which they set up in Sg Petani, Kedah, in 2001 to produce vegetable-based candles.

Yeoh and Chong share a friendship which dates back to their college days in Kuala Lumpur, before both of them went to Oklahoma in the United States to further their studies.

After spending a number of years in Oklahoma where he did his master’s degree in marketing, Yeoh grew accustomed to the idea of lighting candles to chill out.

Upon his return to Malaysia, Yeoh spent the next three years working as a manager in the international and sales departments of a well-known Japanese candle company in Kedah.

At that time, there was no factory in the country which produced solely 100% vegetable-based candles. Yeoh was quick to see potential there, and invited his buddy, Chong, to take a leap of faith with him. Together they founded Organic Candle Manufacturing Sdn Bhd which operates from Yeoh’s home base in Kedah.

“We didn’t have much capital then, and started off making candles with a PVC water pipe,” Yeoh recalls.

The early days were marked by trial and error but Yeoh and Chong were undaunted. They even remember the time the wax-stand caught fire because the wax got over-heated. Back then, not many people were interested in going green. As there was no economy of scale, palm wax candles cost 50% more than paraffin ones.

Paraffin candles were popular because they cost less to produce and burned cleaner than tallow (rendered or heated animal fat), the traditional constituent of candles.

However, paraffin candle has a lower melting point, so stearic acid, which is derived from rendered animal fat, was used to raise the melting point of the wax mixture to make the candle more hardy and durable.

“Our first customer was The Body Shop; they had been looking for palm wax candles for years,” says Chong. Over the years, as the green consciousness spread, orders began trickling in.

The candles manufactured at Organic Candle Manufacturing Sdn Bhd are very different from the paraffin candles that you find in the market. These eco-friendly candles are made from 100% renewable resources, unlike paraffin wax which is a derivative of petroleum.

Palm wax in particular has been lauded for its ability to resist melting in hot temperatures, and takes to colours easily.

It also holds fragrances well and is suitable for producing an infinite array of pretty surface patterns, ranging from complex crystalline designs to solid colours. The wax is also easy to clean.

“Palm wax candles have a lower oil content than paraffin or other waxes,” explains Yeoh. “This means that when the wax spills, it is easy to remove, leaving less oil stain.”

There are other advantages to palm wax candles. Aside from having a longer burn time, these candles are also free from animal fat.

“All our candles have been certified as halal,” says Chong.

The past five years have seen an increasing trend towards “natural candles” which are made from palm wax, soy wax and beeswax.

The first country the duo exported their candles to was Australia, through a contact Yeoh made while working for his previous company. They also met new clients through the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade).

Before long, orders started rolling in until it came to a point when they had to turn away some clients.

To boost production, a second factory is being constructed near the first plant. Thanks to a more favourable economy of scale, prices have dropped significantly.

“Now palm wax candles cost between 15% and 20% more than paraffin wax candles,” says Chong.

“The higher price of palm wax candle can be attributed to the fact that it needs more attention during the production stage. The composition of palm wax may change with each batch, so we have to adjust the formula accordingly. The rejection rate is also higher, compared to paraffin.”

Organic Candle Manufacturing Sdn Bhd produces about 500 tonnes of candles a year. Chong modestly admits that the company is still small compared to the big boys, some of whom churn out close to 1,800 tonnes of candles a month.

“We may be small but we are well-known in the industry. We are the only company in the country that makes 100% vegetable-based candles.”

In some ways, the company’s size has its advantages. Besides a team of permanent workers who hand-make the candles, melting the wax and adding fragrance and dye before moulding, shaping and drilling holes in them, the company offers part-time employment to women who work from home.

“We employ single mothers and families in the vicinity to thread the wick through the candle and pack the products,” says Yeoh.

The company has a wide base of clients, mostly from Europe and the United States. However, they are beginning to get more local orders. Aside from The Body Shop and BritishIndia, wedding planners, hotels and spas are beginning to purchase candles from Organic Candle Manufacturing.

“A lot of companies seeking ISO 14000 environmental management standards are looking for eco-friendly products to buy,” says Yeoh.

“All our supplies come from sources certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We do not buy palm oil from Indonesia which, though 20% cheaper, may be the result of unsustainable deforestation practices.”

Organic Candle Manufacturing candles come in an endless supply of colours and aromas, with a variety of pretty effects, including solid, marbled and snowflaked textures. You can get solid pillars, floating flowers, heart and shell shapes, glass encased tea lights or tapered spirals.

Currently, the company only accepts bulk orders.

Chong hopes that in tandem with the growing green consciousness, local businesses will begin to see the benefits of using palm wax candles.

“They are perfect for wedding gifts, hotels and spas,” adds Chong. A nice touch perhaps, for those who warm up to the idea of enjoying a little ambience, minus the guilt factor.

For more information on Organic Candle Manufacturing Sdn Bhd, check out www.organiccandle.com

Safety tips THERE’S nothing like the soft light and aroma of candles to set the mood, whether it is a romantic dinner, a relaxing bubble bath or for the festive season. However, there is an art to burning your candle properly and safely. Here are some tips for doing just that: > If you have a heap of candles to light but no long matchstick, try using a strand of spaghetti. > Trim the wick: If your wick is too long, this can cause the flame to flare. Try trimming the wick to 0.6mm before every use. > Never trim a wick when it is cold; cold charred wicks may break off at the wax surface and leave nothing to relight. > Keep the wax pool free of wick trimmings, matches and other debris that could catch fire from the flame. > If you like grouping your candles together, try to make sure they are at least 8cm apart. Candles grouped too closely together can create their own draft and cause the flames to flare. > Burn your candles in a well-ventilated room, away from drafts and air currents. > Always use an appropriate candle holder placed on a stable, heat-resistant surface. > Never leave a burning candle unattended, and never burn a candle near anything that might catch fire. > Discontinue using your candle once it is within 5cm of the holder or 1cm from the container bottom. > Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.

THERE’S nothing like the soft light and aroma of candles to set the mood, whether it is a romantic dinner, a relaxing bubble bath or for the festive season.

However, there is an art to burning your candle properly and safely. Here are some tips for doing just that:

> If you have a heap of candles to light but no long matchstick, try using a strand of spaghetti.

> Trim the wick: If your wick is too long, this can cause the flame to flare. Try trimming the wick to 0.6mm before every use.

> Never trim a wick when it is cold; cold charred wicks may break off at the wax surface and leave nothing to relight.

> Keep the wax pool free of wick trimmings, matches and other debris that could catch fire from the flame.

> If you like grouping your candles together, try to make sure they are at least 8cm apart. Candles grouped too closely together can create their own draft and cause the flames to flare.

> Burn your candles in a well-ventilated room, away from drafts and air currents.

> Always use an appropriate candle holder placed on a stable, heat-resistant surface.

> Never leave a burning candle unattended, and never burn a candle near anything that might catch fire.

> Discontinue using your candle once it is within 5cm of the holder or 1cm from the container bottom.

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