Candle war erupts in affluent suburb
On first glance they could be the same product, from the same company with the same styling - but the copycat images have been the catalyst of a champagne war on Sydney's affluent north shore.
Shelley Seddon first started upcycling French champagne bottles into candles five years ago. The Mosman woman met Caroline Pratt, one of her best customers and fellow Mosman resident, this time last year. Ms Pratt purchased so many champagne candles from Ms Seddon's popular business, Champagne Collective, that they became friends.
That is until Ms Seddon spotted her products in a new Mosman boutique in September - only it wasn't her product. It was Ms Pratt's.
"I was completely confused and spun out - I thought - who put my candles in this shop?" Ms Seddon told news.com.au
"I had a closer look and saw that there was a different sticker on the top of the box where my label normally was.
"I Googled 'Caroline's Candles' to try and get to the bottom of the mystery, and after some digging I finally realised it was my good customer Caroline."
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Ms Pratt is selling her candles for $45, while Ms Seddon's are from $49.95.
"She started making candles during COVID and now sells them … most of the people have no idea that she stole the idea from me," said Ms Seddon.
"It felt like a slap in the face and a severe breach of girl code - we both lived in the Mosman Bubble, which is very small."
Ms Pratt has not responded to inquiries from news.com.au, and remained active on social media.
Last week, when Caroline's Champagne Candles posted a Christmas image all but identical to Ms Seddon's Champagne Collective Christmas image on Instagram, the rift became public.
"My friend Emma saw the identical Piper post and made a subtle comment that it 'reminded her of her friend's business' …" Ms Seddon said.
Ms Pratt's husband, Michael Pratt, who is Secretary of NSW Treasury, which last month supported Small Business Month, replied to the post saying, "I will ask Caroline if she would like to share tips."
"That's when I lost it," said Ms Seddon.
"I replied that the tips weren't shared just blatantly copied and hashtagged it with #copycat or in this case #copypratt.
"Staying silent wasn't taking the high road anymore," Ms Seddon continued.
"I felt compelled to stand up for myself as a woman, as a small-business owner - as a human being.
"I don't have a fancy title or millions of dollars in the bank, but my common sense tells me that two niche businesses in one suburb don't lift each other up, they cannibalise each other.
"I totally believe in the Law of Abundance and that there is enough to go around for everyone - but what she was doing to me and my business was toxic and wrong."
Ms Seddon said she had no issue with people upcycling champagne bottles into candles.
"I'm not the first person to do it and I certainly won't be the last," she said.
"But I do have an issue with my former customer ripping off every aspect of my business and becoming a direct competitor in my backyard."
Ms Seddon said she battled with the prospect of confronting Ms Pratt over the betrayal, instead, the former journalist spent her time researching copycats.
"It was disheartening to learn that this is a very common problem," she said.
"The advice was the same - ignore them, don't give them oxygen and just basically do it better.
"I took comfort in the fact that I had a few things in my favour - I had met a fabulous glass artisan when I was looking for an industrial work space who now cut my bottles and I had a fantastic stylist taking my photos and making the products look amazing."
But even they weren't sacred.
Caroline's Champagne Candles had found the same glass cutter, and uses the same stylist, creating identical products and images.
"I continued to take the high road - when they go low, you go high," she continued.
"One of my customers said that she was raving to her sister about all the lovely things she bought from me at a recent Mosman Market and her sister was inspired so she went out and bought one … she went round to her sister's house and proudly said, "look! I got one of Shelley's candles."
"Her sister looked at the impostor and said, 'that's not a Shelley candle'."
"She called me outraged and said 'you have to say something and let people know these copycat candles are out there. People are buying her candles thinking they're your candles'.
"Caroline doesn't have her own take on the product or style.
"Our products are virtually identical, except she has normal wicks and I have wooden wicks.
"You can't differentiate our products.
"There is no point of difference and it's causing confusion in the marketplace - clearly."
Lisa Mayoh is a freelance writer.
Originally published as Candle war erupts in affluent suburb