This week, as we continue to recognize the talented artists and entrepreneurs in the LGBTQ+ community on Faire, we’re highlighting Queer Candle Co.—a handmade candle company based in Brooklyn, New York. We spoke with co-founders Ab (they/them) and Al (she/her) about their unexpected journey into entrepreneurship, how they give back to their community, and the importance of supporting LBGTQ+ owned small businesses.
A gift sparks a career
Ab and Al’s obsession with candle-making started in the winter of 2017 when Ab gifted Al a candle-making kit for Christmas. “I was living alone at the time and spending a lot of money on candles,” Al said. The couple, who started dating three weeks before their shared college graduation, quickly picked up the practice, and soon both their apartments were filled with candles. They decided to start selling their creations to friends and family on Instagram, and when they sold out of everything within 24 hours, they knew they were on to something.
Today, they sell a wide variety of scented candles, all made from scratch. Their candles are sold in over 20 locations across the U.S. and have been featured in The New York Times and Thrillist. They recently expanded to a second studio location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and are starting to hire additional employees for help with their many shipments. No matter how large they grow, the couple plans to continue hand-making the candles themselves.
Each candle is carefully hand-poured with soy wax and non-toxic fragrances. But Ab and Al’s favorite part of the process is adding the decorative toppings that serve as a visual representation of the scent. The candles are topped with all-natural elements, from wildflowers found on hikes and then pressed, to fresh basil grown in their studio.
Navigating small business ownership
Though owning a business together hadn’t been in the plans, Ab and Al quickly embraced entrepreneurship. “It kind of fell into my lap,” Ab said. “I’d never dreamt of running a business, but I found pretty quickly that I was feeling frustrated in my other jobs. Especially as a queer person, every space I was in felt unsafe. So I like being able to work for myself.”
Owning a business hasn’t been without its challenges, especially as Queer Candle Co. began to grow. “Learning how to scale the business and create manageable growth has been a challenge,” Al said. With large wholesale orders coming frequently, the pair have also had to learn how to maintain a work-life balance. “I’m a bit of a workaholic,” Ab said. “There are a lot of pros working for yourself and running the business as a couple, but when your business scales up you have to figure out how much to take on.”
Like many small business owners, Al and Ab were forced to pivot their selling strategy when Covid-19 hit. “People want to touch and smell our candles, so we had to learn how to translate our in-person tactics to online,” Al said. Ultimately, the couple found success—even through the difficulties of the pandemic—by investing in relationships with their customers. “We feel like we have a great community supporting us,” Al said. “We’ve taken time to get to know them and be ourselves with them.”
Putting money back into the community
With Queer Candle Co., Ab and Al hope to bring happiness to their customers and visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. “Anyone who is creating something wants it to bring joy in someone’s life,” Al said. “I always hope that it puts a smile on someone’s face to burn our candle.” Beyond the immediate pleasures of their product, the pair also hopes to bring another layer to their impact. “I hope that if somebody walks by our booth, even if they don’t buy anything, they see our name and are thinking about what it is to be a queer person in the small business industry,” Ab said. “Only about 1% of small businesses are owned by someone in the LGBTQ+ community,” Al added. “If the impact we have is adding to those numbers by putting money back into our communities, that’s important to us.”
Putting money back into the LGBTQ+ community is something Ab and Al place at the forefront of Queer Candle Co.’s mission. Currently, they donate 10% of their profits to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project—a grassroots organization based in New York City serving low-income people of color who are transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming. In April of 2021, in honor of Earth Day, they donated a dollar for every candle sold all month to the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corp—a non-profit organization that engages Indigenous youth in conservation projects on Native Lands. “It’s important to us that donation is built into our business ethos,” Ab said. “People are voting with their dollar when they shop with a small business, and we want them to see that ripple effect of us investing back into the community.”
Honoring Pride year-round
With Queer Candle Co., Ab and Al hope to amplify the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community year-round. “Pride Month is just a microphone to what we’re saying all year,” Al said. “There are more eager ears open during June, so we use the opportunity to be extra vocal.”
“We take the opposite approach of ‘rainbow capitalism’—every month is Pride Month,” Ab added. Like many small business owners in the LGBTQ+ community, the couple reiterates the importance of highlighting these companies outside of June. “We’re a business 365 days a year,” Ab said. “If you want to support queer businesses, do it year-round,” they added. “Share their work on social media, include them in more events like markets, and as a consumer, be mindful of who made your stuff.”
Ab and Al encourage any hopeful entrepreneurs in the LGBTQ+ community to be brave and take the risk. “Queer people can be particularly hard on ourselves to go above and beyond, but such a small number of businesses are run by queer people that you just have to go for it,” Ab said. “It can be nerve-wracking. You’ll make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that your business isn’t great; that you’re not great. If you’re authentic and true to yourself, that’s going to resonate with your audience.”