Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith; Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence; Gilbert and George. Creative couples have produced some of the world’s most influential artistic work, drawing out the strengths and brilliance in each other’s talents. Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we’re exploring the place where romance, collaboration and imagination meet by profiling four creative couples.
Paul Firmin and Niko Dafkos of London’s Earl of East are a couple perfectly matched in energy, vision and drive. From humble beginnings pouring scented candles from their East London home, Earl of East now boasts a team of 18, three lifestyle stores, a home fragrance and bath range with over 230 stockists worldwide and an Amazon bestseller. As well as this substantial list of achievements under their respective belts, their mission to form community and connection through workshops is a cornerstone of the business. The ultimate side-hustle success story, Niko and Paul only recently quit their day jobs to commit all their time to their ever-growing enterprise. We visited their stylish and sweetly-scented Hackney store to learn more about their successes, challenges and everything in between.
How did you meet?
We met in 2012 on an extremely warm day in late March. We were both with friends in London Fields right around the corner from what is now our Earl of East studio on Gransden Avenue.
When did you decide to start a business together?
We started speaking about what our dream business ideas would be pretty early on, and each weekend we would venture out to grab a coffee and explore our neighbourhood, markets and independent shops. Over time we began to formulate what our dream business would look like, and it just happened organically.
Tell us about the work you do together!
Earl of East is at its essence our creative outlet and passion project. Rather than being defined by one product or idea, we want it to be something that can grow and adapt as we do. We started five years ago as a one-off market stall selling items we loved, that grew into a desire to launch our own brand. We began with candles because we absolutely love the product and the way it can transform a space and create a sense of home. We now have a line of home fragrance, bath and body products, stocked in over 200 stores worldwide. Also, we have 3 lifestyle stores here in London, selling a broad spectrum of products. We are now a team of 18, and so overtime our day-to-day has changed significantly, but we absolutely love every minute.
What are the shared values that are most important to you both personally and professionally?
Dedication, commitment, focus and hard work are some of our most important values. We're both from working-class families and have always been surrounded by an inspiring work ethic that has had an impact on both of us.
What is the most special part of working alongside your significant other?
The fact that you can be creative together, be on each others team, give another perspective and the truth when needed. Ultimately you both have the same end goal in sight, so you always strive to give it 100%.
Are there challenging elements to working with your partner?
You have to get your head around work and life being very interwoven, and that certainly isn't for everyone. At first, you have to really figure out what each other's strengths are and then divide the workload accordingly.
Which of your achievements to date has been the most exciting to share and celebrate together?
Without a doubt releasing our book 'The Scented Candle Workshop' was the most exciting moment. It came out last September, right before the business turned five years old, which felt like a great week to mark that milestone and document the journey so far. Opening our stores were big moments, but it's often been a few months before we have allowed ourselves to celebrate those.
How do you find the balance between a relationship and business? Do you have any rules when it comes to how you divide your time or what you talk about outside of 'work hours'?
We really believe in work:life integration rather than balance. We love our work, so rather than having out of work hours, it's more about trying to make every part of the day count and be as fun as possible. It's really hard not to talk about the business at all times, but we are trying to establish some ground rules with downtime at home.
What exciting things are coming up in 2020?
This will be the first year that we have both been full-time in the business, this alone feels really exciting. We are planning to do a lot more travel, which will be linked with workshops and pop-ups. This is our favourite way to travel as we feel much more integrated into the culture. We also have some new launches coming up towards the end of Summer.
Images by Claire Posthuma