A YOUNG Cork-based woman was motivated by her late dad when setting up her candle business which will shortly be stocked in luxury retailer Brown Thomas.
Margaret Urbanowicz has had considerable success with her business Sómas considering she’s still only 25 years old and she started it from her kitchen table just back in 2019.
Born in Poland, she came to Cork when she was 11 with her dad Wojtek, who sadly died from cancer in 2014. A delivery driver with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, she said he was a great role model for her.
A CIT marketing graduate, Margaret always had a ‘thing’ for candles, and that feeling got even stronger after she moved into her own city centre apartment after losing her dad.
“I just always found candles so relaxing and comforting, especially after a long day. Then a friend game me a gift of a candle making kit for Christmas and I started experimenting and trialling things for family and friends.”
By 2019, she felt everything in her life was stable, she was working in the world of marketing and she had the support of her partner Brian O’Riordan, so she took the plunge and launched Sómas. The Irish word for ‘comfort’, she takes all her inspiration from the Irish landscape, mixing things like lavender and vanilla and driftwood and sea salt for her hand-crafted candles.
With her marketing experience, she started with a website and grew her stockists slowly but surely.
“It just grew very organically,” said Margaret.
“It wasn’t something that I was aggressively driving, it all happened very gradually which I loved as it really gave me time to enjoy the process.”
That process sees her handcrafting and pouring her 100% natural wax candles herself, and put as much care into their packaging to create what she calls a ‘candle experience,’ and a moment of ‘comfort and joy.’ Inspired by the Legends of St. Gobnait, the packaging is designed to resemble a honeycomb which is believed to bring joy, good luck and new life.
Margaret got early validation that she was on the right road when she won the Local Enterprise Office Cork IBYE Start Up Runner-Up award when she was only in business a mere two months.
The prize included workshops which helped her to define her concept, as well as €5,000 in cash, which she invested back into operations.
“That was a major confidence boost because until then I’d just been producing candles for friends so to get a positive reaction from someone else was brilliant.”
Until just a few months ago, she was double jobbing with her marketing work and a typical weekend could see her make anything up to 300 candles. But then, last October, she got a major boost when retailer Avoca approached her.
“They just reached out to me which I couldn’t believe. Of course Covid has postponed things but it’s really exciting, and that’s when I decided to take a risk and go for it full time, and so far so good.”
That’s a bit of an understatement, to say the least, as it has been onwards and upwards for Margaret since then. She will shortly have Sómas on the shelves of Brown Thomas and available online in Arnotts.
“I used to work in the shoe department in Brown Thomas, and I always imagined ending up being stocked there so it’s really a dream come true for me,” she said.
Literally a month ago she moved production from a studio space to a larger unit in a retail park and is also hoping to recruit a staff member to the Sómas team.
Her business has benefited from people spending more and more time at home during the pandemic.
“I was only trading six months when the first lockdown happened but I’ve been very busy since. The support from our customers during this time has been incredible but Covid in itself is still such a challenge for everyone.
“I’m now expanding my range with room sprays which will be launching shortly and which I’m super-excited about, and also looking into an organic skincare range,” she said.
Another new development are her candle making workshops: “I send you a kit in advance with everything you need and it’s basically a lesson from my kitchen to yours.”
Among her fans are celebrity chef Donal Skehan and model Vogue Williams, and even though right now Margaret’s working 24/7, she loves every moment.
When she does give herself time off, she adores the outdoors, not surprising given that her business is inspired by the landscape.
During the first lockdown, she spent time in Kerry with her boyfriend where his house is only a five minute stroll to the beach.
“I could sit on the beach all day,” she admits, also listing outdoor yoga, sea swimming and all animals as her other passions.
And the best business advice she’s got so far?
“I think it was from someone who just told me very simply to be a ‘sound person’ to suppliers and customers and I think that’s so true. If you’re passionate about what you do, and can communicate that and just be a normal sound person, it’s a good start.”
I’m now expanding my range with room sprays which will be launching shortly and which I’m super excited about, and also looking into an organic skincare range.