We have started to really dig deep into finding small businesses to partner with that have a similar social mission as EllieFunDay - empower women, create positive change in the world, and curate quality products. We are so proud to have crossed paths with Prosperity Candle to bring you EllieFunDay’s first candle, Nuit (night). Each one is carefully hand-poured and wrapped with extra care by women refugees resettled in the US. We received our first shipment last week and they are just beautiful! Read on and learn more about how Prosperity Candle was birthed from our interview with co-founder Ted Barber.
What inspired you to start Prosperity Candle?
We were friends and colleagues working to alleviate poverty in developing countries. Over time, we had grown frustrated by the gap between building people's capacity to escape poverty and actually doing so. That gap was an absence of economic opportunity and sustainable impact. We started getting together to share ideas and spent two years developing the model for Prosperity Candle. Along the way had some profoundly bad ideas, but we knew we wanted to approach it from the private sector to force ourselves to be 100% market-based which we believed would lead to more sustainable impact. We also wanted the opportunity to be highly scalable - easy to grow - to enable people to not just survive but truly thrive. We chose to focus on women entrepreneurs because they are often the least supported yet best investment. We made the crazy decision to launch in a war zone (Baghdad in 2009) where few others were willing or able to go, which added to the complexity. Candle-making is one of the very few handmade products that fit all of our criteria: it can start in the safety of the home and it is a consumable product used in every country of the world, with both local and global markets. Most importantly, candle-making is a highly scalable business enabling an entrepreneur to prosper with low investment in equipment. That was the initial inspiration. Subsequently, we were in Northern Rwanda working with a women's cooperative. We looked around the room at the faces of women who were eager to change their lives, who wanted to reliably put food on the table and send their children to school. It was clear to us the women needed real opportunity that could enable them to thrive. That was when we decided to launch and dedicate ourselves fully to our social enterprise - Prosperity Candle. For more info, you can read our story.
Before Prosperity Candle was born, did you have previous experience with candle making?
We had zero experience whatsoever in candle-making. When we finally hit upon candles as the solution, we ran home and ordered a cheap kit from Amazon. It arrived 4 days later and started creating our first candles in the kitchen. We really saw the potential for candle-making to help women and families lift themselves out of poverty. With more molds, one could easily scale up to produce dozens, even hundreds of candles a day.
We immediately signed up for a weekend workshop and drove to Quakertown, Pennsylvania to learn the craft, then set about creating a business-in-a-box that could be shipped anywhere in the world, complete with training manual translated into Arabic. It was a commercial grade version of that first kit we purchased online.
What is your proudest moment so far? What has been your biggest challenge?
We launched our pilot project in 2009 at a time when violence was a daily occurrence in Baghdad, with 5 Iraqi women who then trained 40 more. A year later, after enduring endless naysayers and doubters, we drove a U-Haul van to Queens, NY to receive and inspect the first candles - and the only consumer product - shipped from Iraq to the U.S. There were 4,500 pillars handmade in Baghdad kitchens, each labeled with the name of the woman candle-maker. They were beautiful. That was our proudest and most emotional moment... we kept saying aloud "from their hands to ours."
What has been your biggest challenge?
Identifying our biggest challenge is not as easy given there have been so many. Raising start-up capital was impossible as no one thought Prosperity Candle was a good idea. Selling candles handmade by Iraqi women in 2010 was a marketing conundrum given feelings about the war. Perhaps the biggest challenge, though, has been resisting pressure to water down our social impact goals that prioritize positive change over everything else. When things were tough and there were resources available if you were willing to modify your values, that is when staying true to your mission is toughest. We never gave in.
How many refugee women have you hired to date? How large is the current team?
A year after we launched Prosperity Candle, one of our most enthusiastic supporters encouraged us to find a way to have a local impact as well as an international one. At first we were skeptical since our focus was on working with women in war zones. But we explored the possibilities and learned that many of the refugees in our valley had been relocated from conflict countries through UN and federal programs. This is when we decided to open a small candle studio next to our office with the idea of developing product concepts for overseas programs. Then we received a call from eBay who wanted 350 custom candles for an event at their corporate headquarters... designed, approved, produced and shipped within a week. It wasn't something we could do overseas, so we quickly reorganized the studio for production and delivered on time. That was when we recognized that we could work with women both in and from conflict regions, offering candles and gifts handmade by women refugees recently relocated to the U.S. The team in our Massachusetts studio is usually 3-6 women at a time. To date, 17 have come to work with us, and typically it is their first employment.
Can you share the story of one of the ladies currently working at Prosperity Candle?
Like all of us, they have their most and least favorite scents.... it's always fun when an order goes up on the board. Every scent generates a range of reactions, from happy smiles to crinkled noses - fragrance is such a personal thing. But it's all with banter and laughter about who likes what and why. Sai Aye joined us in 2015 after living for 11 years in a refugee camp. She's Burmese and spent the first 10 years of her life moving from village to village to escape the Myanmar military and search for food, shelter and safety. She just gave birth a few months ago to her second daughter, Rose, and hopes someday to be able to visit her parents and siblings who are still in the refugee camp. Sai loves our holiday Blue Fir & Spice scent for reasons she can't explain. You can also read the stories of some of the other women Moo Kho, Naw, and Htoo.
What is your favorite scent?
My favorite scent changes with the seasons, and every year I think our fragrances are more complex and interesting. My current favorite is Grapefruit & White Floral, which has a gentle citrus base blended with lily, peony, geranium and rose on top of notes of amber and musk. It's somehow relaxing and invigorating at the same time. In the summer I love a fresh scent like Pacific Ocean that is like a seaside breeze, and in the fall I'm always drawn to our Chai Tea with its cinnamon and clove.
You can support this mission by purchasing our NUIT candle HERE.
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