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Meet the Founder of the First UK Home Fragrance Company to go Fairtrade

UK Home Fragrance Company
March 2024
Reading time 3 Minutes

Mexborough-based home fragrance brand Ava May Aromas has recently become the first of its kind in the UK to go Fairtrade

We asked founder Hannah Chapman what it took to get there.

Five and a half years after she first started making candles in her parents’ kitchen, Hannah Chapman, the founder of Ava May Aromas, has a lot to be proud of. Prior to its merger with Supplies for Candles in 2022, Ava May reported a £3 million pound turnover in 2021. However, she is most eager to talk about how the remarkable growth of the company has facilitated another milestone: the Fairtrade accredited products that comprise her ‘Ava Mayfair’ range. They are the first fragrances business in the UK to make Fairtrade accredited products.

Hannah was just 23 when she started the company, and had spent a year working in marketing after graduating from Bristol University. ‘I was creating strategies for other people’s social media. One of my frustrations was people not implementing the strategies I had worked on for them, so I wanted to do it for myself. I needed my own business in order to do that.’ When I talk to Hannah, it is apparent that, as much as she credits being ‘in the right place at the right time’, her current success is also the product of initiative and the perseverance to see her ideas through. ‘I saw other candlemakers on Instagram and thought: I could do that. I don’t know where that self-belief came from!’ she laughs.

‘No one starts out knowing how to run a business, so you learn everything. You start out making a lot of mistakes and you have to fail first and learn really quickly and move on. If something goes wrong and you work in an organisation the chances are you have a manager or there’s someone that you pass it on to. But when it’s your business there’s nobody else to fix it, you have to figure it out.’

‘Figuring it out’ is something Hannah has proven herself to be adept at. ‘Initially it was set up in my mum and dad’s kitchen. Then it grew quite quickly and took over the living room, and then it took over the hallway and my sister’s bedroom, dining room and eventually you just couldn’t move in our house. It was at that point that my parents were like: this needs to go, you need to get a warehouse.’

When Hannah decided to move to Mexborough in Yorkshire, the business came with her. Ava May now employs a much larger team, allowing Hannah to concentrate on her particular area of expertise. ‘At the beginning I was making everything, packing everything, doing everything. As a small business owner you wear all the hats, but now I can focus on the socials and being the face of the business.’

Although she might not be stirring wax anymore, Hannah has a firm idea of the values that Ava May’s products should exemplify. One of these is transparency: ‘It’s a really hard market to stand out in,’ she says, ‘but one of the things I was really passionate about was things like cruelty free. It’s just a personal bugbear, but it annoys me when fragrance companies say that they’re cruelty free or they’re vegan friendly, but they won’t actually have the certification. People talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk.

‘I was always really passionate that as we grew we would get certification. We’ve got cruelty free, we’ve got vegan friendly and the Fairtrade was just one that came up that no other fragrance business has in the UK’

I was always really passionate that as we grew we would get certification. We’ve got cruelty free, we’ve got vegan friendly and the Fairtrade was just one that came up that no other fragrance business has in the UK. So it was to give us something a bit different – a bit of a USP [unique selling point] – but also, ethically, it is a nice thing to do.’

She explains that, at its core, Fairtrade means making sure that every person involved in creating an ingredient is paid fairly. In order for a finished product to be certified Fairtrade, all of the ingredients that are available from Fairtrade producers should be sourced accordingly and these ingredients must total at least 20 percent of the final product. The fashion industry has been under the most scrutiny lately, but Hannah explains that under-paying producers is a problem that affects all industries. ‘As consumers, we turn a bit of a blind eye and claim ignorance and say “oh, we didn’t know”. But the truth is we do know. We’ve seen the documentaries and it’s no different in fragrance or in any other business.’

Achieving Fairtrade accreditation is a serious undertaking and it has taken Hannah and her business partner Nicky Story three years to get these products on the market. ‘Everything has to be vetted and checked,’ Hannah tells me. ‘You have to visit… the factories have to be confirmed… in countries like Sri Lanka where they’re not as up to date technology-wise getting a certain document or a copy of something, it can take weeks.’ This process applies to every component of the ingredient in question. ‘It doesn’t matter what chemical it is or whether it’s the wax or the oil or the fragrance. [Fairtrade International] break it down to chemical level: it’s just so detailed.’ 

Of course, acquiring the ingredients was just the first step. ‘We had to go through so many recipes,’ she says. ‘It could be a Fairtrade candle, but if it doesn’t burn well, or it doesn’t give off a scent, then it’s not going to sell.’

Despite the hard work involved, this is an initiative that Hannah is determined to continue. ‘The plan over the next year is to continue to expand the Fairtrade range. It’s not across all products yet, we’re going with the motto of “it’s not perfect but we’re trying our best”. It’s better to start somewhere than not bother at all.’

It was important to Hannah to see the difference that Fairtrade makes first-hand. ‘I was lucky enough to go to Sri Lanka in April this year, we went to see the factory where our coconut oil comes from and we got to see some of the Fairtrade initiatives out there. So, because the farmers are being paid a fair price it means that they can send their kids to school. [They can] pay for books for education because it’s not free there. It just has such a big impact.

‘It’s all very well and good me saying, “buy this, it’s Fairtrade, it has a positive impact”, but I can now say that I’ve actually seen it with my own eyes,’ she elaborates. ‘I think especially for me, being the face of the brand, I have to believe in something if I’m talking about it. It’s not just the sales or being able to change my own life, it’s actually having a positive impact on other people.’

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