Dec. 12, 2021
Eve After Eden: My Work on My Terms
By Jemi Lassiter
This week’s “Eve” is Ashley Scales, the owner, creative director and principal chandler for Reminiscent Luxe Candle Lounge (R. Luxe). She and I met to discuss her transition from working the 9-to-5 job she expected to running her own luxury scented candle company.
Without really knowing what her scented candle curiosity would become, Ashley Scales launched her business from her kitchen in 2018 with small batch, hand-poured candles. Today, R. Luxe is a high end candle brand inspired by the rich essence of ’90s R&B and Hip Hop music with a holiday store in Annapolis Towne Centre. Follow the brand on Instagram.
This interview does not start off the way I planned. I’m five minutes behind schedule with a toddler in tow for an interview with the founder, creative director, and principal chandler of Reminiscent Luxe Candle Lounge (R. Luxe). She is Ashley Scales, a ‘90s R&B music enthusiast and recovering secret scented candle shopper. We are meeting to discuss the work required after leaving “Eden”.
“The goal was to become a government employee and coast in life,” said Scales of her initial career goals. “The people in my life who had long jobs were my aunts and they worked for the government. It was just getting in the door of the government… I’ll work my way up. I’ll retire and then I’m going to go live life.”
A native of Temple Hills, MD and a graduate of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, Ashley had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur.
Growing up, she watched her mother create and then dismantle businesses while working full time and raising three children on her own after divorcing her husband.
As a newly minted college graduate, Ashley had no interest in following in her mother’s footsteps. Instead, she set her eyes on using her degree in journalism to become a communications professional.
More specifically, she searched for opportunities to join the federal government’s workforce. She worked as a temporary employee for government agencies as a writer and then transitioned into another temporary role as a social media content creator. For two years, she worked to prove herself to her clients and then… the dominoes of the U.S. economy began to fall.
In 2008, the Great Recession claimed the contract she worked on. She rebounded and found another job, this time as a graphic designer. Her previous role as a social media content creator introduced her to the field and digital art came easy to her. Again, she worked to prove herself but her contract was not renewed and she was without a job for the second time in nearly four years. The difference this time was that she was married and expecting her first child.
For a year, Ashley was unemployed. She used her graphic design skills to start a small graphic design business and her income supplemented her husband’s salary just enough to keep them in their middle class lifestyle.
Then, an opportunity to work with NASA became available and Ashley was back on track, or so she thought, to getting her dream job. With this contract, she had the chance to be a graphic designer for a division within the nation’s only government-funded space exploration agency. She landed it! While there, she earned several accolades for her work. In fact, she felt closer than ever to landing the career she sought out, her Eden, as a government employee.
In 2018, while still supporting NASA, she launched a small-batch, hand poured scented candle company from her kitchen. Surrounded by family and friends. Designed by Ashley Scales, now R. Luxe, was supposed to be a project of curiosity that supplemented her interior design business; a place where Ashley could combine her love of ’90s R&B and Hip Hop, the memories music carries with it, and the cool clean scents that color life.
Her candles quickly sold out requiring new scents and larger quantities to be readily available. But, her true first test came when the online orders were not just from family and friends. Less than six months in, Designed by Ashley Scales had more than half of its orders from people outside of Ashley’s personal network.
“I pushed her to do interior design”, said Lonnie Scales, Ashley’s husband of 10 years. “She wanted to create a gift for her interior design clients. I thought the candles were a hobby but people only asked about the candles. Six to eight months into both [the interior design and candle projects], I knew candles were it!”
Then, another domino fell in 2020. Her NASA contract was bought by another firm. Her company had exhausted its extensions and could not renew for another year.
“Once I realized that this was how life was going to be, I was like ‘Oh, I don’t think I can do this’,” Ashley said of the way her government contract was sold from one contractor firm to another.
Their rules were different and their budget was smaller. Members of her team were let go in the first two months. Then, so was she.
“I wasn’t upset,” said Ashley. “I wanted to leave, just on my own terms but I hadn’t created a plan yet.”
A wife and mother of two, the reality of no longer being traditionally employed with a 9-to-5 resonated different.
Now there was a mortgage to consider. Health insurance, childcare, utilities, and the everyday expenses of raising a family in a metropolitan area had to be figured out.
“She was fine with it,” said Lonnie of Ashley’s job loss. “For 30 seconds, I was like ‘Do you want a second go at it?’ But, I said ‘You’re not going back. Let’s figure out this health insurance.’”
It seemed like Ashley wasted no time adjusting to her new life. Now, R. Luxe was not a side hustle or a hobby. It became her entrepreneurial focus. She began vending at local outdoor markets throughout 2020, ramped up e-commerce efforts and social media posts.
She even revamped her company’s brand from Designed by Ashley Scales to Reminiscent Luxe Candle Lounge.
Ashley held her first pop-up shop as a guest vendor at Fair Oaks Mall. Even without outside promotion, her candles sold well. If it was not the familiar music titles, then the fresh scents of her candles and Ashley’s relaxed and approachable demeanor drew in new business over the two-day experiment.
“After that, I knew she was ready for her own store and I pushed for her to go for it,” said Lonnie.
“[Ashley] is firm on what she wants and doesn’t want. She can do anything”, said Lonnie. “She needs that nudge. I am the nudge that pushes her off the ledge.”
In December, Reminiscent Luxe Candle Lounge opened a holiday store front at Annapolis Town Centre.
More than a pop-up shop, the holiday store front allows Ashley to showcase her love of music, display her scented candles, offer workshops in candle making and other holiday crafts. Above all else, it allows her to continue creating her after Eden experience.
“There’s a huge return on investment”, said Lonnie. “She worried about the kids at first but her dad has come onboard to help make candles. I prep the wax and some other materials. I’m her manual labor right now. She’s financially stable and she’s happy.”
“Money is definitely coming in”, said Ashley. “I don’t know how long I’ll be in this location but I’m happy to have my own store. I just had my first party. I have a workshop today and new customers are starting to come into the store.”
She is not looking back at what could have been if her plans for predictable employment had come to fruition.
“I put 1000 percent into my business and the products I make. I won’t go unappreciated doing my work in my business”, said Ashley.
After the ups and downs of being a government contractor, her after Eden is all about intentional actions to grow her business while sharing her love of music and scented candles on her terms.
* "Eve After Eden: My Work on My Terms" was originally published December 12, 2021 on Medium.com.