At her wick's end
Actor Jeremy Irons once said, "We all have our time machines - some take us back, they're called memories. Some take us forward, they're called dreams."
He could have been talking about entrepreneur Gina Cassidy and the way she had a dream to start her own business, and hit upon the idea of creating fragrant candles to enable us to relive our memories. "To me, fragrances evoke memories; you love one because it's typically giving you a memory of something happy in your past. Our fragrances are all about memories," the pretty mother of four explains. "Among my favourites are fig and sweet vanilla, I suppose because my mum stayed at home and minded us, and coming in from school, there were always lovely smells from the kitchen. Sea salt and driftwood is another favourite - as a family, we go for holidays to Kerry, and that fragrance always brings me back there."
Nothing in Gina's past, however, suggests life as a businesswoman, or, indeed, creating candles; if anything, law beckoned. "I'm from a family of law. My grandfathers on both sides, my dad, my three brothers, my uncles, my nephews - all are solicitors. I'm probably the black sheep because I didn't want to do it, not for want of a bit of pressure," Gina jokes. "It just wasn't for me."
She didn't know what she wanted to do, so she opted to study social science in UCD. The course includes economics, sociology and politics, and was, she says, a great introduction to the outside world. She went on to study human resources at Smurfit, and then spent 15 years working in HR, eventually becoming HR director at Distinct, a boutique management consultancy. "It was a fantastic company, I got great experience. It was a start-up when I joined, there were four or five of us; when I left, there were 100 of us," Gina explains. "I think it was a latent entrepreneurial thing inside me that made me choose to work in a company like that. The boss had a great vision for growing the company, and I joined in that."
While she was thriving professionally, things were going well in her personal life, too; she met and married Morgan Cassidy, who, like Gina, had grown up in south Dublin, though they first met at the races in Leopardstown in 2007. Morgan had his own distribution business, and after marriage, they had three kids in quick succession. It was the combination of working hard and looking after the kids that gave her the idea to start her own candle company. "I always loved candles. I loved coming in from work and, once I got the kids off, lighting one," she says. "That signaled it was time to relax. Then, with three kids under four, our disposable income had been squished with childcare, so my luxury candle purchases took a hit," says Gina, adding, "I realised there are the luxury candles and then there are the supermarket candles, and not much in between, for people like me who didn't have the budget for the aspirational brands, but wanted a bit more than a supermarket brand."
Starting out, people said Gina was crazy and told her that the candle market was saturated, but she disagreed. "I didn't think it was. If you have something new and different, there's space for you," she says. "People often buy a luxury candle, light it when they have guests, and then blow it out the minute they're gone; that's mad. I suppose what I am aiming for is affordable luxury that you won't feel you have to keep only for guests."
Gina researched the field, found there was a niche for her concept, and, once she had sourced all her fragrances, her wax, wicks, glass and packaging, she went to market with Purcell & Woodcock. Woodcock is Gina's maiden name, while Purcell is one of Morgan's family names. "I picked our family names because I wanted to pay tribute to those who nurtured us, and to emphasise that the candles are for family living," Gina explains.
Family means a lot to Gina; she's the youngest of five, while Morgan is the youngest of four, and Gina constantly references how important her family have been through good times and bad. And if the photos here of family life paint an idyllic story, there have been difficult times, too.
Six months after Gina launched the brand, her own little family took a hit. Morgan had had his distribution company for 20 years, he had offices here and in China, and then the business crashed. "We were left sitting at the table, three kids under four, no family income," Gina recalls. "The easier decision would have been for me to go straight back into HR; I had a great job there, and a great salary, but at the same time, we really believed in what we had started, and we were getting great feedback. The product was hitting the shelves and selling, and reorders were flying in. We thought long and hard; we quite literally didn't have the money for the shopping. We lost everything trying to save Morgan's business. So we said at that point, 'Why don't we join forces and give it everything we've got?'"
That was in 2015, and they haven't looked back. "Morgan's business was distribution, so he's an expert on supply-chain distribution, logistics and sourcing," Gina says. "I look after the design of the product, the packaging and the fragrances, so, marriage aside, we are a match made in heaven," she laughs, adding, "A couple of years ago, we had our own separate things, now here we are together 24/7, balancing the business and the four kids."
The elder kids - Max (seven), Juliet (four) and Sebastian (three), were joined last year by Jake, who is now one. "The collapse of Morgan's business was a terribly stressful time, but Jake came along last summer," Gina says. "That was the silver lining, that makes up for everything, and here we are, and it's going well. People love our packaging, that's the first impression they get. As they say, 'eye level is buy level'. And they can reuse our boxes for storing earrings or make-up brushes.We have 300 stockists; 200 in Ireland and 100 in the UK."
Fortunately, some of the candles do manage to make their way into Gina's own home, a four-bedroom detached house in south county Dublin, which the couple bought nine years ago before any of the kids arrived. "We opted for a four-bedroomed house, because we always knew we wanted a house full of kids," Gina notes.
Over the years, as the kids arrived, they have adapted the spaces downstairs, and nowadays it's all virtually open-plan, though they put in fold-back double doors, which mean they can close off the living room if needs be. "There are times when you need to block out Bob the Builder," Gina says with a laugh, though she adds that she herself never ever watches TV. "By the time you get the kids down, the washing done, the lunch boxes out for the next day, it's late and I invariably have the laptop on for an hour," she says.
However, there will always be a candle lighting, if only to give the illusion of relaxation.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin