Alumni Engagement

Polytechnic education sparks creative fire for luxury candle brand

April 4, 2024

When you think of Winnipeg-based luxury candle brand Coal and Canary you likely think of great scented candles with cheeky names and beautiful branding. What you might not know is that founder and CEO, Amanda Buhse, is still the one designing the packaging of each product.  

“Nowadays, my job and primary role is more the visionary and the leader to an amazing team that works so hard,” said Amanda. “But I do still do the graphic design work for Coal and Canary,” she said with a chuckle.

“It’s really fun because I save a lot of my money by not hiring someone else to do it and save time, but it’s also my passion and what I love doing, so to be able to do it for my own company is pretty special and very cool,” she added.

As a graduate of RRC Polytech’s Advanced Graphic Design program (now, Communication Design) in 2006, Amanda knows her way around Adobe Illustrator and has had numerous roles in the industry.

“RRC Polytech definitely provided me with an environment where ideas weren’t just encouraged, they were also celebrated. It was a safe space that encouraged technical mastery, but also the ability to navigate through those uncharted territories of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Amanda

Right out of college Amanda found herself employed at a print house as a production designer, where she learned the basic skills you need to succeed as a graphic designer in the industry. She went on to work for an ad agency and as a freelancer until she worked for national fashion agency as their lead designer and eventual art director.

“I had a career I was really happy with and really loved and I was never thinking about opening up my own company that hires people – that was never on the radar for me,” said Amanda.

In 2014, Amanda and her best friend, who was in nursing school at the time, were looking for a distraction and got into making candles as a hobby. They began posting their passion project on Instagram as a way to connect over creating something as friends. It wasn’t long before stores began to reach out asking to sell their products in stores.

“We had no idea what a wholesale catalog was, but luckily Google was a thing, so we googled it and being a graphic designer, I could fake it till I made it. I stayed up all night making this beautiful wholesale catalog and made it look like we were this really established, well-known company that knew what they were doing. But we had no idea, you know, so having a graphic design background really helped in those moments,” said Amanda.

Amanda wasn’t always considering a career in graphic design; she had looked into going into performing arts schools or school for interior design. It was through Vincent Massey’s high school guidance counselor that Amanda found herself enrolling at RRC Polytech.

“I couldn’t really decide, I’ve always been very artistic and he asked if I had ever thought about graphic design and I didn’t really know what graphic design was, because it wasn’t talked about a lot back then.  After he explained what a graphic designer does, I thought, oh my gosh, that’s perfect,” said Amanda

“I say it all the time that my experience at RRC Polytech really was a catalyst for my success today in so many ways. It was honestly one of the best times of my life – both fun and challenging and prepared me for where I am today.”

“It [the program] was more than a curriculum, it’s that immersive experience that demands more than just technical proficiencies. It really cultivated my critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It taught me collaboration and culture and is a driving force behind what I do at Coal and Canary today,” added Amanda. “My time there helped create this mindset, where you thrive on challenges and embrace creativity and persevere through setbacks.”

Recently Amanda had a full circle award show moment as she was invited to be a seat filler at the 2024 Emmy awards in January and the Grammy awards in February, nine years after Coal and Canary candles were featured in the gift bag for the Grammys and the Oscars months after starting the business in 2014.

“I applied Friday night and found out at 5 p.m. on Sunday night that I was one of 50 people accepted to attend. I booked a ticket, had eight minutes to pack and hopped on a plane an hour and a half later. I arrived in Los Angeles one hour before I had to be at the event and it was the most whirlwind 24 hours of my entire life,” Amanda said in an Instagram post. “Being in that theatre with so much incredible talent was the most inspiring experience of my life and I am so grateful for the opportunity.”

This year, Coal and Canary is celebrating their 10-year anniversary and is now 100 per cent female owned and operated with a staff of 15 women. Their products are sold in 500 stores across Canada and the States, through their online store, and at brick-and-mortar store at The Forks.

When asked what’s on the horizon for Coal and Canary, Amanda cheerfully responded with, “I’m just looking forward to continuing to grow – I have some big dreams for the company. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”

One big dream she can already check off the list: Amanda (and Coal and Canary as a proud partner of RRC Polytech) will be featured in a billboard campaign this spring, sharing how she’s Polytechnic Proud.

Profile by Judy Braun (Creative Communications, 2012).

RRC Polytech campuses are located on the lands of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininew, Dakota, and Dené, and the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

We recognize and honour Treaty 3 Territory Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, the source of Winnipeg’s clean drinking water. In addition, we acknowledge Treaty Territories which provide us with access to electricity we use in both our personal and professional lives.

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