Meet the Maker: Melissa Lester of June + Rose Candle Co.

How the Caledon clothing retailer changed course to become a candlemaker with a knack for irresistible aromas.

September 24, 2021 | | Made in the Hills

The bright and airy Caledon studio where candlemaker Melissa Lester plies her trade feels less like a workspace than a spa-like oasis filled with subtle aromas. The gently flickering flame of a single candle casts a glow on a wooden table. All feels right with the world.

Candlemaker Melissa Lester in her pristine Caledon studio backed by tidy shelves of her handmade June + Rose Candle Co. products. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Candlemaker Melissa Lester in her pristine Caledon studio backed by tidy shelves of her handmade June + Rose Candle Co. products. Photo by Pete Paterson.

As Melissa stands in front of floor-to-ceiling shelves of neatly displayed four- and nine-ounce candles in gold tin canisters, as well as nine-ounce candles in her signature June + Rose Candle Co. glass jars, she shares the story of how she came to fill her days with soy wax and all this chic, simple packaging.

A graduate of Toronto’s International Academy of Design in fashion marketing, Melissa worked as a runway stylist and a personal shopper before opening Bloom Fashion Boutique, her own fashion and accessories store, in her hometown of Caledon East in 2012.

When she started selling candles in her store, she discovered many of them contain substances linked to asthma, cancer, hormone disruption and even indoor pollution. “There was a very limited supply of candles I felt comfortable burning around my family, my children or my pets,” she says. So she took matters into her own hands and began experimenting in her kitchen and pouring her heart into research. “Everything is trial and error with candles. It’s hours and hours of research and testing to get the proper wick size to go with the wax and the scent.”

Melissa now sources her ingredients and supplies from Canadian companies only and blends two types of non-GMO soy waxes. Her wicks are 100 per cent cotton and contain no lead.

In 2018, Melissa debuted her candles in Bloom and was amazed by the success. “I had so many customers tell me, ‘This is what I’ve been looking for.’” Her candles were so popular she decided to close Bloom and focus full-time on candlemaking. Looking back, she’s grateful she did. She knew she wanted more time with her two young children, Connor, 7, and Colby, 9, and the freedom to make her own schedule. She has tremendous support from her husband, Scott, whose unofficial title is head of shipping and receiving, and her parents contribute by helping with deliveries to local retailers.

Melissa’s family is also a frequent source of inspiration. In her company name, for example, “June” is significant because several happy family events occurred on the same date in that month. “Rose” was her grandmother’s name. And for her “Numbers” collection, Melissa created a custom fragrance that represents something special to each family member. Connor’s No Thirteen candle, for instance, is a delectable blend of vanilla and buttercream with base notes of sugar redolent of a local bakery.

June + Rose candles are hand poured in small batches. The soy wax pellets are slowly heated in a large vat until they reach the desired temperature. (It’s a secret!) The wax is then transferred into a stainless-steel pitcher, called a “pour pot,” and the premixed fragrance oils are added. The wax is then slowly poured into jars and tins. The candles cure for about two weeks, and Melissa then tests them in various rooms of her house for good measure. She checks the “cold throw,” the way a candle smells when it’s unlit. She then lights it to discern the “hot scent throw,” which should fill the room without being overpowering.

Melissa uses only high-grade fragrance oils manufactured without preservatives, parabens, phthalates, additives or dyes. And each candle burns for 40 to 50 hours, if cared for properly.

Melissa pours a mix of heated soy wax and fragrance oils into their containers where they will cure for about two weeks. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Melissa pours a mix of heated soy wax and fragrance oils into their containers where they will cure for about two weeks. Photo by Pete Paterson.

She will never forget the first candle she blended, dubbing it Sunday Morning. Its scent, a mixture of grapefruit, raspberry, dill and clove, is “like shopping at the farmers’ market on a Sunday morning,” she says. Along with Tobacco + Tea Leaf, a surprisingly floral concoction with notes of orange, vanilla and amber, Sunday Morning remains her biggest seller.

Melissa loves the way scent can evoke memory in an even more deeply personal way. “I recently had a customer purchase a set of very gardenia-heavy candles because it reminded her of her grandmother and she wanted to give one to all her cousins.”

Many of her candles are sold online at juneandrosecandleco.com and through Instagram and Facebook, as well as at local shops, some of whom commission custom scents. During Covid, she arranged porch pickups so customers could at least get out of the house and see a friendly face. When permitted, she jumps at the chance to attend special events. “I miss the shows. I miss being out there and meeting new people.”

To compensate, she crafted a soothing Quarantine + Chill candle, a blend of pecan, honey, vanilla and sugar. Melissa hopes she will soon be able to continue offering her popular candlemaking workshops, welcoming small groups to her studio to eat, drink and create their own candles.

With her whole line to choose from, it’s no surprise to learn that every Thursday evening, without fail, Melissa treats herself to a bubble bath and a glass of champagne, lighting whatever candle suits her mood. She strongly recommends her customers follow suit.

About the Author More by Johanna Bernhardt

Writer and dancer Johanna Bernhardt lives in Orangeville.

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