Just one year into dating, Matthew Herman and David Kien went into business together — a brave feat for any couple, let alone a new one. The majority of their relationship has been spent juggling a rapidly growing candle company and their lives as a real-life couple. For the past five years, the founders of Boy Smells candles have managed to transform a fun weekend side hustle into an Insta-famous label known for its non-traditional scents that include scents like Kush, Ash, and Cedar Stack — a far cry from the linen, peony, and vanilla scents of yore?
The thing is, Boy Smells candles are fairly simplistic — they're coconut beeswax blends infused with scent profiles like black current, cannabis, peach blossom, and Sicilian lemon, packaged in millennial-pink boxes with minimal design. "We realized the innate 'genderfication' tied to most product-centric brands was a hindrance to creativity and saw an opportunity to use scent as a vehicle to evoke feelings of not only nostalgia, but also comfort and confidence, abandoning the male/female gender code," explains Kien in an interview with The Zoe Report. "Each aspect of our branding enhances this message through color and design."
Indeed, Boy Smells' product offerings are unique in that they literally appeal to everyone. "All of the products are created with 'gender-fulness' in mind — combining, traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine scent profiles," says Herman in an interview with TZR. "I think people's identities are so much more complex than that. So, we really want to bring that level of complexity and uniqueness through the rituals you do every day."
And while Insta-fame might appear to be just that — instant — Boy Smells' rise to the top has been anything but. In fact, until about 18 months ago, Herman and Kien still operated the business, manufacturing and all, from the basement of their home in Los Angeles, leaving little separation of business and personal life. “We had seven people [working] in our living room and dining room,” says Herman. “We were probably in the house six months longer than we should’ve been.”
Even now, with the Boy Smells office and the founders’ home now separate, the couple “don’t do a great job” of keeping work at work. “Before Boy Smells, we were both kind of workaholics in our previous roles [...] and that just kind of migrated over to where [we are] now,” says Kien. “We’re not clocking out.”
That said, the two are definitely more intentional about setting a home-like tone, even if they’re still checking emails after hours. “When we get home, it is nice in that we’ll order dinner or make food together, and then we’ll put on Netflix in the background,” says Herman. “One of us might be on our laptop, checking in on things or updating the website.”
The lack of work/life boundaries is somewhat understandable, considering the whirlwind that has been Boy Smells’ first five years of business. Here’s a quick snapshot: Since 2015, the brand has gone from two scents to 14, launched an intimates line, acquired office space, and collaborated with Kacey Musgraves on an exclusive scent that sold out in 24 hours. “Kacey actually DMed us on Instagram,” says Herman. “She was like, ‘I f*cking love the Kush candle and always have it on my tour bus!’ I always really liked her and thought she was really cool and genuine [...] so we’re very lucky that the Slow Burn collaboration happened when it did and we were able to get the candle out and celebrate it right before COVID.”
This is quite a long way from a team that once packaged their candles in mason jars and handed them out to family members. While both Kien and Herman both have professional experience in the fashion industry — the former previously worked in production at Elder Statesman and the latter as a designer at Nasty Gal — taking on their own luxury candle line presented some uncharted territory.
"We had a lot of things we learned through trial and error had to figure things out from scratch," says Herman. "There was a lot of challenges in just learning how you form a company. Do we want to be incorporated or an LLC? When do you file your taxes? How do you keep track of inventory? All the kind of stuff we didn't know anything about."
In addition to the ins and outs of business, the Boy Smells founders also realized a thing or two about each other. "David's more micro and I'm more macro," says Herman. "I don't get too caught up in the details, but it's really important that David is detail-oriented. He's really good at operations, logistics, and website functionality. I'm better at brand messaging, marketing, and social media. The two of us together has been a yin-and-yang vibe — where one of us leaves off the other picks up pretty quickly."
While the couple has clearly mastered their business dynamic, what does a day off look like when you work and live with your significant other? "We're really good at getting out of the house to spend time together," says Herman. "Right now, we're obviously not doing as much of it, but we love to go on weekend getaways to Idyllwild [California] or Palm Springs or even south of the border to Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California. We're also both big foodies, so we spend a lot of time discovering new restaurants in L.A. and little hidden gems."
As for non-work-related conversations, they happen, but even those need to be intentional. "It usually comes from one of us saying, 'I'm maxed out for the day. If it's work-related, can you make a list and we'll go over it in the morning?'" says Herman. "It takes one of us communicating what we really need from each other."
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