We had the good fortune of connecting with Hannah Armstrong and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hannah, how do you think about risk?
For me it’s important to represent my business in a way that aligns with my values. Behind the scenes it’s a slow process sourcing responsibly, and something that I dedicate a lot of time to. It’s frequently costlier than the alternatives on the market, but in my mind there’s not much risk there. It does drive up the cost of what I make which could alienate potential customers, but I’ve found that there’s a huge demand for ethically made clean candles and body products. A risk I’ve taken to address the accessibility issue is by launching a Pay What You Can price model this past April, so that folks with reduced income, people who’ve been laid off, and others can still find comfort in a candle. Those with more financial security have a chance to support my work and this program. There’s always the risk that people will abuse this program, but so far I am so thrilled that hasn’t been the case. Marketing is where it seems a bit riskier to go against the grain. It’s not something I’m very knowledgeable about, so I don’t always have data to back up my decisions, but products are political and I can’t sell them without acknowledging all of the complex factors that have led to their creation and the ways in which they perpetuate systems. That message isn’t always palatable, and I have absolutely lost customers because of it. That being said, the customers I do have are that much more committed to supporting my work and sharing with their friends and families. Risk taking is a necessary part of life, and the safety nets and privileges we have make different risk levels more or less accessible. As a white woman with a college degree, I have the safety net of being qualified for other work to supplement my income if this business isn’t able to sustain me long term. Without risk, we will perpetuate the systems that exist. Risk allows us to envision a different way of doing things, and even small businesses can shift entire supply chains. Long term my goals are to work towards creating robust local supply chains for ingredients that are hard to come by locally. I’d like to work towards soy that is grown locally and processed for wax, and eventually work with farmers to find heritage, non gmo soy to grow.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My candles are made with pure plants – just soy and essential oils, sourced as locally and as sustainably as possible. I’m really excited about collaborations coming soon with a couple of herbalists distilling wild harvests for a small batch of very special candles! Essential oils take obscene amounts of plant matter to distill (we’re talking 250lb of lavender for a single pound of essential oil) which makes it all the more important to source responsibly! Wild harvests have to be very carefully managed, and choosing organic for the farmed options keeps an incredible amount of pesticides from being used, which is fantastic for worker health and for the land. It’s not always easy or possible to source ethical oils. For example, Amber is mined in ways that destroy vast swaths of land, and Frankincense is so over harvested that the trees are in danger. In researching the ingredients, I’ve learned so much about the history of each one! It’s been an engaging process. I definitely lose customers looking for those muskier scents, but I won’t work with synthetic fragrances or source oils that aren’t ethically harvested. When people buy my candles or body products, I want them to know that each ingredient was ethically produced.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, the Texas Farmer’s Market at Mueller is a must. It is the most scenic farmer’s market I have ever been to, and even though I’m taking a break from vending there during the pandemic, it’s a lovely spot to check out and support our local food system and makers, and take a walk. Before heading over, we’d grab a cup of coffee from Figure 8 and breakfast tacos from Taco Mex. Vic and Al’s is a gem of restaurant. Their food is incredible, and they’ve really taken care of the service industry community during this crisis by operating the most luxurious community soup kitchen for months in response to the massive layoffs and closures. Zilker park is another spot we’d definitely spend some time hanging out, and the Austin Public Library downtown. I’d also want to see what’s playing at the Austin Film Society, and grab a drink at the Butterfly Bar.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Charlotte of Moonchaser Farm + Apothecary and Alexis of Ocotillo Botanica have been incredible women and herbalists to work with over the past couple of years. It’s invaluable to have people to bounce ideas off of, to learn with and from, and to push each other further. I also never would have started Quiet Cricket Studio in the first place if it weren’t for my partner at the time, Rhodes Hinman. He pushed me to make a go of my creative endeavors as a business, which is something I found intimidating and had trouble charging for my work. We had no idea what I was getting myself in to, but almost 3 years later I could not be happier that I dove in. I spend a lot of time learning about what it means to be an ethical maker in this society, and a lot of my time as a student of Frederika Bowcutt at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA informs that. Books like “The Empire of Cotton” which traces the evolution of colonialism and capitalism through the story of this one plant fundamental to our societies, or “Science and Colonial Expansion” which dives into how British Empires have extracted resources via plants from different parts of the world in the name of Science, to “Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas”, which I would say is a must read for anyone interested in southern cuisine or with ties to farming, fundamentally impact the way I view plants and people. Looking at the history of our systems is critical to understanding the implications of our actions today, and these books are a fantastic deep dive into understanding how humans have relied on plants and how those same plants have been tools of oppressors. As someone who works with plants now, this is critical for shaping how I interact with others, how I source materials, and where I donate.
ICBO Photography (last 2 photos)