Second Chance Employer Profile

Spir Candle Co.

A former pastor, Nate Stone wanted to create a business that had a purpose beyond just making a profit. After talking to a variety of nonprofits, he discovered one that deals with people in reentry. And when he asked them what they needed most, jobs was the answer.

In 2018, he and his wife created Cathedral, an event space that is located in Seattle’s historic Ballard neighborhood and donates all of its profits to charities. They started working with Woodinville Community Facility to provide work for youth incarcerated there. The young men got work release to do such jobs as cleaning the facility and preparing for events.

But when Covid hit, Cathedral, which mainly hosts events like birthday parties and weddings, shut down for nearly 18 months as a result of safety and local restrictions prohibiting events and gatherings. The Stones sat around brainstorming what they could do to survive as a business and continue to offer work to the youth they had begun to feel responsible for.

Because their events are characterized by the dozens of candles they light, they were inspired to start a candle business, which was launched in 2020. They named it Spir Candle Co. and began with one scented and one unscented candle type and slowly added more candles and more places to sell them.

The company now sells candles at local farmer’s markets and shops in Seattle. It also sells wholesale across the U.S. through Faire, the nation’s largest online wholesale marketplace for retailers. Its products are now in stores in 26 states.

The story of the guys in reentry who make the candles has become an important part of the company’s branding. Every candle is signed by the person who made it, and each one comes with a card which tells the company’s story.

Second chance hiring practices 

Spir Candle has anywhere from five to 10 part-time employees at a time. All, when they start out, are still incarcerated at the Woodinville Community Facility. Although the age range of the workers is 16 to 25, most are between 18 and 21 yeas of age. A total of 42 young men have worked at the company since it was founded.

The facility, or “house” as it’s referred to, identifies the young men who want to work for Spir Candle. And they usually work other jobs as well, since the candle company can’t give them full-time employment. The number of hours they work varies greatly, depending on people’s availability and the number of candle orders. Last year, the total average for all workers was between 200 hours and 300 hours per month.

The guys do a little bit of everything from start to finish, as far as candle making is concerned. They pour wax, mix scents and clean the candles afterwards. They may also process orders and do other paperwork, as well as sell the candles at farmers markets. Shane, the supervisor, was also incarcerated at Woodinville Community Facility but now is a full-time employee.

Although the house supports the workers while they’re still incarcerated, once they’re released, they’re currently on their own. Stone is in the process of creating a nonprofit that will provide wraparound services for those in reentry. He hopes to employ an in-house therapist and be able to do job placement.

The biggest challenge, according to Stone, is trying survive as a small business. That said, the population he works with also needs a bit of extra attention. “The guys often don’t know what it means to be a grown up adult,” he says. “They need to be taught the basics. Why it matters that if you say you’ll show up at 10, you need to show up at 10, for example.”

“Once they’re released, it’s realizing that you can’t meet all the needs that every individual has. We feel the responsibility to do everything, but we can’t fix everything. I can’t fix his car, or I can’t deal with the fact that he might run into people from his past life. I want to do more, and I want to do it faster.”

Stone says his goal goes beyond offering employment to being a support system for the guys who work for Spir.

“Occasionally really rough stuff happens, and we are there to support them. We had a guy who was set up, and someone tried to rob him. The next morning he came to work and said he came to work because he really wanted to be there. It made us realize that we’re creating a place for guys to feel safe. When he communicated that to us it was a real affirmation that we’re doing something right.”

The rewards of working with this population are many, but the relationships he establishes with his workers are at the top of the list.

“Anytime I get a chance to introduce someone to our guys, they love them. They’re young, and they’re fun. They want people to believe in them,” Stone says. “Now that I’ve seen the impact I can make and the benefits that I’ve received, I’m prepared to work with these guys forever.”

His aspirations are high, but he’s determined to pursue his goals. “Our long-term goal is to get to 1 million hours of employment provided to underrepresented youth. It’s a big goal, and we have a long ways to go — but we believe we can get there. More importantly, the need is there.”

Editor’s note: If you’d like to buy a candle and support Spir’s work, please visit the company’s website.

To learn more about Spir Candle Co.