MANILA -- Working from home was a dream come true for most. But after a year into the pandemic, many found themselves more stressed after the setup erased the boundary between their work hours and personal life.
To help relax, re-energize, and cope with the unprecedented circumstance, a rising number of consumers turned to self-care products such as scented candles. In Asia, the interest in the item often used for aromatherapy soared by 236 percent during the lockdown period, e-commerce aggregator iPrice reported.
Among the business-minded Filipinos who took advantage of the growing trend to keep afloat was fragrance company Simoy Ng Haraya. The local business managed to significantly increase its sales amid the global crisis after transforming some of its best-selling perfumes into soy candles.
“We used to sell candles way back in 2015 but had very few users,” Lala de Leon, founder of the artisanal brand, recalled.
She continued: “During the pandemic, we relaunched it as we noticed more of our buyers were asking for candle formats of their favorite Simoy ng Haraya scent. To be honest, we did not expect that much clamor for candles, we got more orders than expected.”
Like most businesses, the company reeled when the stringent quarantine shut down all non-essential brick and mortar stores — forcing the brand to go digital.
"We sell in malls via Common Room, Frankie and Friends, DTI’s Go Lokal, and Kultura Filipino stores so the start of the pandemic was tough," she shared.
"We were able to bounce back when I was invited by DTI to take part in their mentorship program for 10 weeks. I applied the learnings right away and slowly built my online presence. More people were open to buy online which led to our website as our main sales channel," De Leon added.
Since the products’ selling point was heavily reliant on a sense that cannot be perceived in the digital landscape, pivoting to a virtual channel was tough.
De Leon, however, came up with a solution that allowed the business to benefit from the recent e-commerce boom
"Since testing the product is a prerequisite for buying a perfume product, it was challenging selling online because our buyers can’t smell the products, they’ll have to rely on the descriptions. So we decided to sell 5 ml perfume sampler bottles -- and this became our best-selling item throughout the pandemic,” De Leon shared.
The artisanal brand’s present collection flaunts 20 different novel scents made with natural soy wax.
Like most aromatherapy products, Simoy ng Hiraya formulated its products with potent ingredients associated with stress relief like lavender, ylang-ylang, and eucalyptus.
But aside from utilizing soothing and calming agents, the Simoy Ng Haraya also attempts to combat stress by sparking nostalgia and triggering fond memories that evoke positive feelings.
“Simoy ng Haraya is about providing unique experiences through high-quality scents that capture the essence of Pinoy culture, traditions, values, and lifestyle,” she explained.
She went on: “Initially the fragrances were inspired by scents that appeal to me, but over time, I created products that came out of customer requests. Some of our best-sellers came about because a customer requested for it.”
It is no myth that a whiff of a familiar smell can lead to a rush of powerful emotions and flood the senses with a vivid memory -- even those seemingly long forgotten.
Compared to the other senses, the ability to smell has the strongest link to memories, studies suggest. According to scientists, scents send signals to the olfactory bulb known as the brain's smell center, which is directly linked to parts of the brain that control emotion, memory, mood, and behavior.
"A common feedback we get from customers is that our products bring back childhood memories," De Leon said.
The Tsoknut soy candle, for example, was a recollection of De Leon's own early days.
"I accidentally put more peanut notes. It smelled like Chocnut, a childhood and present favorite local chocolate brand. I was pretty sure a lot would relate," she recalled.
On the other hand, Putu bumbong, Bibingka, and Buko Pandan variants hope to ease users by reminding them of moments they cherish during the merriest time of the year.
With the country known to have the world's longest Christmas celebration, no doubt, Filipinos have countless emotional recollections linked with the aroma of the holiday-themed candles.
"I did a short survey on our IG page and asked our followers what scent comes to mind when they think of Filipino Christmas. Puto Bumbong and Bibingka were the top answers,” De Leon explained.
“I wanted to partner these with something else so I thought of Buko Pandan," she added.
Another candle that captures local culture through a well-loved Pinoy flavor is Panenderia. The blend of freshly baked bread, caraway, and butter will prompt beloved sentiments intertwined with the ubiquitous treat or simply give off a cozy breakfast morning vibe Filipinos are accustomed to.
Apart from the traditional fixtures inspired by the Filipino palate, the brand also has aromas that can help users relax by taking them on a “sensorial vacation” in the country’s prided natural heritage.
Isla, a blend of lily of the valley, water lotus, rosewater, star jasmine, violet petals, white musk, precious woods, and sea moss aims to transport users to the country's prized azure waters and pristine white sand beaches.
Meanwhile, other Simoy Ng Haraya blends like Muli, Irog, Alaala, Irog, Unang Halik, Sulyap, among others, are not anchored on a specific event, place, or season. Instead, the variants inspired by the sensations an individual gets from intimate moments, hope to set a warm, snug, and pleasant mood.
“The scent name is a big part of our essence, we use all Pinoy words, sometimes a literal translation of the scent, sometimes figurative,” De Leon noted.
The businesswoman attested their candles' tendency to jog unique Filipino experiences to one's memory made it popular among OFWs and emigrants.
"We had a lot of buyers who gifted our products to their relatives abroad to share with them a piece of home... I got a lot of comments that my products remind them of memories of home," she shared.
Each 150g candle retails for P799 and boasts a burn time of about 30-40 hours.
The brand can also customize candles by placing the wax into personal teacups, coffee mugs, ceramic bowls, properly treated pots, well-sealed metal tins, and other containers made with thick glasses that can withstand heat.
“We can pour our soy into it with your chosen scent. We charge a minimum of P599 for a 4 oz candle, and an additional of P129 per ounce,” she explained.
To avoid accidental fires, Simoy Ng Haray warned its customers to light the candles within sight and to keep them away from flammable objects, children, and pets.
Aside from scented candles and body scents, Simoy ng Haraya also sells room and linen sprays, reed diffusers, fragrance oils, rollerballs, and soaps.