It’s 5.30am at Vicki Bastion’s bed and breakfast in Blue Spur, Hokitika. She heads to the kitchen where jars with wood wicks wait, lined up like obedient children. She flicks on the wax melter – the very reason she has to wake up so early. It will take about five hours until the wax to make Nevé candles is pourable.
Nearby is a small book in which Vicki neatly makes notes from the last batch of candles she made, including the all-important temperatures. Though the crackling noise from a wood wick brings with it a gentle ambience, the candles themselves are very “temperamental” creations, even fussy about the ambient temperature of the room.
Finally when everything is perfect, she begins her seven hours of pouring.
Is she a bit of a candle mad scientist? She laughs with delight at the thought and her daughter’s voice chimes in. “Perhaps, perhaps,” is Tessa Lyes’ reply.
This is only the start of the journey for a Nevé candle. Once carefully packed into Vicki’s, Tessa’s or her brother’s car, they have a 250km journey ahead of them, winding up and around the Southern Alps to Christchurch where Nevé and Tessa are based. It makes for a beautiful image of these candles making a journey from mother to daughter across the Alps. For Tessa, the mountains have a strong link to her brand.
“Névé is the French word for when the young snow, over millions of years, compacts down and forms a glacier – it is very Southern Alps inspired,” says Tessa. The deep blue of the boxes pays homage to the “deep southern lakes” where her business began in a Queenstown flat, and the “pop of gold” represents the gold rush.
This connection to New Zealand’s natural wonders helped guide Tessa when she was looking for a product to start her own business.
“I like the idea of a natural product with the wood wick and how it tied into the beauty and natural element of New Zealand – I thought it was a perfect combination for a New Zealand candle.”
But she quickly found its serene beauty required a careful balance of creation. “I found out quickly it is really easy to make a candle, but it is really hard to make a good candle,” she says.
“There are natural oils in wood and that’s what makes it crackle softly like a fire. Because of those natural oils, you’ve got to have your numbers absolutely perfect otherwise the flame might be a little dim, or might burn too strong, which would cause it to burn through the candle too quickly.”
She launched her brand in 2018, after two years of testing, then moved to Christchurch in 2019, which is when her mum joined her in the business. Vicki had just finished working full-time and offered to become “head of manufacturing”.
“She’s gone from learning off me to being the absolute expert. I wouldn’t dare try to make a candle now, because hers are so much better!” says Tessa. “I don’t know about expert,” Vicki murmurs.
“You’re pretty good,” Tessa replies. Not all mothers and daughters could work together. But for Vicki and Tessa, it has enhanced not only their relationship but their deeper understanding about each other.
“Tess asks me for feedback and takes it on board
– listening to her mum sometimes!” says Vicki.
“You say that like it is a surprise,” says Tessa, pretending to be indignant, and the two laugh at each other in the way only mothers and daughters can.
It is Vicki’s attention to detail that makes her perfect for the art that is candle-making.
“She has high expectations and is quite hard on herself. She’ll put a red sticker on one and say, ‘I don’t know if this one is perfect.’ And it’ll only be half a mil off! She’s very transparent if something has gone wrong and that’s what you need,” says Tessa.
For Vicki, working with her daughter reinforces what she already saw in her growing up. “If she decides she is going to do something, she does it. She’s been like that since she was a little thing – she hasn’t changed, her goals have just gotten bigger. She’s quite inspiring, my daughter.”
And though a few people told Tessa it wouldn’t work – the distance between candle maker and distributer being divided by the magnificent Southern Alps – they should have known better. A mother and daughter duo can move mountains.