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Light 'Em Up

Kalamazoo Candle Co.'s wares are both historic and handmade

If you ask Adam McFarlin which came first — the historic images on the lids of his handcrafted candles or the custom aromas of the candles inside — he’ll tell you it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Sometimes the aroma of the candle inspires the search for the perfect image, and sometimes the image inspires a search for the perfect smell.

“I found an image of brick layers on Edwards Street in 1884,” says the Kalamazoo Candle Co. owner. “I knew then I wanted to use the image on a candle and call it Men at Work. I couldn’t exactly have a candle that smelled like sweat so I came up with a musky cologne scent. It’s one of our best-sellers.”

McFarlin, who started the Kalamazoo Candle Co. a little more than a year ago, now sells his candles in more than 25 locations in the greater Kalamazoo area. It’s a hobby that has become a permanent and important creative outlet for McFarlin, who works by day at the American Cancer Society as the senior manager of Relay for Life.

Interestingly, it was his former day job that provided the inspiration for his unique candle design: McFarlin, who used to work at ONEplace@KPL, a nonprofit support organization based at the Kalamazoo Public Library, would walk through the library’s Local History Room on his way to and from the office every day.

“As you can imagine, there were many horrible versions of the candle labels and packaging when I was trying to come up with a label,” he says. “But then, almost out of nowhere, when I was walking through the room in the library, I got the idea to use these old images of Kalamazoo on the labels of the candle.”

McFarlin knew that Kalamazoo residents tend to be interested in their historical roots and that using historical images might be an approach that would work with his customers. As a result, his candles have a vintage look. Their silver tins are wrapped in burlap-colored paper with brown lettering and are topped with lids that feature the historic images.

“So far it’s been really fun,” McFarlin says, “especially at the farmers’ markets when people will stop, look at the images and tell me their memories of the different places.”

His products have become so popular that McFarlin has hired someone to help make the candles, which are crafted in small batches using natural soy wax. Each candle is hand-poured, and the candles burn cleaner than petroleum-based candles. McFarlin tries to buy materials and ingredients from local farmers and vendors as much as possible, including the soybeans he uses to make the wax and the stamps that adorn the gift bags.

The look and appeal of the candles have made them a popular gift option for those who want to give something uniquely Kalamazoo, McFarlin says. The most desired candle scent (rising above the popular Men at Work and White Tea and Ginger) is the sweet, citrusy I’ve Got a Gal. Apparently, having a Kalamazoo connection in the name helps too.

“It used to only be the second most popular candle when it was called Love Potion No. 9,” says McFarlin.

As his company grows, McFarlin hopes to start making larger candles than his current 8-ounce stock and to expand his market throughout Michigan. Right now he is focused on the holiday season, producing candles for retail partners such as the Kalamazoo Nature Center and The Gift Loft.

He also will be on hand to sell the candles Dec. 6 at the Natural Health Center and Dec. 12 and 13 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s Local Art & Gift Fair.

To find a list of local distributors of Kalamazoo Candle Co. products or to buy the candles online, visit KalamazooCandle.com.

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Why the historical images of Kalamazoo?

Adam McFarlin's idea to use historic images of Kalamazoo on his candles' labels has been a winner. “So far it’s been really fun,especially at the farmers’ markets when people will stop, look at the images and tell me their memories of the different places.”