Amrit Muralidharan considers himself a candle connoisseur. As a student of finance and economics at the University of Melbourne and far from home, the Kedahan often found solace and comfort in the flicker of a flame.
Over time, he realised many brands use adulterated ingredients that are harmful to health as well as the environment, such as synthetic fragrances and waxes predominantly made from petroleum. “Once, I accidentally left my candle burning overnight and woke up with soot in my nose. And whenever I lit a candle, it would only be for one hour because I always got a headache after that.”
The 27-year-old was also concerned about the sustainable aspects of this industry. “Ninety-five per cent of candles on the market use glass containers, which undergo an energy-intensive production process and release the same amount of carbon dioxide as they weigh. Most of the products also come with unnecessary bubble wrap, styrofoam and paper packaging that contribute to waste in landfills and seas.”
So, when brainstorming ideas for his business, he wanted to ensure that there were elements of quality, sustainability and creativity in his products. Complemen+, established with the intention of adding value and completing people’s lives, began rolling out its prototypes at end-2022. Amrit relied on feedback from friends and family to improve and improvise.
Referring to various articles, classes and YouTube videos, he experimented with different waxes and learnt about pouring and mixing specific types at the right temperature. “I attended courses by our perfumer to understand how to formulate scents from various fragrance families, their compatibility and how to layer them. It was a lot of trial and error to get the recipes right.”
Eventually, he settled on candles made from a blend of sustainably sourced soy, coconut and beeswax. “We didn’t want to use beeswax at the start. But we observed that it allows the candles to burn a lot slower, which means customers are able to enjoy the product longer.” Complemen+’s products have a burn time of up to 55 hours.
Based on years of consumption and research, Amrit noticed the gap in the candle business, in which “many brands do not have creative direction especially in the local market and around Asia. Their candles are expensive with no additional value. They aren’t created to be a centrepiece in homes nor are they a testament to art.”
His ultimate goal is to be an eco-luxury label, so there are many aspects to consider. Product presentation is certainly one of them. Together with partners Avinash Sekhar and Sharifah Adriana, Amrit consulted illustrator and animator ThatDania, and Tsubaki Studio to help realise the brand image.
“I told them it had to be something different to most brands out there because we were trying to bring in a new look for the candle business. To be an eco-luxury brand, our packaging and appearance had to be reflective of the term.”
As someone who is sensitive to smells and sounds, Amrit decided to incorporate the latter into Complemen+’s candles. “I have a neurological condition called synaesthesia, where one sense involuntarily unlocks the other. So I tend to associate a certain scent with visuals and songs. That’s how the Spotify playlist idea came about.”
Each purchase comes with a card that features an illustration, a motivational poem and QR code for a curated Spotify playlist to match the mood to the scent. Currently, the brand offers three options: Element, Inamorata and Rimba.
Element features notes of lemon, tangerine, blood orange, coconut, verbena and vanilla and is suitable for those who want something refreshing. Inamorata was created for people who like sugary accents and the fruity accords of cranberry, raspberry and strawberry. Meanwhile, nature lovers will enjoy Rimba as it is infused with rainforest elements such as oak moss, cedarwood, figs and cloves.
Complemen+ relies heavily on technology to advance its sustainable offerings. Besides an interactive website and a curated Spotify playlist for each scent, the brand uses a 3D printing method to produce its one-of-a-kind candle container, crafted using environmentally friendly and repurposable Jesmonite material. “When I started, the most difficult part was sourcing the right materials because we were not sure where to look for the suppliers.”
Today, the label uses packaging derived from mushrooms as an alternative to styrofoam and paper-based wrappers. “We grow our packaging from mycelium, which can be challenging because it may not be able to develop properly if the temperature is not right. It may rot and break. I have a massive box in my office with evidence of how much packaging we’ve wasted.”
His candles are sold at quite a high price point — RM228.99 for 250g — but Amrit says it is reasonable considering the thought, innovation, craftsmanship and creativity that go into their creation. “We give you a high burn time and an exclusive experience alongside the product. Most of our customers are really satisfied with what we offer. We have thought about lowering the price, but that would be at the expense of not having the same product status and the right amount of profit to focus on R&D for sustainability.”
Does it mean it is costly to be sustainable? “Yes. But it is necessary. We are hoping to expand our focus in this area and work with companies that share the same goals. If we are backed by venture capitalists whose interest lies in consumer brands, I believe we can be one of the market leaders in the country.”
Complemen+ collaborated with local clothing label Pestle & Mortar for their new flagship store opening early last year, for which it produced customised containers inspired by the timeless elegance of a black pestle and mortar. “We have a lot of ideas and are open to working with enterprises and companies for special partnerships, corporate gifts and wedding favours. We are also keen to join forces with artists and painters to create an artistic line and maybe do an exhibition for that.”
The brand is currently selling its products online with an occasional physical presence at pop-up stores during festive seasons. “We are looking to set up our first store with an eco-conscious concept in Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur, sometime in May. Hopefully, people can come and smell our candles.”
In the near future, customers can look forward to seasonal scents during festive periods. Complemen+ is also planning smaller-sized candles to make them more accessible and affordable to the general public.
This article first appeared on Jan 22, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.