From California, With Love

Written by Kristen PumphreyFounder + Creative Director of P.F. Candle Co.

As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., I was obsessed with all things California. It was the mid-90s, and No Doubt, Roxy Surfwear, and Vans shoes were the pinnacle of cool to me. I remember proudly wearing my “handmade in California” Vans (a worn-in, brown canvas pair with chunky ivory soles) with a floral dress and stringy, unwashed hair on Easter Sunday (what a mood — thanks for not making me change, mom). So although this company was started on my kitchen stovetop in Austin, TX, when we relocated to California in 2011 (my partner in life-and-business, Tom, wanted to finish up school in his home state), it felt like a homecoming. I proudly stamped the phrase “made in California” on all my wares. I was thrilled to finally make a living in the place I had dreamed about my whole life.

Now, we’re more specific about what “made in California'' means. Poured, mixed, measured, labeled, packed, shipped, designed, tested, checked — it’s all done by our team of experts right here in Southern California. Shop Local, Shop Small, and Shop Independent are all buzz phrases you’ve probably seen over the past decade, but why does it matter? P.F. is still independently owned and operated by Tom and myself, meaning we can make decisions that benefit our customers, the environment, and our employees instead of just the bottom line. We’re not focused on making a quick buck, but building a lasting company that is known for its excellent quality.

Because we make all of the products ourselves, we can assure its quality from tip to toe. From the moment raw materials hit our warehouse, our quality team is on it. Our team inspects glassware and incense sticks carefully for cracks or imperfect finishes before allowing them to enter the production line. Each candle wick is placed and centered by hand. Before anything can leave the production floor to get stored or shipped, 10% is checked by our Quality Team to ensure it meets rigorous cosmetic standards. From there, incense and candles from each batch are test burned to ensure that not only aesthetic, but performance standards are met. If a customer ever has an issue with our products, the fact that we make it means we can research and try to recreate issues, consequently tracking issues to the batch. Each P.F. product that goes out has a unique batch code that allows us to identify key qualities of the product — like who made it, which batch of wax was used, and the day it was made. A lot of P.F. employees — former and current — have told me about the pride they felt after seeing their batch code “in the wild” at a boutique or even a chain store. (“Hey! I made this!”) Our quality is on par with that of any luxury brand, for a fraction of the price.

Lastly, the fact that we do it all in house means that you’re going to get impeccable service. A real human made your candle and a real human answers your email in a timely manner. Our customer service ethos is born out of my Etsy shop days. I used to include a handwritten note with each order that was sent out, because I understood that every customer was keeping me in business. That personal touch is still present if you ever interact with someone on our Customer Care team; there’s genuine care for our community of customers. Their stories, reviews, and comments are shared with our entire team in a chat or via a weekly newsletter.

California has turned out to be so much more than my dreams. People who have never visited and assume that Los Angeles is “Hollywood” are discounting the incredibly diverse backgrounds that make up this city-state. California is the place that allowed our business to grow, not only because we had access to two large markets, but because there is a historical manufacturing tradition whose infrastructure we were able to take advantage of. What I love about California is what so many others cherish too — the beach, mountains, and desert — all within a 2-hour range (with no traffic). Not to mention the diversity of people, cultures, cuisine and the awesome design gems like famous architecture and world-class museums. As a perpetual wanderer, if I ever get sick of where I’m living, I just change neighborhoods, not states.

California is not without its drawbacks, and as a conscious company based here, we’re tackling it as best we can. We offset all of our carbon emissions, and the mere fact that we produce soy candles instead of paraffin massively reduces our carbon footprint (and getting more people to switch to soy or vegetable wax would decrease theirs, too). Cost of living is high here, and our unhoused population is growing. We are committed to fair wages and provide fully subsidized healthcare to take care of our team. We partner with organizations like the LA Food Bank to help our community on a larger scale.

We choose to produce ourselves because that’s how this company started — at the age of 12 I learned how to pour candles, and ten years later, founded an Etsy shop that would become P.F. Candle Co. Cutting out the middle man means we keep a close eye on the quality and care of each product, while ensuring the people who made it and the community we reside in don’t get lost in the mix. My expertise lies in making things — specifically home fragrance — and now we have a team of experts that carry on that tradition.