Hello, friends! I'm excited to be back with my second "Meet the Maker" post - this time with Suji Meswani of Skeem Design! If you've been following along on the blog in recent months, you might remember the first one featuring Royal Bohemian Home's founder, Bridget. There was such a great response to that post (thank you!), so I'm excited to continue sharing about these companies and the faces behind them through these interviews. I love introducing you to amazing brands and small businesses that fall under the interior design and home decor umbrella - let's support them and cheer them on to great success!
Skeem Design was founded by husband-wife team Suji Meswani and Geoff Weiser, and they're based right here in Philadelphia (hey neighbors!). They make soy-based candles and match bottles in beautiful vessels that are intended to be repurposed after the product is used up - you'll understand why as soon as you see the images throughout the post! All of their products are American made, which is pretty fantastic. :) The scents they've created and the clean design of the products are right up my alley. They've become one of my go-to gifts this year, and I personally can't get enough of their Fleur de Sel and Sweet Balsam candles.
Now let's hear from Suji herself! She's got some great stories to tell about Skeem's beginnings, their goal of creating beautiful products with less packaging waste, how they got their name out there, and her new favorite product from their collection!
Tell me about Skeem Design - how and when did you get started, and what made you want to design products like your candles and matches? Where did the name come from?
My husband and I both grew up in entrepreneurial families. My whole life I imagined I would own my own business. I became interested in fashion and then in home decor, and envisioned I would own a store. I have a unique dual-degree that is one half design and one half business. For my first 10 years out of school I worked as a retail buyer. At around 30 I sort of had a life crisis because I had not yet started this business I had always imagined.
At that time, I had a wonderful job as the buyer of home decor for Anthropologie and traveled all over the world for them. For me though, the corporate grind did not leave time for a healthy work-life balance, and the idea of moving up the ladder to manage other people didn’t make sense for me. I felt like I would be moving farther away from what I really enjoyed and into more of a management position, which I really didn't love. My husband, Geoff, was in the exact same position working as an art director in advertising. We started brainstorming business ideas and came up with all sorts of wonderful plans. It was great fun dreaming up all the possibilities. We were “scheming” a way out of the corporate world, and that word, scheme, eventually became our brand name, Skeem.
As a buyer I could see where the holes in the market were, and knew we could create a successful business on our own if we could fill one of those holes. Luckily, my husband is an incredible designer so we were easily able to join forces and start the business.
What inspires your products? How do you decide what to create?
Skeem has evolved tremendously since we started 16 years ago. We actually started as a novelty drinking glassware company offering cool barware silk-screened with interesting designs. A good, large customer of ours asked us if we would make the glasses into candles and we started exploring that option. After about a year of development, we introduced the candles and they we a huge hit. The line has continued to evolve based on market trends, our lifestyle, and the limitations of being American-made. What has not changed is our focus on trend-forward design and the customer we are going after.
About 3 years ago, we completely over-hauled our line and we are not even recognizable as the same company, but our customer base remained the same. Because we are a smaller, boutique brand, we only have to answer to ourselves and that allows us the freedom to carefully and thoughtfully develop and introduce products to the market. Geoff and I also have a unique skill set between us - he handles all of the creative and I run the business end of things, which makes for a strong team.
We are lucky to have a few larger clients that are always pushing us to come up with new ideas, processes, finishes, etc. because of something they want or need. By creating these products for them, we're able to test them out with that larger retailer first and if successful, we can then launch a version of it on our own line.
I know that a big focus of Skeem Design is to reduce unnecessary packaging and provide vessels that can be repurposed after the original product has been used up. What motivated you to design that way?
When we started the company there were only a handful of candle companies unlike today, when there seems to be a new one popping up each week. All of those companies had plain, white candles poured into simple, clear glass. They were almost always "over-packed" in some type of gorgeous box. The design was beautiful, but we thought it seemed crazy that the nicest part of the candle was the box, which the consumer was ultimately throwing away. We thought, why not make the packaging part of the product itself? It worked and became our mission for all new products we have developed since.
What challenges have you faced in making that your mission with your products?
We are always surprised. There is always a customer, supplier or manufacturer that keeps us on our toes. The problems that have come our way have always ended up being opportunities to do something better, learn something about ourselves, grow, and improve. Luckily we have a few guiding principles that we always turn back to in times of uncertainty and the answer is usually there before us. Many people think it must be challenging to work together all day as husband and wife, but we love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. We think we make a great team and are still in awe at one another’s skills.
I feel like I’ve been seeing Skeem products everywhere these days - from national retailers to local shops. For example, when I was in Pottery Barn recently, I spotted your matches sprinkled throughout their store, and one of our local gift shops carries your candles. I’ve also been given one of your wonderful citronella candles you made exclusively for Terrain and I love it! How have you gotten your name out there?
Part of our business model is to outsource as much as we can, which includes our sales reps. We work with a large network of reps throughout the country that have relationships with both mom & pop stores and many of the larger retailers. They get paid a commission for their work, so they only get paid when you get paid. A good sales rep is worth their weight in gold. It took awhile to build and develop the relationships, but many of them have been with us for over 10 years. It’s the best check I write all month. Because I worked as a buyer for many large retailers, I know what is expected from the larger multi-store chains. It can be a challenge for someone new to that world because there are a lot of special requirements: testing, ticketing, carton labeling, routing guides etc., so it really helped that I had that background. It is pretty important that the back end of your business is really well run before you venture into wide distribution.
What’s coming down the pipe for Skeem Design? Any insider info you’d be willing to share?
We just released a pretty large new collection for Fall/Holiday 2017 that will debut at the gift shows that start later this month and run through August. One of my favorite new products we are introducing is a new Palo Santo collection. Palo Santo is a type of “holy wood” from South America believed to have all sorts of special properties for healing and cleansing the mind and body. It's burned in a similar way to incense. I have totally fallen in love with the ritual and the scent, and ours is packaged in a beautiful glass jar with a printed cork lid and is available in 2 sizes.
If you were to dream big, where do you see your company in five years?
Honestly, for us, this is the big dream. We love having a small, manageable company where we are able to make all the decisions and have complete control of the brand. We really like the size we are right now and we have a few strong missions that help guide our decisions as we grow and evolve. One big guiding factor is we want to have a rich, enjoyable life filled with free time, travel, and friends. We don't want to lose sight of that as we grow and so we have made a lot of decisions to make those things possible by outsourcing as much as we can. For example, we do not own a factory or a warehouse. Sure, we probably make less money this way, but at the end of the day it gives us a tremendous amount of freedom.
Do you have a personal favorite product right now? What’s your best selling item?
This spring we introduced a citronella candle collection for the first time. It is in a large 3-wick container and has a great black and white insect graphic, but is simple and clean with a modern wooden lid. It quickly became a best seller and is available is three great scents, Sea Salt, Grapefruit and Eucalyptus.
Thanks so much, Suji! What an amazing business you and Geoff have created together. I can't wait to follow along with your new products that are coming out this summer.
Reader friends, make sure to follow Skeem Design on social media for the latest on their products, and keep an eye out for their candles and matches at stores near you!
And lastly, if you know of a small business with an online presence that's related to the interior decorating/home world that you think would be a good fit for the Meet the Maker series, let me know!