This week, we spoke with Rachel Nelson, founder of CandleTherapy for our Open series; highlighting LGBT+ businesses and founders.
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Tell us a little about your business? What steps led you to where you are now?
I make 100% plant-based clean candles in San Francisco. CandleTherapy candles are made with zero toxins and zero synthetic fragrances, and instead are scented with pure, organic essential oils – the aromatherapy has healing benefits for mind, body, and spirit.
I’ve had chronic illness for 11 years, and was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease two years ago. Through seeing various doctors and alternative healers, I learned about clean living and wellness early on, as well as the healing benefits of essential oils. I actually started CandleTherapy during quarantine while I was finishing up a 5 month long at-home IV antibiotic treatment.
The average candle comes with many harsh toxins, from the wax, to the synthetic fragrances used, and even the wick! I used candles a lot during meditation or to just set a zen atmosphere in my home, but it was hard to find candles where I could trust the ingredients. Having chronic illness, I try to limit the amount of toxins that are in my home, plus the synthetic fragrances used in standard candles were just too overwhelming. So I started making candles for myself, friends, and family, and the business grew from there!
I truly have chronic illness to thank for this small business. That is my silver lining. Before going on medical leave two years ago, I was in a high-stress corporate banking job at a big bank. My priority was work, and health came second, and the culture at my job rewarded that. However, it was making me sicker and sicker. My body checked out before I was able to mentally. I finally decided I had to go on medical leave to heal, and medical leave ended up being my greatest gift. I was able to step out of the toxic environment I was in, and work on myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I started meditating regularly and working with a life-coach, which opened me up to healing past traumas, and the mind-body connection. The creativity I had been pushing to the side all these years finally surfaced during quarantine when I started feeling a little bit better towards the end of my IV treatment, and decided to try making a clean candle for my home. I now have a creative outlet, an at-home job that makes me happy, and I get to bring a little piece of Zen into peoples homes.
Is community important to you? How has the LGBT+ community impacted your business?
Community is extremely important to me. Without my community, I wouldn’t have started this business. I originally was just gifting quarantine candles to friends and family to lift their spirits during the COVID shutdown. My community told me to start selling the candles, and my community showed up once I did!
The LGBTQ+ community has showed up in particular. I’ve made so many friends during this short time I’ve been in business in the community because queer people want to support queer people. For instance, my first retail location is a lesbian owned business. When I approached them to sell my candles in their store, I didn’t know what I was doing! They helped me and guided me through the process and I am now selling candles at Crystal Way in San Francisco.
Do you feel that being an LGBT+ founder has had an impact on your journey? What challenges and benefits have you experienced?
I definitely think being an LGBTQ+ founder has impacted my journey. As we all know, it’s a double-edged sword. Now more than ever, people who care about diversity want to support small, diverse businesses – whether its womxn, BIPOC, queer/trans, disability owned, etc. That has helped a lot because not only am I a queer-owned business, but I am also a woman-owned and disability-owned business. With a more conscious culture, people like to know the people they are supporting and their stories. And those people who care, and value diversity, will go out of their way to support you and lift you up, and help spread the word. Just like how Daylight is now!
At the same time, there are still people out there that not only don’t value that, but are ignorant and hateful. I’ve noticed I lose followers when I post politically about social justice issues, especially those that impact the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t mind because I don’t want those people in my network anyway – that’s not a lost sale to me, it actually saves me some hard work and time that I wouldn’t want to spend on someone who’s beliefs don’t align with my existence. I’m only just beginning to grow my instagram following, and I still have received hateful comments on pictures of me and my fiancée kissing, for instance. I know LGBTQ+ brands and influencers with even more of a following receive much worse. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory, but I don’t let it bother me – I just report the comment, block the person, and move on. Overall, the benefits of being an LGBTQ+ founder far outweigh the challenges, because this community is LOUD and PROUD and the future is just getting browner, gayer, and more gender fluid so you better get on board!
What are you excited about for the future?
Wow, I’m so glad I’m answering this question after the election. I was worried there for a sec (aka 4 years). I am so hopeful now for our future – but we still have a lot of work to do. On a big scale… I am excited for criminal justice reform, I am excited for trans rights, I am excited for gay rights, I am excited to combat climate change, I am excited for love over hate. I’m excited for diversity in the highest offices of the land.
I’m excited to marry my fiancée in July of next year. We were supposed to get married this year, but COVID had other plans…
I’m excited to keep growing my business and meeting amazing people along the way. If you would have told me two years ago that I would be running a small batch candle business today… I would have laughed! So really I’m excited to keep surprising myself with what comes next. I’m excited to look back on this, two years from now.