To love beauty is to see light. -Victor Hugo
When Brianne Kampbell launched Gig Harbor, Washington-based En Light Candle Company, her life was already full. Though she was busy running her own law practice, managing a household with her husband, and mothering two active children, she still felt like something was lacking. Her work as an estate, probate, and tax attorney, while fulfilling, left her wanting for a lighter, more creative outlet. I sat down with Kampbell to talk about her journey in starting a passion project, and how she grew it into a profitable, resilient business.
Ventured: Tell me a bit about what got you started on the path to founding En Light Candle Company.
Brianne Kampbell: It started as a passion project. I had been going through a questioning time of, ‘Is this what I’m supposed to be doing in life?’ And, ‘What is my bigger purpose?’ I’m proud of what I’ve done. I like my job, I love my family, but it felt like something was missing. I started asking, ‘Who am I?’ My legal practice requires me to be really analytical and logical, and I wanted to bring a spark back into my life and pass it on to other people. I started making candles, and in March 2018, I launched my website.
Ventured: Why candles? And how did you learn to make them?
BK: I just stumbled into it. At Christmastime every year, I like to have a homemade element to the gifts we give. In 2017, a friend and I decided we were going to make candles. They were really cute in little Mason jars. But it turned out that while they burned fine, they didn’t have any scent. I was mortified I had given them out as gifts. It became a challenge I wanted to overcome. So, I taught myself and did a lot of tutorials online.
Ventured: What other challenges did you encounter with getting started? How did you know where to begin?
BK: I have a lot of small businesses as clients in my law practice, and I’m well versed in establishing a business and getting the licenses you need. But, setting up a product-based business from scratch? I had no idea. It has been a complete learning experience on the product side of things, with sourcing the jars and wax and fragrance oils. I didn’t do a lot of pre-planning. I just took the next step each time the next step was revealed. I was totally bootstrapped and funded the business myself as needed.
Ventured: Where and how did you first start selling?
BK: Right around the time I was starting out, a woman in the area was starting a night market for local, gritty artists—people you maybe wouldn’t see in a store but needed a reliable place to sell their creations. A lot of these artists are amazing, and I thought I didn’t belong there. After the first market, I decided to apply anyway and was accepted as a vendor. I did numerous markets, and it was such a great experience.
From there, I started reaching out to stores and growing my wholesale business.
Ventured: Is the business growing? How are you tracking against your goals?
BK: I’ve never had a financial goal for the candles. That’s important to me. The law practice is self-sustaining, and that’s my job. The candles are my passion. Still, it’s astounding, because it has doubled each year from the beginning. It started small, and I’m proud of the growth.
This year will be different, but I’ve already sold a lot of candles compared to previous years. People are in a place where they want candles right now. I’ve always known that people love candles. During the past six weeks, though, I’ve really seen what an obsession people have with them.
Ventured: So, now, where are you selling?
BK: Things were starting to get a little chaotic, so I really wanted to streamline in 2020. I promised myself that I was not going to do any more markets, and limit wholesale accounts to shops owned by people I love and feel really good about. But online is not ideal for candles, because people want to smell them. My website is great when people are repeat customers, and they know what they want, but it’s not great for new customers. So, I was struggling with how to streamline sales.
My heart kept telling me I wanted my own shop, a place where I could sell my candles. I had been looking for space in Gig Harbor, where I live, and in January, an artist friend offered me the opportunity to take over the lease for her downtown studio. Another artist friend of mine, local photographer Paige Wells, was interested in opening the space with me. We wanted to bring more joy to downtown and have a home for my candles and other cool, local artists.
We opened Hey Darlin’ on March 7 and then shut down on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was disappointing to close, but with the grand opening, we got a chance to see what it could become in the future.
The other thing I started doing this year that has really helped sales and help me focus is launching a subscription box service. That has done really well so far, and I’m adding new people to that each month.
Ventured: Tell me about production. Where do you make your products, and how do you develop your scents and product lines?
BK: Production is a funny process. I started out making the candles in my kitchen but outgrew that really fast. About six months after I started the company, my parents, who live next door, offered their spare garage. I turned it into a candle studio. The best part is it’s just right here. It’s nice to have a separate space where I can have projects in process and not feel like I have to get things cleaned up each time.
With my scents, I’m constantly testing and ordering different oils. When I really like something, I’ll test it, and if it turns out, I’ll turn it into a candle. I have flagships—Harbor Woods, Main Squeeze, Sea Salt, St. Helens—that I have focused on from the beginning. These are the best sellers. Beyond those, I add about three new scents for each season through the year.
Ventured: What have been the most rewarding aspects of founding En Light?
BK: Hands down, the best part is seeing people love, enjoy, and gift something I’ve made. That brings me so much joy. Yes, it’s just candles. But they bring happiness. The joy of sharing that light, and seeing the posts of when people open their candles, is something I’m really proud of—also, the support of customers, other businesses, and my community in Gig Harbor. Even my wholesale customers who own shops have been awesome and caring about the opening of Hey Darlin’.
Ventured: It’s clear you really enjoy your creative process and bringing light into your customers’ lives. Fun stuff aside, what’s been the most difficult part of running your own business?
BK: I always feel pulled in a bunch of directions, personally and professionally, which is why I started 2020 with a plan to streamline. The business will keep growing, but in a solid, niche direction, so I don’t feel quite as divided. The past few months with growth and preparing to open Hey Darlin’ have been really fun, but also a lot of work with late nights, planning, and putting processes in place to help us save time in the future. I never know if there’s enough time in each day to get everything done.
Ventured: Candles are everywhere. Do you find it difficult to compete?
BK: In the beginning, I felt a little intimidated because I was starting something new and had no idea what I was doing. I was a little worried about how I would measure up with other companies. It’s stifling to look at what others are doing. But at a certain point, it became clear to me that there are millions of small candle companies in this country, and they are all doing their own thing. I specifically unfollowed a bunch of candle people on social media, so I wouldn’t be tempted to think about what they are doing. Now, I just focus on my company.
I don’t feel any pressure to become a national brand. My customers are loyal, and I find that people who buy or receive my candles keep coming back for more. They truly like them, and that’s all I really started out to do—to bring joy and light to other people.
Ventured: Do you have advice for other artisans just starting out or trying to launch a business?
BK: If you have something in your heart, you should listen to it. It doesn’t matter the scale; you just have to try. What works for me is to stay honest and not try to make things look perfect. If you’re true and admit to what life is actually like, you are going to help people feel normal and accepted. That will translate into loyal customers. The people who pay attention to your business, they are relying on you to show up and be there. I try to do that every day.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity~