Porch Fly makes candles everyone loves to smell. The Raleigh-based clothing and accessories company’s City of Oaks candle – a blend of oak, moss and amber – smells woodsy and offers a brief trip to the outdoors when you’re stuck inside.
“This was the second candle we ever made,” says Porch Fly co-owner Joshua Gruder. “And this has been by far the most popular candle. This is the only product I’ve ever made where I’ve never met a person who didn’t love it.”
And it all started with whiskey.
Gruder, 32, and Bryant Szabo, 35, both from Raleigh, founded Porch Fly when they had jobs worlds away from clothing and handmade goods, at the Pentagon and at a financial services conglomerate, respectively. After a night spent talking over a glass of bourbon in Raleigh, while Gruder was down from D.C. visiting family and friends, they realized they both wanted to do something more creative.
“It started off really by just kind of a conversation,” says Gruder. “I never thought it would be a company. We made three or four shirts just for fun for some friends. People ended up liking them a lot.”
In November 2012, the shirts were picked up by DECO, a retail specialty shop in downtown Raleigh. By May 2013, Gruder says the shirts were in 10 or 11 stores.
“We were starting to make a little bit of money, and I had another contract down here with something else I was doing, so we figured we’d give it a shot,” he says. Gruder moved from D.C. with his now-wife.
Blame it on the bourbon
The candles came about because Gruder wanted to make a whiskey-scented candle.
“That was it,” Gruder says. “And at Porch Fly, we do a lot of whiskey-related apparel; we’re just big bourbon fans. And we just wanted to make a whiskey candle. I tried, I did a bunch of research, with getting candles, and I made this cool whiskey-scented candle that was all natural and vegan and I just fell in love with the process.”
In March 2016, they added candles to their list of products – but not before Gruder bought roughly 300 candles from around the world to sample what other companies were selling. From that selection, he was able to take the bits and pieces he liked the most to create scents that evoke memories. He also received help from a local candlemaker.
“Smelling a candle versus looking at a T-shirt – it’s much more of an emotional reaction when you smell something and love it versus when you just look at something and love it,” says Gruder. “And the reaction that I got from people, it really excited me. I was satisfied with how much people liked (the candles). It made me happy.”
A different kind of candle
The finished products use soy wax over beeswax because Gruder had friends who were concerned about the effect on the local bee community. Also, North Carolina is a huge soybean producer, so they were able to get organically grown soy wax from inside the state.
Visually, Porch Fly candles don’t look like most candles due to their wide wooden wick, which also comes from North Carolina. It crackles when burned, and given its width, candles burn down completely instead of leaving a hollowed out candle. As a result, they burn much longer than regular candles.
They decided on the wooden wick, says Gruder, in part due to that crackle. “I was in love with it because it just reminded me of a campfire. I think it’s a nice little additive.”
Porch Fly recently worked with Cameron Village gift and accessory shop The Local Squirrel to come up with an exclusive candle that will only be sold at the shop. Owner Rachael Pusateri says that working with Porch Fly on the scent has been an amazing experience.
“Josh is one of the best collaborators that I’ve gotten to work with in the store,” says Pusateri. “He has a real heart for other small businesses, too, so he has done everything he can to be a resource for me.”
The shop has sold Porch Fly candles since last year, and Pusateri says they’ve sold well. “They’re one of our best-sellers month after month. I drastically increased our orders ... ’cause they just fly out of here.”
When Gruder is asked if he misses the D.C. lifestyle, he says, “I don’t think there’s any place in the country that is more encouraging and supportive of small business than Raleigh during this time. The most important part is that the people around here are just so supportive of it. I would never be able to have this business in D.C. I would have been swallowed up by all the millions of other people with deeper pockets than me.”
A mutual love of whiskey sparked an idea, and the setting made all the difference.