To encourage the spirit of experimentation, Prairie Citizen occasionally profiles small businesses and entrepreneurs in the Great Plains who challenge conventions and use their creativity to develop business models that make a difference in our communities.
Feya Candle in Lincoln, Nebraska, makes all-natural soy candles and handmade soaps. Each purchased candle provides a meal to a child in need. Each purchased soap provides a bar to a homeless shelter or mission.
To me, there is no line between work and life. I intentionally chose the path of entrepreneurship, and for anyone who’s done it, you know it’s fully a part of you. Feya Candle began out of a heaping pile of failure in January 2014. Below is the journey I took to build this company and get us to where we are today.
In 2010, I started my first company—a different candle line—with no business experience. A year in, I was left with a failed marriage, no home, and a lot of debt. Through the struggle, I kept the company floating on loans and promises, some of which we’re still paying back today.
After our retail lease was up at the end of 2013, I was feeling pretty bottom of the barrel, but it never occurred to me to quit. I searched for my resilience, and it came in the form of memories. My granny Faye and Aunt Pamela, who were staples in my young life, both barreled through hardships, both loved deeply, and both ended up with a short life, passing far too young.
After the first company ended, Feya began, based on the strength and love these two women had passed down to me. I moved forward.
Whenever anyone asks how I got into this line of work, I simply tell them I made it up. The beauty of struggling through entrepreneurship is that at the end of the day, you’re still the designer, the painter, the creator, and you get to put the pieces where you see them fit. There’s no interview process—it’s a creation all your own. My main mission was to do something that made me feel alive. Candles alone didn’t cut it, so that’s why we give food and give back with every single thing we sell.
I knew I had to cut costs, so step one: I redesigned the products to be wholesale-friendly. This meant I had no sales tax to deal with, no employees to start with, and I could successfully work from anywhere that would offer me internet. Step two: I evangelized the product like crazy. I started small with friends, family, and networking associates, and moved quickly to pounding the pavement and finding storefronts that would take a chance on a new product.
The first year was rough with product disasters, late deliveries, and only $7,500 in sales. But by the end of 2014, we were noticed. We were contacted by shows in NYC for socially conscious pop-ups, and after scrounging the $250 for a round-trip ticket, I scoured the streets of NYC trying to find new clients and took every one to five dollar Megabus ticket I could find to neighboring cities to do the same. By this time, we were found by the Oscars gifting suite, and we made barely enough sales to get to LA in 2015 to discuss our giveback mission in person with the celebs.
The LA trip was truly a disaster, but it taught me one great thing: I can survive a lot. This gave me the idea for the first-ever American Giving Tour. I went back to Colorado, where I was living at the time, sold all my belongings and began begging for sponsorships and sales to provide enough to get me on the road to go sell candles and give back along the way. I lived out of my car, slept on couches, in hostels, and sometimes, yes, in my car. A lot of things went wrong and a lot went right, but I found how we sell best. It’s just like day one: pounding pavement and giving to those who need it most along the way.
At the end of the tour, I’d signed over 60 new stores across the US, making us a nationwide-sold brand. We did a smaller tour in 2016, grew, and after taking a year off in 2017, I took our tours to a new level, meeting with multiple department stores across the USA (while seven months pregnant) and signing selling agreements with three major department stores in 2018. In 2019, we’re gearing up to sign more department stores and increase our sales by 250 percent.
Our company has grown from me at a dining-room table to a team of five amazing individuals. We’ve given almost 40,000 meals and hundreds of soap bars to those around the world who truly need them. We’re contracting with major department stores this year, and we’re in a place where we have the option to succeed.
Every successful decision was made with this question in mind: Will this choice help us succeed in our mission? I can honestly say most of our unsuccessful decisions have been based on what others have done, not what we do.