Meet Kiki Rupert, founder of all natural armoatherapy Honest Earth Candles, mother, multiple hat-wearer and to be honest, a woman who educated all of us at Tin Shingle about how important it is to have a good candle in your life - not only for relaxation but for your health!
Like many entrepreneurs, Kiki didn't plan on becoming a candle maker, but inspiration combined with necessity, and it was then that her small biz story began.
What inspired you to get started?
I wanted to create a product that wasn’t full of toxic synthetics and carcinogens that are found in so many common household products. When my family and I bought our first home, the previous owners had left a brand new candle in the kitchen cabinet. One day I decided to light it and strangely it ended up flooding the entire kitchen air space with a black haze. To make matters even worse when we went to change the a/c filter a few days later it was completely black! All the smoke and soot put off by the candle had been trapped in the filter. It got me thinking this is messed up. What is really being released into the air I’m breathing when a candle is burning?
I decided to do a little research and discovered the candle industry is not concerned with regulations regarding wax and fragrances that are used in the production of candles. Paraffin wax candles, which is what the majority of people burn (think Yankee Candle), is a byproduct of crude oil, which is a health concern by releasing carcinogenic chemicals when burned. The fumes are similar to that released from a diesel engine and can be as dangerous as second-hand cigarette smoke. Two particularly nasty toxins found in the soot of paraffin wax candles are benzene (a carcinogen) and toluene (that damages the central nervous system). It is also damaging to the environment having a negative impact on our Earth through events such as oil spills and releasing a range of pollutants into the air. Fragrances that are used in candles are made in a lab with toxic garbage that is not even regulated. Manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on product labels or reveal the specific ingredients to regulating authorities, because they are protected as trade secrets. Some of the most common chemicals in fragrances are ethanol, acetaldehyde, benzyl acetate, acetone, linalool, a-terpinene, and limonene. These chemicals can cause irritability, mental vagueness, asthma, sinus pain, fatigue, throat irratation, eye irritation, gastrointestinal problems, laryngitis, headaches, dizziness, coughing, and itching of the skin. When I founded Honest Earth Candles I made every point to create a candle that is both good for you and good for the Earth.
...Good for you
- Metal and lead free unbleached wicks
- Free of color additives
- 100% pure essential oil
- Virtually no black soot
- Burns cooler than paraffin wax
- Cleans up easily with soap and water
- Soy wax meets FDA standard
- Kosher certified soy wax
- Free of Genetically Modified Materials
- Spa quality massage oil and hand moisturizer
...Good for Earth
- Zero dependence on foreign oil
- Biodegradable soy wax
- Not tested on animals
- Recyclable packaging
- Reusable containers
- Supports U.S. farmers
- Zero waste for landfills
- Sustainable production practices
- NO petroleum products used
- Free of pesticides and herbicides
- Free of synthetics
What was your background? Was it in what you are doing now?
I have my Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies, I have been a licensed Esthetician for 11 years, and I am a certified Natural Health Consultant. All three of my educational avenues have really melded together to help me create my eco-friendly healing wax candles. I never thought I would be making candles as a business, but I really love every minute of it, especially the creative process. I only wish I had some sort of formal education in business and/or PR and marketing, because the whole corporate world is vast and perplexing; there is just so much to consider and keep up with in running a business. I am really learning the business side as I go and it feels like the learning never ends.
What has been the biggest surprise about launching Honest Earth Candles?
The biggest surprise was after countless weeks of researching other candle businesses there was nothing I found on the level of what I created with our candles. The amount of companies that use these sly little play on words to sell off their candles as something ALL “natural” and 100% “pure” was astonishing. For example, using a word like essence to make a product’s scent sound natural is really misleading, because an essence of vanilla for example is not a pure essential oil. Pure vanilla essential oil does not exist and when a business claims they are selling an essential oil candle that is vanilla lavender, it really is not 100% pure. The misleading play on words to sell products has really surprised me the most since the very beginning and still surprises me. How a business can get away with it just blows my mind.
What is one of your PR dreams for Honest Earth Candles?
I have really had my heart set on being featured on the Today Show, whether it be on Jill’s Steals and Deals, Bobbie’s Buzz, or even Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb just giving Honest Earth Candles a shout out on air would be a PR dream come true.
You probably wear several hats as an entrepreneur, tell us about them.
I wear an astronomical amount of hats in life, but when it comes to the entrepreneur side I can narrow it down a bit. Let’s see….at Honest Earth Candles I am the creative director, director of communications, book keeper, buyer, candle maker, inventory clerk, sales representative, quality controller, customer service representative, and packer and shipper. I have my hands in absolutely everything and my husband helps too, especially on the numbers side. My mind doesn’t think in numbers; I’m more creative and extremely ADD so as to not even be close to being able to concentrate long enough to figure out an equation or conversion. When it comes to things like profit margins and finances I leave that all up to my husband. Numbers hurt my brain to be honest.
What challenge have you had to face that led to a big growth for your company?
The biggest challenge is getting Honest Earth Candles out to the masses. Marketing is everything and it costs everything as well! While the internet is great there are an infinite number of directions to navigate. The best decision we made to help expand our public and online reach was to sign up with TinShingle to help guide us in the right directions. It has opened up so many doors of opportunity and has provided a plethora of knowledge in how to effectively steer public relations for effective exposure.
What do you have going on in your business right now that you are excited about?
We are moving to northern California this summer and are so excited to be in that market. California in comparison to the east coast is more in tuned with nature, holistic healing and natural foods and products, which is what Honest Earth Candles is all about. There are also amazing trade shows and weekend markets that are out our way that draw in so many people. The celebrity scene is also huge out there and we really hope to be able to use that to our advantage.
What has been one of the most surprising rewards of your entrepreneurial journey?
One of the most surprising rewards is all of the support I have gained from customers who love our candles and melts, and what Honest Earth Candles stands for. I really love creating candles that are eco-friendly and natural, and when I am given positive feedback from people it’s just the best feeling ever. I thought it would be really rewarding to make lots of sales and be financially successful, but surprisingly I get the ultimate feeling of success when someone tells me how much they love their Honest Earth Candle.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs just beginning their journey?
My advice would be to always follow your intuition. There are a lot of people out there that will give you advice, but from personal experience it may not always be correct. Always perform your own due diligence with every big business decision and go with your gut feeling.
How do you keep yourself pumped and motivated despite the challenges you’ve faced growing your business?
Keeping motivated is something I have to do every day, because it is really easy for me to get off track when things get frustrating and unexpected road blocks appear. Listening to instrumental music keeps me calm when things don’t go as planned with the business. For some reason that type of music puts into perspective that no is on their deathbed or homeless, so things really are not that bad and will get better. When so much time, effort, and money has been spent on a business decision and it completely gets squashed by no fault of your own it just seems like the world is going to end some days and you just want to quit. One of my favorite quotes that I have to recite in my head often is, “This too shall pass.” Not taking every little setback so seriously is the best way I know to stay motivated, because let’s face it most of us are going to hear a lot of no’s before we get that yes!
Where would you love to see your business in 5 years?
We want Honest Earth Candles to be sold in big box retail stores like Target and Whole Foods. Expansion is our goal. We also want to create a few natural bath and body products to complement our candles that will be vegan and created without any synthetic preservatives. We want to always stay true to our motto: “Good for You, Good for the Earth.”