When Jennifer Del Bel first met Tony and Emma Sykes, she didn’t think twice about helping the father daughter team out.
“Tony was looking into starting a business for Emma, and he spoke about making candles. Having been down that track, knowing all of the mistakes that could be made, and hearing the struggles they had trying to find her a job, really struck a chord with me.”
Emma has Down syndrome, and despite applying for many jobs intended to support those with special needs, she had yet to find employment. Fed up, Tony thought it would be easier to create their own opportunities. That’s where Jennifer came in. As the founder and owner of premier candle business Illumina, she had the experience and the resources required to help the pair start their own business.
How it all started
“We decided to start by focusing on a weekend market,” Jennifer reminisces. “It would be small and they would be able to use old glassware of mine, my wax, my fragrance, without any risk and we’d be able to see if Emma was able to handle the job. It was just a trial project, but a local journalist, Leanne Chamberlin, attended the market and wrote a little story about it for the Pohutakawa Coast Times.”
“That story was then picked up by Tim Wilson from Seven Sharp. Following our appearance on Seven Sharp, we were selling a candle a minute that night. It built the brand. Since, we’ve had about 26 articles written about us, with features on international social media platforms like Disney Channels “Babble” and “George Takei Presents” with a recent documentary on TVNZ’s Attitude Program.” Jennifer reports.
“We thought some of the companies out there just weren’t helping the special needs community the way they could, so why can’t we do this on our own? Why can’t we manufacture a high quality product, build a fantastic brand and do this ourselves?”
Since then, the company now named Downlights, has gone from strength to strength, selling internationally, employing more and more individuals. However, the growth has not been without its challenges.
“We just struggle to manufacture at the scale we need to in order to get the profitability we need grow further. We’re working towards buying new machinery that will make mass production much easier for our staff, not only allowing us to more than triple our output, but also employ those who may not have the muscle strength to produce candles in the manner we are now.”
To help reach those targets, Downlights has started establishing valuable relationships with other socially conscious organisations like Recreate, Interworld Fundraising and Life Education Trust. Through them, Downlight’s reach and its ability to generate cash flow has only improved.
“By building strategic relationships with an organisation like Interworld Fundraising, you’re creating opportunities for those with Down syndrome but you’re also giving money back to the community. They now supply candles for fundraising.”
Change for good
The team’s biggest goal now is to build Downlights both as a business and a social enterprise, spurred on by the overwhelmingly positive response the company has already received both externally and internally.
“The positive changes we have seen in our employees have been incredible. As their confidence grows, so too does their drive to work and develop new skills which surely benefits the company. I want to be able to pay Emma, Jack and the others a living wage to work and ensure long term employment opportunities to assist their journey for independence.” Jennifer says.
The change isn’t easy, and some of the difficulty Jennifer believes can be attributed to the more insular nature of our current communities, but if companies are willing to make the effort there will be real rewards for those taking part.
“Building Downlights as a social enterprise is a reflection of my values and it sets an example for my children. I couldn’t be prouder as a parent to show my daughters what kind of person you can be and what sort of social impact you can make through your life and your choices.”
To learn more about Downlights visit their website www.downlightsnz.com. If you’d like to support Downlights use the discount code ‘ASB BANK’ when you checkout to receive 20% off your order. This offer is valid until October 1st, 2019.
For more information and guidance about starting, running or growing your business, see our ASB business guides online today.