Insight: From Teaching for Seven Years to Building a Hand-Painted Candle Business and Collaborating with Fortnum & Mason

After teaching for seven years, Bianca White decided to pursue a new venture of hand-painting candles under her first business, Bable. In just over one year, Bable has collaborated on projects with Rixo, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason. This is her story.

Insight: From Teaching for Seven Years to Building a Hand-Painted Candle Business and Collaborating with Fortnum & Mason - DMY BY DMY

Featuring Bianca White (@bableit) in the Valentina (Havana)

What were you doing before you began working on Bable? Where did the idea of Bable come from? 

I was a primary school teacher, I taught Reception for seven years. I actually had no intention of ever setting up a business. Friends of mine who were furloughed during lockdown had a lot of spare time on their hands and they set up a side hustle but at the time, I was still working full-time and I enjoyed teaching. One day, I painted a candle in my garden and posted a photo of it on my personal Instagram and lots of my friends were asking whether they could buy it. After a week, I set up a business Instagram account and lots of random people were sharing the page and messaging me to buy. Since then, I’ve just been pretty busy painting so it wasn’t an intentional thing at all, but I am glad that it happened. After a month, the demand was quite high so I handed in my notice and said to my headmistress “This is going to sound really crazy but I’m going to have to leave teaching because I now have a full-time candle business”. So Bable has been my full-time job since January 2021.

Where did you learn how to paint?

It’s funny because I’ve never been the most artistic of people. When I was at school, I only did Art for GCSE and I didn’t get a very good grade and I didn’t study it after that. I have always enjoyed it, but I’ve never thought I was anything special. Lots of my designs are quite simple and bold, and when I do designs that are more elaborate, they never do as well as the more simple ones. I just think there’s something quite sweet in keeping it plain and repeating the patterns. I definitely don’t consider myself an artist, but I’m definitely more arty than academic. I studied Media at Goldsmiths, which again is quite creative, but I honestly just got by and now it’s so funny that I paint all the time.

Where do you draw inspiration for your designs? Why candles? 

I’m big into colour and I love flowers and cute little things, so I get it from all around me – clothes, jewellery etc. The colours are really important, I think they either have to be contrasting or go well together. I also pick up on trends and see which colours are really in, for example, the lemon candles are my bestseller and people seem to love citrus at the moment. So fashion and flowers mainly. It’s not like I was a really huge candle lover in the past, but I saw tablescapes really evolving and I also did a four-week flower course at McQueens when the business had just started, and there were lots of candles involved, so I found that candles and flowers went quite well together.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on so far?

There have been so many exciting things. I remember at the start, I would get so excited when I would just paint something and it would look really nice. There have been some really cool projects that I’ve worked on with some really cool designs, like for Rixo. The candles are in Fortnum and Mason at the moment so they design them with me, and I did an advent calendar last year with Matilda Goad who’s a big interior designer and I also did a pop-up in Selfridges for a week. So I’ve had a lot of great opportunities come my way which have been crazy because I honestly didn’t intend for any of it to happen.

If you could introduce another product to your collection, what would it be? 

I’m actually in the process of introducing candle holders, because I feel like it’s just the natural progression to do that. I started making them with clay and painting them but I think that's a job I need to delegate. I already have a few prototypes and I’ve contacted somebody to make them and they should be out next year! 

What does a typical day look like for you?

I know lots of people say that it’s really good to get up early but since starting Bable, I haven’t set an alarm in the morning and that’s just a small act of self-care I take for myself but I do wake up naturally at around 7-7.30am anyway, so I don’t really sleep in late. I check my e-mails and see what orders have come through, package them and take them to the post office and go for a little walk. I come back and respond to my emails and try to keep up to date and then I pretty much will paint from the afternoon onwards. If it’s busy, I just have to wake up and paint straight away. I work most days but it doesn’t really feel like I’m 'working'. I’ve recently started doing a lot of workshops for brand events and hen parties, and they are sporadic and take up quite some time. At the moment, it’s prime selling time because of Christmas gifts and tables etc so I’ve been working quite late into the evening but in the summer I do try and finish a bit earlier. Outside of the painting, I’m a big foodie so I love eating out and going for drinks with my friends.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start their own brand?

I would say start small, and just start. Because along the way, you will learn so much and everything will change and you’ll just adapt. As long as you just start moving and try, because it’s so unpredictable and you won't ever know whether something is going to be a success, but you just have to try.

What would you say to someone who wants to pursue a business idea but is afraid of walking away from a secure job with a regular income?

It is scary - I’m used to getting that pay cheque at the end of each month and now suddenly, some months are up and others are down. For me, that’s for sure the scariest part but it’s also so exciting and you’ll find you just have to move forward with it. I would say that if you do go full-time with it, you’ll find that you have no other option and you will just do things to make it work. You’ll go down different avenues and adapt what you’re doing and just follow where the demand goes. It will be up and down, but if you work hard at it and listen to what’s happening around you, you’ll do well. You just have to be confident and willing to take risks, because nothing is ever certain but it’s better to do something you love than stay in something that you don’t feel rewarded by and that doesn’t make you feel good. So if you want to get out there and do your own thing, it’s definitely better to try and you’ll grow so much – and that’s priceless.

What’s next for Bable?

I need to hire more – I don’t want to call them ‘employees’ because it’s more of a collaborative experience – I just need more people to paint with me. I’m currently working from home in my living room, so I think a studio would be quite good. And I think it would be quite good for my structure and routine as well because it would force me to condense my work and work ‘smarter’. I would also love to move more into homeware!

Bianca's Round of Speed Dating with DMY

1. What is your go-to drink?
I’m an Aperol spritz girl.

2. What was the last thing you Googled?
‘Is Aunty spelt ‘Aunty’ or ‘Auntie'... That is so uncool but it's true.
3. What was the last book you read?
If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair: A Manual for Life by Anya Hindmarch
4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? 
Italy – the food, the weather, just everything is such a good vibe.
5. What is your favourite TV show?
6. What would be your ideal date?
A summer picnic in the park with a couple of drinks, nice sandwiches and a cute picnicscape.
7. What’s your guilty pleasure?
I'm such a chocoholic.
8. What’s the best and worst purchase you’ve ever made?
Best: The pink velvet chair in my bedroom. It’s called a love-seat. I love it so much.
 Worst: A pink faux leather biker jacket with faux fur around the waist. I’ve never worn it and every time I look at it in my wardrobe, I’m like ‘why did I even buy that?’
9. What was your first concert?
 I think it was a Capital Jingle Bell Ball...
10.  Make a party playlist with 3 songs:
Beyoncé ‘Schooling for Life’
Fergie ‘Glamorous’
Florence and the Machine ‘You’ve Got the Love’