Creative Living

Earl of East


Earl of East offers perfumed goods such as candles, incense, and bathing treats. With aromatic references to Japan, Copenhagen and the English countryside. We caught up with the founders, Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin, to talk all things fragrance, the birth of the brand, and what's next for Earl of East...


GOODHOOD: How did the brand come to fruition?

Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin: The brand was born out of a desire for us to do something more meaningful with our spare time. Living in Hackney we were surrounded by cool shops, markets and creators. We always felt like we were on the outside looking in, so after (continuously) speaking about what our thing would be, we just decided to give it a go.

We started with a one-off stall at Netil Market, the idea was to create a lifestyle store on a tabletop. We decided to source brands from the US who didn't have a footprint in the UK. We figured this would give us something unique. It worked, but something was missing for us.

Being in a market environment meant we were surrounded by makers, which inspired us to create something of our own. We both had such a love of scent, plus we’d become known for selling candles, so that became our focus.

GH: What is the brand ethos?

N&P: As an overall brand we have four pillars; Create, Curate, Collaborate and Community. These pillars are our building blocks, they underpin everything we do. We want to create a brand that means something to lots of different people, regardless of whether they experience us through our events, spaces or products.

Our aim is to create high-quality products that can live in anyone's interior, at a democratic price point. Our mission is and has always been to make scent accessible to all.

GH: How did you grow from selling your products on a stall to having your own stores, and how did you find the process?

N&P: We started as a stall curating our favourite goods, then when we launched our own line that took over. Whilst we enjoyed every minute of it, we missed sourcing other items. We'd always dreamt of having a store, so when we outgrew our first studio we started looking for a space that could encompass a store and our studio.

It often feels like the building in Hackney found us, the front elevation looks identical to the house in the middle of our teepee logo. When we went into the space, it felt right instantly. It was way too big for our needs, but we had a conversation with Ana from Kana, whom we had met at Netil Market regarding our dream space, and our needs were aligned. We messaged her to say we had found the most amazing space and made it work. Ana's studio is upstairs and we have the ground floor which is divided between the studio and store.

The process was really scary, but with both of us still working full-time and Kana subleasing, we figured we would make it work The store is so hidden that people have to actively seek it out, but when they do, they tend to become loyal customers; regulars dropping by for a coffee and a catch up.




GH: What do you love about working in Hackney?

N&P: Hackney is a creative hub, we are surrounded by a lot of like-minded people - but within a very diverse neighbourhood, which provides us with so much inspiration. There’s a real sense of community here, we know our neighbours and other business owners, it feels like home.

GH: What advice would you give to other creatives who want to start their own business?

N&P: Just start, put your ideas out there and don't wait until something is perfect before launching it. You'll perfect your idea along the way, with help and feedback from your customers and collaborators. Another thing we have learnt is that you don't have to chose between one thing or another. As founders we both kept full-time jobs for the first 5 years. That allowed us to take risks, and the skills from our jobs in advertising have been extremely transferrable.

GH: What was the biggest obstacle you faced with the brand and how did you overcome it?

N&P: When you start a business you have some many occasions where you are like ‘what are we doing?', the buck stops with you and that can be scary. When we were opening our Coal Drops Yard store we literally invested every penny we had and more. A week before it opened we had pretty much ran out of money, as everything ends up costing more. We made it through and were soon back on our feet. You have to learn to take everything in your stride when you have your own business, its all about problem solving.

GH: Proudest moment so far?

N&P: There have been a lot of firsts where we were really chuffed; the first market stall and the response from customers, the first stockist request and so on, but this last year we have really felt like the business has started to grow up. We had a pop-up in Tokyo with a series of sold-out workshops which was such an incredible feeling.




GH: Talk us through some of your inspirations...

N&P: Our main inspiration comes from the places we travel to - it could be a city break, time revisiting places from childhood or going further afield to new places and immersing ourselves in the culture there. The great thing is, our business actually enables us to travel now. Our visit to Japan was centred around a pop-up in Tokyo, but the experience meant we made connections there and visited places that we wouldn't have found otherwise.

We are also hugely inspired by the way people operate in different cultures: how do they interact, where do they gather and what makes them tick. This is a foundation for thinking about new products.

GH: Have you ever made a candle that didn’t make it to the shop floor?

N&P: So many! The actual pouring of a candle is relatively straightforward but the development of scent is more complex. We have developed a lot of scents that just weren't good enough. Sometimes candles smell great cold, but when burnt they change or (the scent doesn't) throw as well and sometimes it is the exact opposite.

GH: What’s the next big thing in fragrance?

N&P: Over the past 20 years, there’s been a real move away from gender-specific scents to the consumer knowing what they are wearing and what notes they like. We really believe that scent is for everyone, not just expert noses. We feel scent will become more purposeful - people will use fragrance in their homes and on their skin to make them feel a certain way. Think of scent to relax you whilst you travel, sprays to aid sleep, to help energise or invigorate. There will also be a growth in brands using scent in a much more meaningful way.

GH: Describe your favourite, non-product scent and why?

N&P: Incense and smoky woody notes are our favourites. We love cade and use it in our line. We also adore the scent of Hinoki wood. Having spent time in Japan this year it's something we want to introduce in one of our future products. To us, woody scents are cosy, they create a sense of home.




GH: You have a book coming out shortly, can you tell us more about that...

N&P: The book is called 'The Scented Candle Workshop' and it's a modern take on a practical guide book for those people looking to make their own candles. It's very personal and has been shot entirely in our home and studio by the wonderful Anna & Tam, who we were already fans of.

Our focus is on scent development, but we provide lots of insider tips and knowledge around how to create fragrances that trigger memories or have therapeutic benefits. Having never written a book before we didn't really know what to expect, but we absolutely loved the process.

GH: What's next for the brand? What are you working on at the moment?

N&P: This year has all been about building foundations. We turn five in October, which feels like a milestone. To make sure the next five are just as fun, we have been refining a lot of processes: updating our brand, making changes to our studio and stores and working on new products. We are about to launch hand washes, balms and shower mist, which are extensions to our Japanese bathing inspired line. We have plans for new products next year, but we will keep those under our hats for now.