Many have loved our natural, hand-poured candles since launching in 2021, but few know why or how they came to be. Today, in our first journal entry, we're highlighting our bestselling candles and sharing the story of why Behind the Hill, a textile company, would create scented candles and the creative process behind it all.
On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, I was packed and ready to leave for Guatemala in two days. The last time I visited was November 2019, so I was excited to go back and connect with friends and artisan partners. This time around, I was traveling with six other people from the U.S. who were joining me to learn about colorful heirloom cotton, meet Mayan artisans, and immerse themselves in Mayan culture in Guatemala. Transparency has always been a priority for my brand Behind the Hill, but personally, traveling alongside other curious, creative people and showing them everything I've learned about Guatemalan crafts and culture is a true love.
Unfortunately, 2020 had other plans for me (and everyone else). On that exact day, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 outbreak was officially a pandemic. The U.S. president signed a Presidential Proclamation - suspending the entry of most foreign nationals who had been physically present in certain European countries 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the U.S.
In a matter of 24 hours, our world completely changed. Borders began closing, people started to really worry, and our trip to Guatemala, which was scheduled to leave in two days, was put on hold and rescheduled for the following month. (ha!)
It had been one year since I visited Guatemala. Usually, I'm in Guatemala two to three times a year, so one year of not returning felt uncomfortable and strange. These trips are fundamental to maintaining strong relationships with our artisan partners and connecting during production meetings. Instead, I spent my days in my small home office in Brooklyn, NY, daydreaming of travel (like so many of us did during that time). I felt disconnected from what I love the most - being alone on the road, meeting new cooperatives of master weavers, getting lost somewhere in the highlands of Guatemala, and exploring remote villages of the Mexican Pacific coast, where the colored cotton I work with grows.
I wasn’t depressed, but I was kind of lost.
One day during that time, I started daydreaming about being in a rainforest. In the rainforest, I was reading in a hammock and completely surrounded by the sound of rain. I was craving that sound - raindrops hitting the leaves of trees during an afternoon shower. Near my hammock, there was a woman making tortillas by hand on a wood fire. I was craving that smell - fresh rain on warm trees, dust stirring as the wind blows, and the ever-present fragrance of smoke from a wood fire - the memorable and distinct aroma of Mexico and Guatemala. And the idea hit me. Even though I wasn’t able to physically travel, I could develop a scent that captures the essence of my favorite solo trips, reconnecting me to my most loved places - the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca and the Highlands of Guatemala. Immediately, I reached out to a candlemaker here in Brooklyn.
The candle making process began. I became obsessed. I wrote about the feelings I experience while traveling. I gathered personal photographs to help shape my vision. And I worked in collaboration with a talented candlemaker here in Brooklyn to bring my idea to life.
After receiving dozens of samples, I had to narrow it down to just a couple, which was not easy! I was completely out of my comfort zone, but I was actually loving this new creative process. Throughout the process, I engaged in my own creative inquiry and was forced to confront many internal doubts. “How can I create a scented candle based on a memory?” “How can I express a particular feeling?” “Now that I've received the samples, am I even sure of the feeling I want to convey?” “I'm usually producing textiles alongside artisans in Guatemala - will anyone care about Behind the Hill making a candle in Brooklyn?” “Really, what am I doing?” However, at the end of the process, I loved the results and was obsessed with the scents. I could not wait to release them.
WE MADE TWO DISTINCT SCENTS:
A Day on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca
A Day in the Highlands of Guatemala
I was six weeks pregnant and very sensitive to any kind of smell. And oh boy! There were also a lot of thoughts and emotions during this time. "I hate the scents we just created!" "I don't know what I'm doing!" "This is terrible!" "I'm such a failure!" Despite my doubts, there was no turning back - the candles had been ordered and the labels were being produced.
I received the final candles. I seal-packed them and didn't even want to look at them. Remember, I was pregnant and experiencing an aversion to smell - a strange time to be making scented candles.
I began to feel better and returned to the simple things I loved pre-pregnancy, which fortunately included scented candles. I smelled the candles I created - and I loved them! They were even better than I remembered. And while I still had not traveled internationally, the scent of the candles instantly, and emotionally, connected me to the incredible land of Mexico and Guatemala, and the friends and artisan partners I so dearly missed there.
A Day in the Highlands of Guatemala and A Day on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca and launched in April 2021 - a year after the start of the pandemic.
I loved the creative process of making something based on a personal memory. I'm very proud of the result and I hope that when you light these candles, you’re transported to two special places I hold very close to my heart.