We’re excited to introduce a series of interviews with the Keap team. Read on to get to know the folks behind your candles!
Philip Cools is part of our Candle Operations Team working out of our candle-making studio in Kingston, NY. Originally from Belgium, Philip grew up in many places and recently moved to Kingston where he has been feeling grounded and embraced by nature and community. He thoroughly enjoys the ritual of coffee, has had some recent close bear encounters, and has a passion for collecting and sharing rare artifacts.
Can you walk me through a typical day on the candle-making team at Keap?
A typical day starts with us writing cards to our customers, the ones with the little puns on them. After that we have a morning meeting and do a stretch with the team. And then I go into one of three roles. I’m either responsible for shipping and creating labels, creating batches of items that we send to different people, pouring candles, or I work on production where we are finishing the candles.
Which aspect of being on the candle making team do you enjoy the most?
I would say candle-making, mainly because that's where I've really honed my skills. That's what I was doing the most before our move to Kingston from Brooklyn. Harry was pouring our candles at that point, and I was doing all the candle finishing work, so it feels very smooth when I'm there. It’s satisfying.
“For about as long as I've known, I've always had candles burning on my nightstand. People have known me as 'the candle guy'.”
How did you find out about Keap in the first place?
I found Keap completely by accident. I had been applying to a lot of environmental small businesses and didn't really know what I wanted, but for about as long as I've known, I've always had candles burning on my nightstand. I've often received candles as birthday gifts, because people have known me as “the candle guy”. And so out of my frustration in my job search, I looked up candle companies in New York and I found Keap. I saw Keap was looking for someone, and so I applied. I'd never expected to write about my love for candles in a resume before, it felt daring, but I'm also really happy that I did. (laughs)
Now that you work with candles all the time, What’s your favorite Keap scent?
My favorite candle scent by far would be Lavender + Petals. I think it's partially because I lived on Lavender Street in Belgium with my family. My family has a small apartment in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium and there used to be a lot of lavender on Lavender Street. It's a sentimental memory. Unfortunately most of the lavender is gone now, but now I have Keap's Candles to remind me of my youth.
Did you spend your entire childhood in Belgium?
I'm from Belgium originally, but I didn't really grow up in Belgium, I grew up traveling around quite a bit. My parents were expatriates, and we started in the US, then spent a lot of time in Western Europe and Eastern Europe, but also short periods of time in Asia, and eventually I found my way back to the US.
I know you moved to the Kingston area fairly recently. What have you enjoyed about being in Kingston so far? What is your life like here?
I had never lived in a more rural environment prior to Kingston, so that was a little intimidating beforehand, but I've fallen in love with how calm everything is. Just not having all the street noise, feeling like it's easy to find some space for yourself, you can really find secluded areas. So it's brought me a lot closer to nature than I expected.
Philip relaxing among the wild plants in the back of the Keap studio in Kingston, NY.
Now that you are closer to the natural world - What are some things you do right now that connect you to nature?
I've really enjoyed snowboarding during the winter, it's something that I did when I was young and I decided to get back into it because it's not that hard to get to places when you're out in the Catskills. That's been really fun, and just spending a lot of time in my garden. The other day I even had a bear encounter at my house.
You saw a bear? What happened?
The other night I ran to my car, and on my way back up to my apartment, I was just looking at the garden, couldn't really see anything and I hear this growl and loud footsteps, and I didn't know what it was, but I could tell that it was really close, so I just slammed my door shut and closed all the blinds, and didn't think about it until the next day. Then my landlord sent me a message saying that my neighbor had seen a bear on our road. So although I did not see the bear, I am 100% sure that I saw the bear.
Wow! Speaking of being out in nature. We recently closed Keap for two weeks for our company-wide sabbatical and I know you visited Yosemite. Was there a favorite memory from that trip?
Yes and it's also bear-related! I spent some time with my dad in Yosemite and there were a lot of memorable moments but one of the shining ones was when we had been wading in a little river just walking around. After we decided to dry ourselves off and keep walking, we looked back about 40 feet away from us and there was a bear crossing the river, right where we had been. And that was really exciting to see because I'd never seen a bear in its natural habitat, so up close. My dad grew up going to the mountains, and just being there with him, just following him around in his core element made me really happy.
Beyond candles, is there anything that you’re working on outside of Keap at the moment?
I run a small online vintage store that kind of started by accident. I wanted to collect figurines and watch them appreciate over time but that appreciation was so slow that I was like, I'm just going to start selling these off. I was part-time at Keap and a part-time student when I started it, and I wanted to fill up the time so I started buying strange old objects, and a lot of porcelain figurines. I never expected it to grow into something I would be doing every week but after Keap there's the little store that needs my attention, and it's a lot of fun.
What's been your favorite item that you’ve sold so far?
Porcelain birds and porcelain flowers. Lenox makes these figurines of birds and flowers, and they're really highly detailed, and they've taught me a lot about what different types of birds and flowers are out there in the United States. So they're super fun to work with, and they're very small, so it's really easy to just bubble wrap it a few times and send it out. They're not the most profitable, but I'm really happy to be dealing with them.
One of the vintage porcelain birds from Philip's shop!
"The last year or so has really taught me about the importance of community... I really felt like the people around me were what kept me going all of last year."
This past year has been very unique, to say the least. Is there anything that you've learned this year?
The last year or so has really taught me about the importance of community. I've always been someone who's kept to himself mostly and having a very tight knit group at Keap to go through that whole process of the past two years and being lucky enough to have had family close by, I really appreciate that we could lean on each other when we needed to. I feel like I've turned into someone who needs people a little more than I used to. I really felt like the people around me were what kept me going all of last year.
And what are you looking forward to in the year ahead?
I think I'm currently the happiest I've ever been in my life. I'd really wish things for other people more than I'd wish something for myself. I'd hope for the people around me who are still struggling, because of all the effects of what has happened over the past year, that they can feel a little more grounded. That they find their own version of Keap where they're passionate and happy and feel fulfilled.
Is there a practice or ritual that leads to that happiness or something that you look forward to each day?
It is maintaining my rampant coffee addiction at Keap. Even when I know that I have all the energy I need for my day, I just can't help myself but get some oat milk and make myself a coffee with fresh beans! (laughs)
Interviewed by Ali Madden