Last holiday season, Yo! Magazine launched an Asian American small business shopping guide that featured nearly 100 Asian-owned businesses. In keeping with the spirit of uplifting our community, we’ve decided to feature small businesses in our future issues.
When I think about things that keep me calm and remind me to take care of myself, I think of candles.
I was raised by a mom who has always had a knack for creating welcoming spaces, and one of the ways she did this was through scattering candles throughout the house, so it makes sense that I’m a “candle person” today.
For our wellness issue, I chose to feature Rudy and Maddie Cordero, the husband-and-wife team behind the Anaheim-based candle company Whispering Wicks. Launched in October 2020 and run out of their home, the company is the couple’s passion project that they turn to after long shifts as ICU nurses (yes, they’re both nurses). I was curious to learn whether running a candle business is as relaxing as it seems, and how the two of them have managed to stay upbeat while working on the frontline of the pandemic.
When did you start Whispering Wicks? How did you two come up with the idea to sell candles together?
Rudy: The idea initially came from planning our wedding last year. We were thinking of favors we could give out at our engagement party, and I thought about candles and how a scented memory from an event can be more emotional and meaningful than any other object. So, we made candles. But we never thought we’d launch a company.
Maddie: It was actually a joke for a long time. We’d gift candles to loved ones and they’d keep asking us when we’d be starting the company.
Rudy: I kind of spontaneously started the beginnings of the business while I was at work. I showed Maddie and she said, “wait, you started this?” Maddie really helped propel the business as a whole and got our foot into marketing and social media.
What’s your main goal as a candle business?
Maddie: Simply being able to provide an eco-friendly, non-toxic product that can be a part of someone’s life. We wanted our candles to be affordable as well as aesthetically pleasing for every type of style. Whether it’s winding down for the night or getting rid of the smell after cooking, or even lighting a candle in memory of someone, we want to be a part of someone’s home.
Rudy: I knew we wanted to do something sustainable, which is why we were drawn toward soy wax and non-wasteful products. The wax was the first thing we researched—we wanted to make sure it wasn’t harmful to the environment. Going with soy helped us. Most of our oils are natural, which is why our candles have a different essence and don’t smell artificial. In terms of packaging and logistics, we were getting a lot of excess materials and waste from the supplies we ordered, so we figured we should recycle them.
What do you two do for work outside of candle making? How are you both able to balance work and this business venture?
Maddie: We’re both ICU nurses at two different hospitals. It was difficult because we started this in the middle of the pandemic, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, it was during the huge surge in the winter, so we were pretty stressed. But when we’d do tasks relating to Whispering Wicks, it was exciting, and we enjoyed it. On the days we work we do things like emails, but our days off are our “candle days.” Hearing how people found a scent they loved and how it brought comfort to them during stressful times has made this worth it. One of our customers told us that lighting her yuzu candle when she spoke to her dad in the hospital meant a lot to her, and that reminded us why we do this. Outside of nursing, we can continue to impact people’s lives.
Rudy: She works day shifts and I work night shifts, so on our workdays, we’ll see each other for like, five minutes. But it’s fine because we each have our tasks to focus on. Maddie does most of the marketing and social media work, and I’m like a 90-year-old grandpa who doesn’t know social media, so I handle the production side of things. This takes us away from what work feels like.
Maddie: It’s something more positive we can look forward to.
Rudy: Not that our jobs aren’t enjoyable, but it’s a different atmosphere. When we come home and light candles, we can destress from work.
Maddie: Especially during the winter surge, it was hard not to bring work home with us. We were always surrounded by death at work and felt the sadness from patients and their families. It was harder to separate work from home at the time, so having this second job helps keep us distracted from our real jobs.
Anything you two learned about yourselves or your relationship during this?
Rudy: In terms of my own learning, I know now that I don’t know how to market. The first photo I took of the candles was horrible.
Maddie: It was 75% table and 25% candle!
Rudy: And I thought I did a good job! I learned I enjoy making candles, and it’s not just a hobby anymore. I’m not trying to hype her up, but Maddie does a lot of work behind the scenes and handles things I didn’t even think about, like getting a business license and figuring taxes. It’s jaw-dropping how much she knows.
Maddie: We are very different in personalities—I’m very type A, excel sheet and everything, and I need to be organized. He’s the opposite. He’s helped me to be more flexible with things. It’s been a great process for both of us. Rudy’s knowledge of fragrances stems from his vast cologne collection, which I used to think was silly, but he’s so well-versed and knows how scents can feel in a household and set a mood. It’s a good partnership.
What do you envision for Whispering Wicks’s future?
Maddie: We’d like to give back more. When the Asian community started experiencing more hate crimes recently, we thought about how this isn’t our primary income, and how lucky we are to have our jobs and secondary income.
So we donated 15% of our sales to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and then we thought, wait—we can keep doing this. We decided every quarter to donate our sales to a nonprofit. This quarter it’s to the Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention for the LGBTQ+ community. We’re really excited for the future and hope we can get into smaller stores and businesses.
We have pop-ups planned already. Growing big was never something we wanted, but at the very least we’d love for our customers to get to smell our candles in person before they buy them.
Rudy: We want our brand to have a deeper connection in terms of conscious consumerism. We didn’t want to just make candles. We want our customers to understand their purchase goes towards something. It’s something that can be meaningful to yourself but also others.
This whole thing started at your engagement party, and now you’re married!
Maddie: We were supposed to get married in May 2020 at a gorgeous venue in Long Beach, but that was planned for right when the pandemic exploded, so we postponed. But we thought about it and said, why don’t we do something small? My brother got his officiant license and officiated the wedding in my parents’ backyard, and we DIY-ed a backdrop. It was very sentimental and comforting to know that in the midst of all the uncertainty in the world, at least that was certain.
You can purchase candles from Whispering Wicks via their website (my personal favorite is the yuzu candle!)