From humble beginnings in Amarillo, Janet Coffman’s candles travel great distances, destined to be burned by customers around the globe. “They go crazy for our candles in Switzerland,” Coffman says. The former art teacher and bookkeeper works by herself—with her four beagles and one mutt rescue underfoot—in a tiny home studio just off the laundry room, producing as many as one hundred candles a day. She adds fragrance to pure soy wax, pours the wax into recycled wine bottles (which she’s cut and sanded by hand), then tops each bottle with a large cork that she’s branded with a hot iron. Finally, she packs them up to be sent out into the world. What is it about these candles that resonates with customers in far-flung locales? Coffman, who sold her first candle in a local antiques store just three years ago, says it’s the handmade feel of Circle 21, which was named for the cattle brand used on her husband’s family ranch. “The little imperfections of a handmade product are what I love best about the look of my candles. I think the imperfections show the care that was taken to make each one.”
Q&A With Janet Coffman
Why did you start making candles?
Bookkeeping paid the bills, but I was always trying to satisfy my need to create. And I’m sensitive to smells and find that so many candles tend to overwhelm a space. I wanted a clean, fresh scent, one that fills a space without consuming it.
How did you come up with the look of the line?
My daughter and her boyfriend own a design firm called Nudge, in Charleston, South Carolina. They took my idea and designed the labels, logo, and website. The recycled wine bottle and oversized cork with the family ranch brand was a family design effort. My husband and other family members all participate in the development of fragrances and fragrance names. But the actual candle production is all me.
When you first started out, what was the most challenging part?
It was a science project from the beginning. Controlling the temperature is the most important part of the whole process. If the wax gets too hot and you add the fragrance too early, you can burn off the fragrance. And different fragrance oils need slightly different temperatures. It’s kind of like playing with a chemistry set: melt wax, add fragrance, cool down, and set up. Then burn the candle and see if it’s what I was after. Once the right note is found, producing in mass becomes more serene.
You’ve lived in Amarillo your entire life. What do you love about it?
I have always felt safe here. It was a great place to raise a family, and what I love most about being here is the seasons. No matter what time of year it is, I am always ready for the next season.
What’s next for Circle 21?
We own a little land with an existing concrete pad that I want to build a shop on. When I am not as spatially challenged, I plan to find some help with bottle processing, labeling, and shipping. That would free up my time to develop a new line of essential oil–based candles, which is a dream of mine.
All of your candles have clever names. What’s the inspiration behind them?
Sometimes the fragrance comes first, then the name, like Trophy Room. That fragrance is masculine in flavor, very woodsy and clean, and it reminded me of a man’s room that was covered in rich wood paneling and filled with books and trophies. Sometimes it’s the name that comes first. Moroccan Tile was created to remind one of the Mediterranean—fruits, spices, and fresh sea air was the goal.
For more information, go to circle21candles.com.