From Hobby to Hustle: Nate Stone From Spír Candle Co.
Nate Stone is the founder of Spír Candle Co., and the story behind his thriving candle business is nothing short of amazing. There are a multitude of reasons why Spír Candle Co. stands out as a unique and transformational small business, but it starts with its mission to exclusively employ young men with periods of incarceration to make their candles.
Based in Woodinville, Washington, a suburb near Seattle, Nate and his team have a story based in purpose and passion. Keep reading to learn how Spír Candle Co. has grown its business into a thriving candle company and his advice to other business owners seeking to have an impact.
how it started
"We own an event space in Seattle called Cathedral and we donate all profits to charity. Our sole purpose of existence is to help others.
We believe that people see our world's problems and have a desire to help but often don't know where to start. That's where businesses can jump in by giving people a choice to do so.
We work directly with young men in the juvenile justice system. Initially, our guys would do odd jobs in the space to help prepare for our events.
During COVID, we essentially had no events for over a year, so we learned how to make candles and started selling them in our markets and online.
Initially, it went about as well as you’d expect it to go. We were using forks for wick holders and spent a ton of time on YouTube. We reached out to other candle makers who graciously shared their knowledge despite us being potential competitors. It was really beautiful."
how it's going
"We started with just one size — a seven day prayer jar. We offered it in unscented and mahogany teakwood and just shared it on our social platforms. We currently have nine scents in three different sizes. We’ll launch ~3-5 more this year."
on hitting milestones
"Last June we brought on our first full time candle maker Shane. He has been with us for three years. He was released last June and is now overseeing all candle production and mentoring the young men we work with. We recently celebrated one year in his new role AND one year out of the justice system.
We've worked with 35 young men and recently surpassed 5,000 hours of employment. What that looks like day to day is time to invest in and care for that community. It means walks on breaks to grab coffees for the team. It means birthday ice cream. It means hugs when our guys arrive and hugs when they leave. It means time we get to build and earn trust. Time to listen. Time to encourage. Time to care. That’s a lot of hours. We try to maximize them all."
on taking the leap
"When Covid hit, we just wouldn’t accept that we couldn’t continue working with the guys. When we initially released our first two candle options, we sold over 200.
It confirmed our fundamental belief that people want to help and they simply need opportunities to do so. Our candles have never been about a candle. They’re about caring for people in meaningful ways and inviting others to do the same. We were confident that it was worth pursuing. The market for helping others is infinite."
on pursuing a mission
"The reality is there are people all around us that are hurting in some capacity. Some directly and some indirectly. The needs are just massive which can either paralyze you or set you on fire to do something about it. For us it’s the latter.
In many ways, the world is and will always be on fire to an extent. We’re less interested in talking about the fires or watching them in fear and more interested in picking up buckets and getting to work."
on standing out
"Every single Spír candle is made by a young man who either was or is currently incarcerated. Each one is signed by the maker. We LOVE watching our guys take ownership of their work each time they sign.
When someone decides to buy one of our candles they're not just buying a candle. They’re voicing with their wallets and actions that they too believe the young men we work with deserve opportunities and environments where they can thrive.
The way we spend our money as consumers can impact our world in positive ways. It simply requires businesses to prioritize people over profit. If profit is your purpose then people will ALWAYS come second. Our purpose is people. Period. Sales and money are the fuel but they will never be confused for the engine that makes our car go."
on making mistakes
"When we started this venture, we called our candles Cathedral Candles because of the name of our space. We didn’t initially realize it would be a major part of our business so we didn’t do the proper things. Mainly check the trademark. Oops!
Turns out there was indeed a Cathedral Candle company that sold candles to churches and we received a cease and desist. Initially it was terrifying. And also 100% my mistake. We had to navigate the next steps legally and logistically. It was stressful and expensive.
We landed on a name that both tells our story and goals more clearly. Spír (spy-er) means “to breathe” in Latin. Which is precisely what we hope to do. If you can create spaces that make people FEEL like they can take a breath, then you really have something."
on getting business advice
"Books are helpful. As are podcasts. But man, so are people. We just ask. We ask candle makers. We ask other business owners. We ask our guys. Our business is people and so that’s who we look to learn from."
on where to invest
"Labor and supplies. We try to always say yes when guys ask for work. We primarily work with a transitional house — the guys are still incarcerated but they can get jobs. We tell the house we will take whoever. Sometimes this means guys who have had a harder time finding or holding down a job for any number of reasons — physical limitations, behavioral challenges, simple logistics.
We just always want to be able to say yes even if we don’t have the work necessarily. We say we’ll find the money and we do."
on staying motivated
"A great question for every business to ask themselves is “what goes undone if we don’t exist?”. For us, the answer is really simple. The young men we work with could use our advocacy and support now. Not tomorrow. Not when we have everything dialed or a five year plan in the works. But now. They need people to believe in them today.
Every minute we get with our guys is an opportunity to make relational and emotional deposits in their metaphorical accounts. How do we ensure that every day we leave people better than when we found them? I think mostly that means showing up. I don’t need to search for motivation and inspiration because it’s right in front of me most days. My job is to show up. And showing up only really matters when it’s hard to do so."
on helping new makers
"We desperately need businesses to consider compassion and purpose as integral to their identity, not as an afterthought. It must mean something to you and to the world.
So many of the challenges we face as a global society are rooted in an inability to consider our impact on others. Business and leaders must ask themselves tough questions about motivations and purpose before they begin, not after.
And the great news is that IF you can answer that question above and find meaning in what you pursue, everything good follows. Motive determines motivation — a motive centered around purpose and meaning will always trump any other."
You can follow Nate Stone and Spír Candle Co. on Instagram here.