It is impressive enough that Colin, Ryan, and Austin Gill, ages 16, 13, and 11 respectively, started their own candle company in 2017. But even more admirable is the mission behind their brand Frères Branchiaux. Sure, the brothers initially came up with the business idea as a way to circumvent asking their parents for more allowance money. But from the very beginning, they wanted their company to stand for an important cause – which is why Frères Branchiaux donates 10 percent of all profits to homelessness. In just a few years, the brothers – along with their parents – have created a flourishing business centered around giving back to their community.
A family’s commitment to uplift others
Celena Gill, the boys’ mother, remembers a moment from early on in their business when all three of her sons joined a luncheon with Pathways to Housing DC – an organization dedicated to eradicating homelessness – and donated an oversized check of $500, one of many of Frères Branchiaux’s charitable contributions.
Living in the Washington D.C. Metro area, the brothers grew up very aware of the homeless community and always wanted to support them. But Celena said it was specifically her 13-year-old Ryan who had a penchant for helping others.
“Ryan is really the driving force behind our commitment to give back. He’s always had a big heart. If he saw someone on the street he always wanted to give them money,” she said. And while figuring out ways to help others is not a top priority for most preteens, Ryan said he was motivated by his mom and dad.
“My parents have inspired me. Watching them give back made me realize how important it is to help others.”
The family’s pledge to uplift the homeless community is a core value for their brand, but they haven’t always had the time to spread that message – a symptom of being a small business with only four full-time employees.
“I admit, we need to market this component better on social media,” Celena said. Still, Frères Branchiaux has shared several Instagram posts throughout the years about their charitable contributions. In a 2021 post, the company stated that their monthly donations, “put at least one homeless family in an apartment every month.” The message goes on to say they have donated over $30,000 to help eradicate homelessness and have contributed $2,000 to fight civil rights injustices.
Clearly, the word is getting out. Frères Branchiaux’s online reviews are filled with customers who love the candles, but also applaud the company for their social impact, like this comment left on their ‘Love Jones’ candle written by a user by the name Stacy. “We are happy to support a family-owned business who gives back to their community! Xoxo,” it reads.
They rely on word-of-mouth advertising, too. Austin said whenever he meets a Frères Branchiaux customer in person he makes sure to tell them that they’re supporting a good cause. As the youngest Gill, he hopes his family’s contributions can one day make lasting change. “My goal is that no one in the world ever has to be homeless,” the 11-year-old said.
The ins and outs of donating 10%
As they were mapping out the blueprint for their business, the family always knew their candle company was going to include some type of giving back component and they quickly settled upon supporting the homeless community.
But they also understood that before they’d be able to donate money, they needed to create products customers would love, which led them to hone in on their candle-making skills. The boys first learned how to craft what would eventually become their signature scents from their mother’s friend, Danita Brooks. When they finally started to see profits, the brothers – eager to help their community – were excited to donate a large portion of their proceeds.
“The boys wanted to give back 50 percent of profits at first,” said Celena, who had to remind her sons that donating that much wasn’t a realistic option for their small business. They finally settled in on 10 percent after doing some research and looking at what similar businesses were contributing. In a 2021 Instagram post, they outlined the various ways they give: through online donations, in-kind product donations, providing money directly to those affected, volunteering, and distributing meals to the community. They also clarified that “when we donate money directly, we don’t dictate what the recipient does with the money.”
There was a trial and error process when it came time to figure out how often to donate, though. For the first two years, Frères Branchiaux was making monthly donations to various organizations including Pathways to Housing DC, Friendship Place, and The Father Mckenna Center. But starting in 2020, they switched to quarterly donations and felt that was a better strategy for them. Celena acknowledged that sometimes making monthly donations wasn’t always possible, as it depended on the success of each month. “Some months you just break even,” she said.
The family’s vision wasn’t only to contribute donations, however. They always intended to start a jobs creation program until it got postponed due to Covid-19. Now, with the world opening up again, Celena said the company is planning to resume the initiative which would equip people from the homeless community with job-skills training. Eventually, the objective would be for Frères Branchiaux to employ these individuals, providing them with a real opportunity to make their own money.
Giving back is clearly embedded in the DNA of Frères Branchiaux. Still, Celena understands that organizing a charitable donation can be overwhelming for some small business owners. Her advice? Take it one step at a time.
“Setting the intention is important,” she said. “It doesn't have to be 10 percent. You can start off by donating one percent. Anything is better than nothing.”
For the Gill family, laying out clear, purposeful goals has always been an important strategy for their business’s growth. In a post celebrating their fourth anniversary, they gave customers insight into how they’ve been so successful.
“A key component of achieving our goals is writing them down and creating a strategy,” it reads. “Remember, a dream is a goal that isn’t written down. We wrote them down—now it’s time to reach them!”
What’s next for Frères Branchiaux
Fères Branchiaux has already expanded their product line to include room sprays, candle accessories, diffuser oils, and bath salts among other items. They’ve also created various candle collections, including astrology candles, Christmas candles, and a Black History Month collection. And even more exciting, they’ve been in big-box retailers including Whole Foods, Macy’s, and Ace Hardware.
A huge moment for them in 2022 was being included in Target’s Black History Month campaign At the time, Frères Branchiaux candles were already selling on Target’s website, but this specific collaboration marked the first time the products were sold physically in-store at almost 900 locations – a very cool experience for the boys.
“I was excited that our candles were actually in a [Target] store,” Ryan said. “And I was pretty happy we got one of our main goals accomplished.”
As Ryan stated, the Target deal aligned with the company’s upcoming goals as they hope to make more of a footprint in physical retail spaces moving forward, especially because the pandemic has changed their business model. Specifically, now that customers aren’t at home as often as they were back in 2020, the team has had to reconfigure their marketing strategy since purchasing self-care items may no longer be on top of everyone’s to-do list.
“In the past two years, everyone was trying to be comfortable at home,” Celena said. “ Now that people are going out again, it's about balancing how do we help them recreate that same relaxing experience at home after a long day of work or hanging out with friends?”
Not only does Austin hope to see their candles in more retail spaces, but he also wants Frères Branchiaux to be sold in stores all around the world – a lofty objective coming from the 11-year-old. As for Ryan, the middle Gill, no matter what new goals the company achieves next, he said his small business will always revolve around its central mission.
“We want to make sure everybody has a home,” he said, “And even before the business, it was always a goal for us to give back and make opportunities for the homeless community and people who are in need.”