As we transition from Tier 3 restrictions in the North to National Lockdown 2.0, taking time to check in on the mental state not only of our loved ones, but also ourselves, is a priority.
Adopting the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi is a good place to start. “Generally speaking, Wabi refers to modest circumstances and seeking quiet satisfaction, and finding beauty in nature and everyday surroundings,” says Wabi Living founder Victoria Whitaker. “Sabi refers to internal quiet, peace and contentment. The concept applies both to people and mindset, and the aesthetic of their homes and individual pieces within them.”
“The concept resonates with me as it values tranquillity, harmony and the beauty of simplicity,” she says. “These are all things that I wanted to create within my brand, with minimalist and natural vibes that make reference to nature, but are not sterile.”
Wabi-Sabi motions you to relax, slow down, step back from the hectic modern world and find enjoyment and gratitude in everything you do.
Let’s back-track a little. “I grew up in the north east of England, and studied Business and Marketing at York St John University,” she tells me, “and whilst there I had the idea that I wanted to start a candle business. Initially I focussed on the candles themselves, and perfecting the wax and burn, whilst in the background I was studying and thinking of ideas for the brand.”
The concept for Wabi Living came after a trip to Asia, where Victoria travelled to China and Japan. “I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture,” she tells me, “and throughout the trip I was able to indulge myself in many – often conflicting – aspects of it. The cities are quite intense 24/7 affairs, and the Japanese people generally have a very strong work ethic, but in the background there is an underlying spirituality that you can feel throughout the whole country. I was fortunate enough to be there during the Sakura season, which is a big part of the year for locals, as the sudden bloom of the cherry blossom trees that may only last a few days signifies the impermanence of life and importance of living in the moment. The trip really resonated with me, and I knew that creating a Japanese inspired brand was something that I could be really passionate about.”
For Wabi Living, Victoria has created a collection of candles, reed diffusers, hand washes and lotions that are inspired by her memories of Japan, and the hope that they will help everyone take a step back from their hectic lives to relax and just be in the moment. “Wabi-Sabi is one of those concepts that I think everyone can integrate into their lives without too much effort,” she tells me, “as it is as much a state of mind as an aesthetic. It’s origins come from the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and is something Japanese people understand, but may find difficult to translate and define.”
“Wabi-Sabi motions you to relax, slow down, step back from the hectic modern world and find enjoyment and gratitude in everything you do,” she explains. “It teaches you to be more observant and kinder to yourself, and I think those things are even more important than ever in 2020. I have worked hard to integrate this philosophy into each of the products that I sell, from the fragrances themselves to the look and feel of the products.”
“There’s so much going on in the world at the moment that creates anxiety and stress for people, that I think it’s more important than ever for people to be able to take some time out from their day just to have some “me time” and relax. Particularly now as more people are working from home, it is really important to try to create a division between your working day and work area vs your home and the place you used to come back to to get away from work and relax.”
“When those spaces merge into one it can be even harder to take some time out, but feedback from customers has been that they love lighting one of my Wabi Living candles at the end of the day, and creating a totally different vibe and atmosphere. Just by adding a relaxing scent to the room and changing the lighting and vibe, your mood can alter and enable you to de-stress after a long day. It just takes a change in mindset, and I hope that the products that I create and sell at Wabi Living will help people to attain this.”
For Victoria, the fragrance she offers are what set her brand apart. “Creating ones that I know my customers will love is a huge driver for me,” she says. “The Amber Jar Collection is inspired by my trip to Japan, and the memories that trip evokes. I tried to make each fragrance distinct so that people can create different moods throughout their homes.”
“What I didn’t realise before I got into making my own candles, were the different layers of scent that a candle can have; they’re like a fine wine or fresh ground coffee and are much more complex than the name might suggest. Bamboo, for example, is inspired by the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest just outside Kyoto. This place was very tranquil and refreshing and I wanted to recreate that clean, calm and crisp feeling and the memory of the bamboo swaying in the wind. So this fragrance opens with crisp green stem and leaf notes which blend harmoniously with vibrant cassis and citrus hints and then at the end you get gentle green florals, lavandin and forest woods which is all on a subtle base of moss and patchouli. Now, whenever I test a new fragrance, I love trying to identify all of the scents and more subtle notes from which it is made up.”
The Amber Collection has 4 different fragrances from all over Japan, including the aforementioned Bamboo, along with Cherry Blossom, Lemongrass + Ginger and Okinawa. Each comes in a 100g amber glass jar, with an aluminium lid. “It’s difficult to choose a favourite as I love them all so much,” she says, “but I do have a soft spot for Okinawa which is my tropical island (yes, Japan has tropical islands!) fragrance of fresh bergamot, bright orange and rich amber with warming notes of exotic coconut, vanilla and almond – it is divine and just transports me to sunnier climes.”
“My second collection is simply called the Clear Collection, as I use slightly larger 165g clear jars. What is unique about this collection is that the wicks are wooden, rather than cotton,” she tells me. ” I love wooden wicks as they have a subtle crackle whilst they burn, and create a satisfying wide flame whilst still giving off a beautiful amount of fragrance. The candles in this collection are inspired by fragrances closer to home, and have a more British vibe whilst retaining a simple clean Wabi aesthetic. Again, I chose 4 very distinct fragrances that are perfect for use in a variety of settings in people’s homes – the fresh Wild Mint is perfect in kitchen/utility, Fireside is the perfect cosy fragrance for an autumn evening in front of the lounge fire, Rock Salt + Driftwood is great in the bathroom/cloakroom or en-suite, and White Lavender ideal for bedrooms.”
“In addition to these fragrances I am always on the lookout for and sampling new ideas. I’ve got a few ideas for each collection which I’m planning on releasing details of soon, and I’m also planning a few limited-edition fragrances – as well as a special Advent/Winter candle – which will be perfect in the run up to Christmas.” (Ed note: These launch tomorrow, 6 November, so keep a close eye on the website!)
“Being as eco-conscious as possible has been something I wanted to focus on from the very beginning,” Victoria tells me. “I feel strongly about having as little impact as possible on the environment and making sure that my products can be reused in different ways. I think that the current pandemic has highlighted that humans aren’t invulnerable to the natural world, and if we continue on our current trajectory then we will likely cause irreversible damage to the world, ecosystems and biodiversity. Therefore, I think it is important even for small businesses to do their part and try to reduce their impact on the world as much as possible.”
“I never use plastic in any of my packaging, and there are a number of tips on my Instagram page for ways in which you can reuse your candle jars. I even wanted the thank you cards that I include with every order to be reusable, so chose a bookmark size design which means that people hopefully don’t just throw it away but can find another use for it in their lives. Whilst adopting these policies may not be the cheapest option, I do believe that we have a moral responsibility to go about business as ethically and environmentally as possible.”
“When I started Wabi Living I set out with the goal of creating beautiful handcrafted products that integrated the Wabi-Sabi aesthetic and mindset for people to enjoy in their homes. As the brand and products have developed over time, and in the current climate that we collectively find ourselves in, that focus has become even more prevalent. I love that one of my candles might be helping someone to relax and de-stress at the end of the day, and that they can become part of that person’s routine and lifestyle. I want to continue to expand the brand and message to reach as many people as possible, and I would love to collaborate and work with like minded individuals who enjoy and appreciate handcrafted products and the ethos behind them. I also want to expand my product ranges, and have recently added to my candle and diffuser collections by launching a range of hand washes and hand + body lotions which match the candle fragrances. These have been very popular so far – perhaps perfect timing when we all have to wash our hands more!”
All photography © Michael Whitaker, used with permission.