THE ARTISAN : PROSPERITY CANDLE
Prosperity Candle is a social enterprise based in the United States that invests in women entrepreneurs to help end poverty. Candles are the focus of this enterprise because candle making is a business a woman can start and expand in the safety of her own home with local materials, a critical element at times of unrest. This has been the goal of Prosperity Candle since the beginning: to enable women to escape poverty and conflict around the world through entrepreneurship. Every candle purchased helps provide a living wage for the women of Prosperity, who have recently resettled from refugee camps and are working to build a brighter future for themselves and their families in the United States.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Prosperity Candle
The Little Market had the chance to chat with Ted Barber, the Co-Founder and President of Prosperity Candle, our first U.S. based artisan partner! Based in Massachusetts, Prosperity Candle helps support and build sustainable lives for Burmese and Bhutanese refugees who now live in the U.S. We have collaborated on new candles with them that come in eight holiday and tea inspired scents. Each candle is hand signed by the artisan who made it. We are so excited to work with with Prosperity Candle. We hope you enjoy our Q & A with Ted below!
QUESTION:In your view, what is unique about Prosperity Candle productions?
ANSWER: Design – our newest collection is unparalleled in concept, quality and presentation. The Forever and Coco Shine collections stand out not only among candles, but also in the larger world of gifts. There are over 400 candle producers in the U.S. Many are environmentally compatible and a few offer social good. None but Prosperity Candle combines these in a way that offers customers real, substantive and sustainable impact. No other candle company prioritizes social good over all else, including profit. No other candle company is a certified B-Corp for social and environmental impact.
The candles we made for The Little Market are high quality, hand poured, soy blend candles with natural cotton wicks. What makes them unique is our attention to detail (perfect finishes on the candle tops, hand placement of labels, quality printing and packaging), and the significant impact they have had – The Little Market and its customers have – on the lives of women refugees building a brighter future for themselves and their families in the U.S. Your purchase supports opportunity for them, and women’s entrepreneurship around the world through our volunteer work (e.g., trips to Haiti to train women in entrepreneurship and candle-making).
QUESTION: Where does Prosperity Candle get the materials for its products?
ANSWER: All our candle ingredients are sourced in the U.S. to ensure quality and minimize carbon footprint. Our waxes are from Pennsylvania and Tennessee, using soy beans produced on American farms. Our cotton wicks, fragrances, packaging, labeling and packing materials are all made in the U.S., as local as we can find.
When creating artisan-made candle vessels, such as a hand-carved soapstone votive, we source from fair trade projects, importers and individuals around the world. Over the past 5 years we have poured candles into ceramic, glass, metal, stone and even coconut shells from over 12 countries in Africa, Asia, Central/South America, Caribbean, Eastern Europe, U.S. and Canada.
QUESTION: How many employees are involved in the making of your beautiful handmade candles?
ANSWER: We have 4 permanent staff involved in management, including one of the first women refugees we employed (she started as an apprentice candle-maker, earning her first paycheck ever at age 33, and now is our production manager training other women refugees in the art & science of artisan candle-making).
The candle-makers are women refugees who join Prosperity Candle because they have few other options open to them, and because we pay living wages plus provide various services refugees need. Some join us for years, others for a short time to gain employment experience as a step towards pursuing other careers.
To date we have had 10 women refugees making candles from Burma and Bhutan, all resettled in Western Massachusetts through U.N. and Federal programs after losing their homes and possessions (and family members) and living in temporary refugee camps for 5 to as many as 17 years. Overseas, we have 12 women in Haiti who are learning to make candles for export, and we are training more than 100 widows in Iraq as well. To date, we’ve imported more than 6,000 beautifully made pillar candles handmade by Iraqi women starting their own, independent candle businesses.
QUESTION: How long is the whole process of making one candle?
ANSWER: It depends on the candle! Our new Forever Candle took 3 months to design, several weeks for the master glass blowers to perfect, produce and ship to us, and 2 days to make (clean, prepare, heat, mix ingredients, pour, cure, trim, finish, clean, label and package). Our travel tins take only 1 day.
The Little Market candles took 3 days (cleaning and preparing the glass, preheating for a perfect finish, setting wicks, mixing ingredients, pouring candles, curing/cooling, trimming wicks, cleaning, labeling with hand-signed custom labels, packaging).
QUESTION: How important do you think it is for the customer to have a relationship with the artisan?
ANSWER: We think it’s an important aspect of our candles and work, and a powerful idea that customers take a moment to send a note. The very notion that they can read about the specific woman who made their candle – and write her a note – is unusual with any product, even the many wonderful, artisan made items offered by fair trade retailers. Every week we receive messages for the candle-makers… for Haitian women, Iraqi women, and especially for the Burmese and Bhutanese women here in the U.S. The notes are beautiful and heart-felt. For the women in Iraq and Haiti, it offers them the rare opportunity to hear directly from a foreign customer.
QUESTION: How does Prosperity Candle impact the women artisans that they employ?
ANSWER: In more ways than we can measure. When we first reached out to refugees, we asked if they would be interested in the same model we use in Haiti – helping them set up their own independent, women-owned business or cooperative. The resounding response was no… they asked for living wage employment with flexible hours, transportation, and assistance with the myriad of challenges they face. So Prosperity Candle adapted its model to create local impact (at that time we had only been international), while still aligning with our mission… we simply expanded into including women from regions of conflict and natural disaster as well as in regions of conflict and natural disaster.
For a recently resettled refugee who is fortunate to have landed in the U.S., life is confusing and full of challenges, even with all the wonderful services provided. The women often do not speak English, and have few employment opportunities. Those that are available are typically minimum wage with fees. We have sought to address those challenges, while still operating as a business that must be competitive and sustainable. The women understand we are not a charity, but that we work side-by-side with them to create an enterprise that creates value for them as well as customers.
Financially, they are earning twice minimum wage in Massachusetts, plus receiving various benefits. Our track record on living wages and support earned us a high score on the B-Corp assessment.
QUESTION: What new projects do you have in store?
ANSWER: Lots! Prosperity Candle is moving in bold directions, seeking to be unique in its products, mission and impact. Our next big project is to create a series of candles in vessels crafted from rubble resulting from the tragic 2010 earthquake in Haiti. These unique candles will support efforts in Haiti to create permanent housing for the families still in shelters. In 2015 we also hope to begin creating more private label candles, as we have done for The Little Market (thank you!). We hope to partner with leading brands to create beautiful products that do good in the world.