Thirty years strong, and smelling fresher than ever.
Distributor-turned-beauty brand Lafco is feting its 30th anniversary, and what started as a celebration of European apothecaries has turned into a bastion of home fragrance that has also expanded into body and skin care.
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Jon Bresler, the brand’s founder and president, isn’t done moving the needle. “What we’re seeing in home fragrance is that, as the candle market and diffuser market become saturated, there’s been a race toward what the next best device is for diffusing fragrance in an environment, and we’re starting to see the rise of at-home diffusers,” he said. “Clearly, that is part of the Lafco trajectory in the future.”
“I want to continue evolving this business by reinforcing Lafco’s position as the leader in art glass presentation of candles and home fragrance products,” he continued.
To that end, the brand’s roots are in an appreciation for artisanal approaches to beauty. Bresler founded Lafco in 1992 after leaving his career in law.
“Thirty years ago, I quit my job, and I took a one-year job in Zurich,” he said. “I really fell in love with old European pharmacies and apothecaries, and the whole idea of this small-industry beauty care, natural products and aromatherapy. I decided I wanted to expose Americans to traditional, apothecary-type craftsmanship coming out of Europe in skin care and fragrance.”
Lafco was born as a distributor, counting Santa Maria Novella and Eau d’Italie as clients. Bresler had also dabbled in producing soap bars and a line of men’s grooming products. “In the ’90s, we started getting more into perfumery products,” he said.
Due to his time as a distributor, Bresler saw burgeoning potential in home fragrance firsthand. “We saw the emergence of fine European candles coming into the market in the early 2000s, when Diptyque arrived on the American scene. Within 12 months, there was just an explosion of candles that has only gotten stronger and stronger,” Bresler said.
Photo courtesy of Lafco/Robert Wright
Where Bresler saw opportunity, he also saw tremendous white space. “The idea was to incorporate home design, aromatherapy and color into a candle line. We would make soy candles because we had a strong philosophy on doing things naturally,” he recounted. The brand’s products are roughly 97 percent plant derived.
“In 2015, we made a big decision to stop importing any other brands and become a Lafco-only company,” he said. “We really are now focusing on new fragrances and new products, becoming a monobrand fragrance company.”
Despite the evolution of Bresler’s business model, the brand’s value proposition remains unchanged. Part of that includes the product quality and understated design, Bresler said.
“We decided not to put labels on the candles in an effort to allow people to bring the candle into their home, and have it become theirs, as opposed to a sort of status symbol,” he added.
Creating the glass jars, though, was no small feat.
“We wanted to not make candles in clear glass, but instead use color as an ambiance provoker. We came up with this technique of handblowing glass that had a translucent effect to it, so you could see the light coming through,” Bresler said.
Since Lafco’s foray, the market has seen a slew of new entrants. Bresler sees the saturating market as an advantage, not a hurdle.
“We became very convinced that the more candles on the market, the better for us, because we found that people started to differentiate between better candles and not as good candles. When other companies were releasing candles that looked like ours, they weren’t successful,” he said.
That phenomenon has also led to Lafco’s cult following. “So much of the candle market is built on repeat purchases,” he said. “Candle burners don’t just burn one candle. People buy a lot of candles, and they’re very loyal. Once they find a brand they like, they stick with them.”
The brand’s attributes that have given it the most longevity, Bresler reasoned, are the products’ quality. Candles retail for $70, while diffusers start at $52.
“When we launched our candles, we did all the things that people respect. We did it out of soy, we included essential oils. We didn’t over-label it. People see Lafco as an authentic, legitimate business that is offering real products that have good value and performance out of them. That’s what’s made our reputation and kept us viable after all these years.”
That approach extends to body care, too. When Bresler set out to create his first bar soap, he opted for argan oil instead of shea butter; olive oil instead of coconut oil. Its body washes also use an olive oil-based formula and eschew sulfates.
“It’s softer, it’s gentler, it’s better for your skin and it has healing properties,” Bresler said.
Interest in the products remains higher than ever. “We were able to increase our business about 40 percent during the pandemic,” Bresler said. “We have continued listening to what people are saying and hearing…we’re talking a lot about calmness, well-being and quietude.”