June 7, 2023
Enter the Greentree Home Beehive: Where Sustainability Meets Handcrafting
Hundreds of handcrafts have become critically endangered since the industrial revolution. Proponents of mechanization argue that making goods by hand is too labor-intensive, time-consuming, and even ineffective – why produce something the old-fashioned way when it can be rapidly replicated in the thousands using a machine? However, sustainability advocates argue that the industrialization's costs outweigh its benefits – producing goods in a way that abuses earth's resources causes too much damage to the health of the planet and its living beings, including humans.
What else are we willing to sacrifice in the name of efficiency? Mass manufacturing reproduces goods quickly and cheaply, which keeps products flowing into the market without necessarily honoring the people, places, or cultures these goods originate from. In Kashmir, papier-mache goods are so culturally significant that they receive geographical indication marks to prove they were created in the region. Yet the dignity of this ancient craft has been diminished by exploitative economics. Many of the artists and craftspersons who have mastered traditional techniques such as papier-mache are dying off…with nobody to replace them. Are machines really capable of achieving the subtle quality of the human touch, or communicating the meaning behind a creation? Artisans and supporters of handcrafting believe in the personal connection, artistic message, and "feel-good" details of handmade goods, including those endearing imperfections that simply prove someone's hands crafted this wondrous invention.
The handcraft of candle-making dates back thousands of years, differing in style, technique, and material depending on the historic era and global region. Yet, in the United States, most candles we find in shops today have been mass produced, relying on fossil fuels for everything from the machine engines to the candles themselves, in the form of paraffin wax. Aware of the need for a safe, sustainable alternative to mass production, Jenifer Green founded Greentree Home in 2000. The company upholds the values so easily discarded by the purveyors of industrialization, and so central in handcrafting – responsible use and protection of natural resources, preservation of historic artistic and cultural traditions, and care for the wellbeing of artisans and their families.
Over the past 23 years, Greentree Home has carved a path for handcrafting to thrive in the 21st century. Mixing modern methodologies with ancient traditions, the company borrows from one of mass production's primary principles – dividing and specializing the labor and/or tasks – and flips it on its head, creating a beehive-like environment in which each person plays a specific role. In this remix of the "assembly line," communication and teamwork are valued over automation and machines. Resisting mass production's imperative to produce candles (or do anything) quickly and cheaply, the company creates candles in small batches using quality raw materials and practicing respect for the earth's finite resources. Greentree Home follows in the footsteps of earlier candle-makers by using 100% beeswax and 100% cotton wicks.
One key resource distinguishes Greentree Home's candle-making process from mass production: human beings. The people who make it all happen are affectionately known as the makers. Makers are artisans, craftspeople, tradespersons, and artists who are trained in specialized techniques. Much like bees in a hive, makers transform natural materials into stunning creations. Greentree Home's makers move like bees too, unified around their collective goals. Learn about all the Makers.
"You can see the thing you're making…and it helps everybody here to do your part." Nikola | Production Assistant
"It's like a family…I enjoy the people I work with…we are a team and we work very well together." Kayla | Production Assistant
Design and imagination inform the first stage of the operation, which is directed by Jenifer Green. Inspiration for a candle style might strike in the form of a cultural or historical artifact, architecture, piece of art, or everyday object. From there, a team of makers create "test" candles, or prototypes, using silicone molds that are made in-house. Once removed from their molds and cooled, these test candles then undergo a test burn. The queen bee assesses: How long does the candle burn? What forms and shapes does the candle take on while burning? What effects are produced by the candle's shadow and light? If this new candle is a taper style, does the base fit in a holder? If it is a sculptural candle, does the form sit steady on a flat surface, or topple over? Was there too much or too little wax used? Upon resolving all of these questions, the team creates more molds so makers can pour multiple candles at a time.
Working in unison, overlapping with one another's rhythms and lending each other a supporting hand, the makers buzz through the remainder of their routine. Each maker manages a specific task. One maker may be responsible for melting and dyeing the beeswax, while another maker may be removing candles from molds. One maker may be finishing the bottom of the candles until they look neat and uniform (sculptural) or fit into a candle holder (tapers). From heating wax, aligning cotton wicks through the center point of the candles, and pouring warm wax into the molds, makers' skillful hands guide the candles safely from beginning to end.
"I couldn't imagine sitting and staring at a screen…I need some kind of artistic ability in my life where I create something beautiful, from hands to mind." Kayla | Taper Production Assistant
The deeply meaningful experience of seeing, creating, and handling the candle at each stage of creation drew many makers to Greentree Home, where craftspeople are seen and supported as whole people. Niche talents in handcrafts and passions for creativity and the arts are respected and celebrated. Some makers had experience working with wax before becoming candle-makers. Those who were new to beeswax enjoyed developing a relationship with the material over time, growing a deeper respect for beeswax and the bees themselves.
"It's nice to create something that is beautiful…and I have bees, so I have that connection [to the candles]." Rachelle | Production Assistant
The peaceful environment of the Greentree Home Shop offers a respite for makers coming from stressful jobs with corporations or large companies, where they may not have been able to properly tend to the health of themselves and their families. Based in a rural community, where jobs are often scarce, Greentree Home is uniquely positioned to support the welfare of people and the planet. Makers stay close to home, meaning less fuel for transportation, and more time at home with loved ones.
"It's important to me that our candles are handmade & nontoxic…I love feeling a part in the process & seeing people enjoy that end product." Jessie Green | Director of Sales
Greentree Home candles are made with love, bringing love, light, and joy to everyone – including the makers who create each one.