August 23, 2022
We’re excited to announce the $10,000 July Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Kayla Brown, Founder of Fire Doll Studio. They are the July qualifier for the 2022 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Kayla for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
Marcia: Hi everyone, and welcome to a conversation with our Amber Grant winner for July, 2022. Today, we’re speaking with Kayla Brown, the owner of Fire Doll Studio, who’s our winner for this month. I’m Marcia Layton Turner, and I’m one of several WomensNet Advisory Board members. And I have the great pleasure of talking to all of our winners.
So Kayla, thank you so much for taking time today to chat with me.
Kayla: Thanks for this incredible honor. We’re so excited.
Marcia: So let’s start at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about Fire Doll.
Kayla: Fire Doll Studio is an artisan chandlery, which is just a fancy name for a candle maker shop. So it’s a little different from a candle store in that we actually make all of our candles on site. It also gives us the ability to have candle making workshops for the community here in the shop. So, it’s a really cool little vibe in here.
We specialize in very cool, very quirky candles. We kind of take the wonderful luxury item that a candle is, and we just kind of, you know, add a little bit of artistic flare to it. That’s what we love to do here. We are very passionate about using natural materials. I got into doing this because of my asthma. I love candles, but I cannot burn commercial candles in my home.
In a never ending quest to find a candle that I could burn and enjoy in my house, I just realized after a while that the only way to really do that is just to make it myself. Then I know exactly what’s in it. A lot of times, the candles that you buy in a store, even when they’re advertised as soy candles, it only has to be 50% soy wax in order for it to be advertised as a soy candle. So who knows what that other 50% is, and a lot of times they’re paraffin blends. That being a petroleum byproduct is usually the culprit. We’ve been able to kind of fine tune that and explore candle making and in an artistic way using completely natural ingredients. So we’re super proud of that.
Marcia: Awesome. Well, I was online looking at some of your samples, so can you show us some of them? They’re so fun.
Kayla: So this is what we call, the cactus garden. This is an all natural soy wax. We use two different types of soy waxes. This is a pillar blend and this lower base here is a container blend. We get the fun shapes out of a harder wax with a higher melting point. And then the base of the candle is an aromatherapy grade, soy wax. What basically all that means: It’s a softer wax of a lower melting point. And we can pack a lot more fragrance in it. So you kind of get the best of both worlds. So that’s a really fun one.
And we also have…I brought a little cotton candy, so we actually hand pipe this; this is the same soy base. We actually use the same container soy here, except we do the color and the scent, and we keep it moving until it cools to just the perfect temperature. And it’s the consistency of whipped cream, sort of. We can actually hand pipe that. So that’s kind of a fun technique.
And then we also do simple molded candles, like this little cupcake. It’s just a little peach cupcake — we do these in all sorts of flavors, but we try to keep it really kind of cool and fun and quirky. We’re always having fun with it too. And we’re always hungry. Gotta be careful what you eat around here.
Marcia: But they’re so lifelike, really. I mean, so realistic.
Kayla: Yeah. We really love nostalgia. Smell is so closely tied to memory. We really love to play with nostalgia. Cotton candy is something that, you know, as a kid, you remember going to the fair, and you remember the cotton candy. We do ramen noodles, we do s’mores… we do all kinds of fun stuff.
Marcia: You mentioned that you have in-house candle workshops. And you have products that you sell online…do you think that variety is the secret to your success? Or is there something else that you think you’ve done really well to give you all this growth?
Kayla: I think that having such a diversity in what we offer has been huge for us. We have the retail store, which is relatively new for Fire Doll. I started Fire Doll in 2011, but I did it at home and I just sold at markets. It was kind of a side hustle.
But the pandemic totally changed my life. I lost two jobs. I actually mowed yards for an entire summer to pay bills. When the winter hit, I thought, ‘well, gosh, normally I’d be doing my candles right now for the markets…’ but there were no markets. So I just moved it all online. And so I was using whatever, resources I had.
When the world opened back up the online, subscription services that we do — monthly and seasonal in addition to the online store — did really well, over that winter. So when the world kind of opened back up, I had people stopping by my candle studio asking if it was a candle store…and it was just my studio. So my landlord offered me the space that we’re in now, so we could have the store. So I was able to get a little storefront. So we have retail.
We still do the online subscription services, monthly and seasonal. That’s just curated candles that show up at the house, you know, show up at your house either once a quarter or once a month. Then we also have the online store. We do wholesale now…we have a lot of diversity in what we can offer here. So when one sort of slows down, the other kind of picks up and we always have something in motion. So that’s been really helpful for us.
Marcia: That that’s so smart, but it sounds like you really grew organically…from a side hustle to this multifaceted business. So exciting.
Kayla: It’s been really fun.
Marcia: So now that you’ve won $10,000 — what are your plans? How are you going to use it to continue to grow the business?
Kayla: We actually have found a new location. We have very quickly grown out of this tiny….you can’t really tell the scale, but it’s very small here. And there’s actually four of us now. Which is really great, being able to create jobs for the community. Now since we are doing so much of the wholesale and our mail order side has picked up a lot, we are completely out of space.
We actually have found a new space and we had been on the fence about signing that lease and making that move. But this has been the game changer for us. So we can sign the lease, we can get into this new space. It will open up an event side for us so we can offer private candle making parties, team building workshops for the university here, or the hospital here. It will really open up a lot of space to have larger events. We can do candlelight yoga. Our online sales manager is a yoga instructor. We can do candle-light concerts. I’m a musician as well.
So, you know, we can just offer a lot of cool events for the community…it’ll create more jobs in the community. We’ll have the capacity to create two new positions right out the gate. So it’s just been a huge game changer for us.
Marcia: Amazing. I’m so excited for you. So, what’s some advice that you might give an aspiring woman entrepreneur — anything that you’ve learned in this time of fast growth that you might pass along?
Kayla: When I decided I was gonna do this, everybody told me I was crazy… I’m a big dreamer. So my friends may be used to that about me, but I had so many people say it’s too big of a risk. Don’t do it. You know, and if I had listened to all of those people who were kind of naysaying a little bit and kind of challenging this dream that I had, then I wouldn’t be here right now.
So it has just been an amazing journey and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I was really grateful that I listened to my gut and I believed in this dream. So I would say, if you really feel in your gut, if you really believe in it [your business], just believe in yourself. Follow your gut, follow your passion. You never know where it could take you.
Marcia: I think those are such wise words. I noticed that you were smart about it. You didn’t just quit all your jobs and jump in without demonstrating that there was demand. You know, it sounds just from what you’ve shared, that it was gradual. You believed in the vision, but you started out as a side hustle and you kept other sources of income to be able to fund this and grew as demand called for it. Right?
Kayla: Oh, absolutely. We have the benefit of being the only candle store in town, so that’s helpful. But along the way, it has been experimenting. It has been seeing what works. The candles that we make now are not the candles that we made 10 years ago at the market. So it’s been over a decade now of learning and just kind of creating my own process. And really exploring it, not being afraid to try weird things and see what happens. That sort of thing has been really, really helpful. Just being able to experiment and really following those little thoughts and those little ideas and seeing where they go.
Marcia: Being able to try on a small scale and then if it goes well, then….
Kayla: …move on to the next thing.
Marcia: Yeah, yeah. Awesome. Well, Kayla, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I just find it so fascinating. I know the WomensNet community is going to really enjoy hearing your story. And congratulations again on being our July Amber Grant winner.
Kayla: Thank you for this amazing honor. We are so excited!