By Ericka Anderson
It’s easy to think you’ve lost your way careening around the strip of buildings that is home to Unplug Soy Candles in Fishers, Indiana. The brick structure housing a few nondescript businesses appears to end before you round a corner to the back stretch, arriving at the Pinterest-worthy candle store, primed for glowing Instagram selfies and a girl’s night out. You’ll know when you’ve arrived.
You might not assume the owners of a store thriving in the pink glow of feminine appeal would be primarily focused on producing environmentally clean products. But you would be wrong.
One hundred percent pure soy wax cultivated from U.S.-grown soybeans comprises every candle intentionally. With natural fragrance oils and lead-free cotton wicks, Unplug candles boast a clean, lengthy burn that dwarfs the burn time of traditional paraffin candles.
The sparkly environment in which they sell them is just the icing on the cake.
Unplug, a quaint, one-room store, features tiny, luminescent light fixtures bordering the ceiling. On one wall, the lights illuminate rows of uniformly-spaced, gold, white and charcoal candles in plump jars, one adorned with the text “Badassery: Engaging in seemingly impossible activities and achieving success in a manner that renders all onlookers completely awestruck.”
In a confetti-laced gift bucket, “Bitchstix” lip gloss is sold, and miniature, corked faux wine bottles are stocked with a cluster of decorative matches. Drink mixers posed to flow in an ombre layout are labeled with flavors like “Cranberry, cold-brewed tea” and “Blueberry basil lemonade,” stashed beneath a row of candles featuring phrases like “Birthday cake calories don’t count.”
Across the room is the fragrance bar, where oil vats in shades of gold are fixed on the wall above bottles with names like “sugared citrus” and “prosecco fizz.”
A jumbo neon script sign on the back wall reads “Get it Girl,” framed in environmentally friendly twinkle lights. Tables overflowing with exfoliating sugar cubes, coral and violet bath bombs, and hydrogel glitter face masks help create the perfect package of a store for young, suburban women.
Here, fun and earth friendly co-mingle as top priorities.
For co-owner Jennifer Sturgill, candle-making began as an at-home hobby after she was gifted a homemade candle from a friend. She immediately knew she wanted to burn “really clean burning candles” with a strong fragrance.
“The more I tested things out,” she said in an interview, “the more I realized that if you pay for premium, environmentally-friendly ingredients, you’ll actually get the results you’re looking for.”
The business started out as a wholesale company in 2015, but soon merged into a walk-in brick and mortar retail store, where customers appreciate eco-friendly options. When a candle burns down, customers can repurpose their vessels by rebuilding a new candle for 20% off regular price — an effort to promote repurposing items.
The Problem with Paraffin
Moving away from paraffin, from which the majority of candles are made, has been key to Unplug’s branding effort. Paraffinemits what some experts say are harmful fumes connected to conditions like asthma and cancer, according to a study out of South Carolina University. The substance is derived from petroleum and is linked to toxins like benzene. The ultimate harm of paraffin is not conclusive, however, given there have been no peer-reviewed, scientific studies conducted.
Regardless of any disagreement over toxin concerns, soy candles produce significantly less soot, which does contain carcinogens. This has been known for several decades, but the non-toxic, wellness and environmental space has grown significantly in recent years. Buyers have made purchasing eco-friendly, sustainable products a priority in many market areas, including fragrance and home decor.
A recent market analysis report on the candle industry showed that paraffin candles have 30% of the market share, the soy wax candle segment is expected to grow significantly between now and 2025. The report credits soy wax’s lower carbon footprint, high melting point and slow burn as reasons behind the uptick.
The COVID Effect
Customers really appreciate the environmentally-friendly approach, according to Sturgill. Many families aim to fill their homes with non-toxic aromas since the genesis of the COVID pandemic. Spending significantly more time at home caused home scent sales to increase by 13% in 2020.
In 2020, when people began spending significantly more time in the home, there was a 13% increase in home scent sales. Sturgill noticed that those who weren’t “candle people” before latched onto the trend in an effort to create an enjoyable ambiance at home.
Like the rest of the industry, Unplug experienced a sales lift last year, delivering what Sturgill called “a very good 2020.”
Environmentally-friendly ingredients are more expensive, but the value Americans put on their health and the earth has increased significantly in recent years. This is good news for the earth and the success of businesses prioritizing energy reduction and minimizing greenhouse gases.
As for Unplugged, customers have begun flocking back to the store for birthday parties, personalized gift boxes and girl’s nights out, where guests are free to bring in their own wine during candle-pouring workshops. It’s almost as if life has begun to resume normalcy again. These days, eco-friendly products aren’t exclusively produced in shades of green and brown. The booming wellness industry has ensured that pink and purple get a starring role as well. There’s nothing wrong with popularizing earth protection by branding it with a fun filter.