Pandemic pivots can take on a multitude of forms, but launching your own candle brand is one that Alex Cesarini (Founder & King Candle Maker) definitely did not see coming. With a fast growing team (including biggest fan/marketing maven Greg Bennett), Sociale candles has paid tribute to locales such as Asbury Park and Provincetown (with their Pride collection) and their own mothers (with the aptly named Ma Candle). As the business grows by leaps and bounds, Alex & Greg sat down with me to chat about launching a brand during this once in a lifetime year, the inspirations for the collections, and what is next on the Sociale journey.
Michael Cook: How did Sociale Candles come about?
Alex Cesarini: I started trying different ways to channel my creativity/keep myself busy during quarantine, and grew to love the candle making process. With all of the extra time, I started to create my own scents, and got a lot of encouragement from Greg to take it to the next level. I created three scents that really stood out and ended up becoming The Boyfriend Collection, which was our debut.
MC: What separates your candles from so many that are on the market right now?
AC: We’re a true LGBT-owned ‘bedroom business’ – no investors, no manufacturers, no distributors. We design and create everything – the scents, the wax, the creation, the packaging, the marketing, the website – it’s all a labor of love.
MC: The Ma Candle was an innovative idea for Mother’s Day; I imagine Phyllis and Donna are (besides being complete icons) supremely proud of you both. How do your mothers influence two Jersey boys? Any other innovative Ideas coming for the holidays?
Greg Bennett: We are “Mama’s Boys” to the core, and they’re definitely our biggest fans. Bringing the families together in a relationship can go one of two ways, and we’re so lucky that ours have become really great friends. They even came to help us sell The Ma to the masses at our Mother’s Day pop-up in Jersey City. They each spent their lives setting the right example for us to follow, so their influence is evident in how we’ve grown as a couple, and especially how we navigated being confined to our one bedroom apartment together for a year.
MC: You just launched your Pride Collection. How did you come up with the four individual fragrances representing four individual LGBT destinations?
GB: We knew we wanted to do something to celebrate Pride, and after not being able to travel during the pandemic, wanted to pay tribute to the places we love the most. I asked Alex to be my boyfriend on Fire Island. We’ve had some really special moments together in Palm Springs. We consider ourselves part of the Asbury Park LGBTQIA+ community, as it’s our part-time home base all year round. Last year, after months in quarantine, we spontaneously rented a place in Provincetown for a change of scenery (and an extra bedroom), which 100% kept us both from completely losing our marbles.
AC: These places rely on tourism and missed an entire summer season last year. We wanted to teach and remind our little community about why they’re so special, and hopefully inspire a weekend visit to one or all of them. Pride is 365 days a year for us, so I wanted the scents to evoke the spirit of each destination, but also remind you of them all year round.
MC: When did you know that this had gone beyond a dream and had become a tangible and realistic business?
AC: When we put The Boyfriend Collection up for presale, it sold out in a few hours. We were both shocked, then excited, then a little panicked at the number of orders we had to fill, but it gave us the confidence to continue creating new scents. We’re so so so thankful for everyone who’s supported us so far.
MC: Being an engaged couple and working together can be a challenge; how do you balance it all?
AC: It’s definitely a challenge, but we’re a good team. I’m super creative, and love to experiment with different scents and waxes. I can get lost in that process sometimes, and that’s when Greg comes into our home office/makeshift candle factory to remind me that we have orders to fill.
Greg: It’s chaotic, like the Swedish Chef’s kitchen from The Muppets, but that’s what makes it fun.
MC: Now that we are starting to emerge from home; how do you think you want to take Sociale into the live world as opposed to only being able to operate virtually?
GB: Call us, girl! We’ll come to your street fair, your craft fair, your Pride celebration, your vow renewal, your bar mitzvah, etc. We also love partnering with small businesses that want to sell our candles in their stores.
MC: Where do you want to see Sociale Candles in five years?
GB: I’ve selflessly volunteered to open and operate a Sociale boutique on Commercial Street while Alex holds down the fort in Jersey City, but he wasn’t super into that idea for some reason.
AC: (rolls eyes at Greg): My hope is that people love our scents so much that these debut collections are still in demand by then. A goal of mine is to build our business to the point that we can start donating profit to various LGBT organizations, but we’re learning to walk before we run.
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