Meet the Maker | Young Marys | Candles Inspired by the Motherland
We are sitting down (still virtually) with the wonderful Lola Jemibewon from Young Marys, maker of beautiful candles inspired by the sights and sounds of Africa. You can follow Lola @itsyoungmarys on Instagram and this month we’ve been discovering new brands inspired by Africa through Lola’s collaboration with @inspired__by__africa pop up.
Young Marys’ signature collection of candles takes you across Africa, where Lola has lived and travelled extensively. Maputo (Mozambique), Alexandria (Egypt), Fez (Morocco), Kano (Nigeria) and Lake Victoria (the largest lake in Africa lying in Kenya and Uganda and bordering Tanzania). Each candle is uniquely different and tells a story through fragrance. As I sit with my Young Marys Maputo candle flickering, I ask Lola about the inspiration behind her collection.
Qu: Hi Lola, you have five special places in Africa in your signature collection. What is it about each of these places which inspired you to create a signature candle?
First Ali, thank you so much for taking the time to have a (virtual) sit down with me! The past year has been pretty crazy but it’s nice to still be able to keep in touch with one another especially now that the craziness is hopefully coming to an end.
As far as Young Mary’s signature collection, from the very beginning Young Mary’s purpose has always been to “share stories and inspire conversations about an integral, yet often overlooked part of the world – Africa”. But how do you actually do that? The truth is the African continent is massive and between the different regions and countries there’s so much variation both physically in the terrain and with the people. Not to mention food, culture, language and history.
The signature collection is our way of honouring that variation. We span the breadth of the continent looking for stories we can tell through smell. Stories that represent not just the specific site on the label but that can really capture something about their surrounding areas and their history. The signature collection, collectively, is the introduction to our world. They are our founding pillars that introduce you to what Young Mary’s is really about.
Qu: How do you decide on what oils to blend so each candle tells a unique story?
This is one of those chicken vs the egg type questions. I’m still not sure if I choose the oil blends or the oil blends somehow find me? I’ve always been passionate about scent. It’s a sense we sometimes take for granted but the truth is our sense of smell is incredibly powerful and can illicit really strong reactions and memories from all of us. I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve been able to travel the world extensively and I take a piece of everywhere I visit with me.
In the case of our candles, sometimes I know the story I’m trying to tell and it’s a matter of finding the right oils and fragrances for that story. This is what happened with Kano, a really ancient city in Northern Nigeria. Lagos seems to get all the attention in Nigeria but Kano is such a special place where history and modernity collide. I knew there was a story to tell here and I think our blend of rich, aged sandalwood and bright invigorating citrus really captures the essence and uniqueness of this West African gem.
On the flip side you have Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The blends we use for Maputo I came across serendipitously, before I even knew the story it wanted to tell. Overtime as I played around with it more I realized how jovial and bright it was. There’s something carefree and exciting about how the berries and tea leaves blend together. It’s a very bright and refreshing fragrance, like taking a trip to the beach. Where are some of the best beaches on the continent? Mozambique.
Qu: Your brand is called ‘Young Marys’ which honours your grandmother. Please could I ask you to share your story with us?
That’s right. Mary was my maternal grandmother, who I actually grew up with when I was a kid. She was born in South West Nigeria and got married when she was fairly young. By the time she was my age now, she was a mother of six!
Growing up she made it really clear to me that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and see the world. She instilled in all of her children and grandchildren a need to embrace the unknown and seek adventure. “The world is your oyster” she used to say. And there’s no doubt she’s the biggest inspiration behind Young Mary’s today.
Our very essence is homage to her. A daughter, an African who knew and embraced the beauty of where she was from and proudly shared that across the world with anyone who would listen. We had to be named after her.
Does she have her own signature candle?
She doesn’t actually, but she loved flowers and I know our Alexandria scent (which is made up of rose, geranium, and lilac oils) would probably have been her favourite.
Qu: The @inspired_by_africa pop up will be running on Instagram and physically open between 12th April and 9th May at Boxpark in Shoreditch which is the world’s first pop up shopping mall based in London.
What an incredible space reopening soon; is this the first time @inspired__by__africa pop up has opened at Boxpark?
This will actually be the second time the Inspired By Africa (IBA) crew will be heading to BoxPark in Shoreditch. We had the chance to be there for a week last year in December, before things were shut down again. And this time we’re around to welcome people back for a whole month.
You know better than anyone else Ali, the past year had been really difficult for a lot of small business so any opportunity you have to get yourself back in front of and engaged with customers is a good one. All the brands that take part in Inspired By Africa are tied to the continent in some way so the pop up is also a great place to find things you don’t always see on the high street.
Nearly everything we have is hand made in small batches in people’s homes and we’re all really excited to be back out there.
Qu: What can we expect in phase 2 of @inspired__by__africa pop up and how do new brands creating products inspired by Africa get involved?
Our plan is for Phase 2 to be bigger and better than Phase 1 of course! We were only around for one week the first time, so by sticking around a little bit longer we’re hoping more people will have the chance to come check us out in person and see what we’re about. We’ve also grown since last year.
In December there were 10 brands involved, we’re now 12 strong and cover a wide range of goods from greeting cards, athletic wear, coats and jackets, children’s clothes, jewellery and of course, candles!
Anyone can find out more about us by heading to our Instagram page @inspired__by__africa and if you have a brand you’d like to see join the team, shoot us a message! We’d be really happy to hear from you.
What have been the highlights for you in this collaboration?
Without a doubt, the chance to interact with fellow small business owners has been priceless. When you try to run a passion project on the side, you have to wear many hats. And sometimes it seems like you’re running backwards with the amount of work you have to do. Getting together with other people going through the same thing is essential.
You can’t succeed in a silo – this is the same reason we’re part of the Spacecraft Westbury family. When you collaborate with others you not only have the opportunity to learn from other people you also get to learn some strengths you might not have known you had.
I think this is more important than ever to realize. As isolating as the past year has been for a lot of people, we’re still in this together. And we should try and find opportunities where we can work together whenever we can.
Young Mary’s signature range of candles are available at Spacecraft Westbury. All candles are vegan friendly in reusable travel tins and beautiful apothecary glass jars.
And you can follow Young Mary’s @itsyoungmarys on instagram.
Thank you so much Lola x