Made There: Wood-wick candles crafted with care in Yakima

Chantel Ramirez of Wild Wickzology uses repurposed containers, most notably Mexican dough bowls, to ignite her artisan creations.

Chantel Ramirez takes a sip of her iced coffee before slipping on the custom apron that hangs in her Yakima kitchen. The smartly organized space doubles as headquarters for her candlemaking business, Wild Wickzology. The implements and elements she uses are smartly organized on shelves and decorative peg boards. She sets her candles, made from soy, coconut, and other nontoxic ingredients, in colorful bowls and other containers that can be reused. 

It’s been two years since Ramirez turned her hobby into a business, and there’s no sign of it slowing.

“I feel like small businesses are thriving here in the Valley,” Ramirez says. “It’s a very supportive community.”

This video is part of our “Made There” series about local artisans. View more videos from Seasons 1 and 2

Ramirez's journey with Wild Wickzology is but one story of how a person can follow their curiosity and creativity to build a vision for their art and business. What started as a way to pass the time became a small business dedicated to nontoxic products and sustainability. Balancing her full-time role as a third grade teacher, she channels her passion for candlemaking not only to sell her own creations but also to teach others the art. Her signature dough-bowl candles are inspired by pop culture, her hikes in the scenic Yakima Valley and her memories. She also aims to instill in her daughter the belief that possibilities are limitless. 

Ramirez started making candles in early 2020 as she was discovering motherhood. The new baby was a peaceful sleeper and, though grateful, Ramirez, self-described workaholic, was eager to fill her time during the baby’s frequent naps. COVID-19 restrictions also limited what outside activities were available to the family. As she scrolled  through an online list of activities she could do from home, candlemaking piqued her interest.

Though she had always loved candles, she noticed she was starting to have reactions to some of them, including asthma. She also wanted to ensure that any products she used to make candles would be healthier for her and safe around her child. Ramirez’s first candle was made from a kit she ordered online. Ramirez admits that first candle was lackluster, but she kept at it, and sought advice from other candlemakers. As creative ideas started to flow, this new hobby slowly turned into a business. 

“I met a really good support system around the way. So that was nice. It helped me keep going, I guess, you know, because it’s kind of scary just starting a business,” she says. “I just fell in love with it.”

Ramirez continued to experiment with different candle base recipes until she found one that was both nontoxic and had a pleasing color and texture. To create her candles, she selects a stack of unique containers and places a wooden wick into each. Opening the valve on an industrial wax melt tank, she fills a metal carafe, then quickly stirs pre-measured essential oils into the hot liquid. She fills the containers and lets the wax completely harden before trimming the wicks. For other artistic variations, sometimes she adds dried flowers or gemstones – even cereal – into the wax before it hardens.

Ramirez finds her inspiration in a variety of ways. Childhood memories of her favorite breakfast or Halloween movie have led to candles featuring fruit-flavored loops or miniature cauldrons and moon-shaped gems. Ramirez loves using crystals and flowers to create more romantic candles. She doesn’t limit her creativity, guided by the principle that the work she creates is a representation of her. 

“My goal when I made a candle was to have someone be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s from her.’ And I’ve been told that by a few people – like at markets, they’ll be like, ‘Hey, I think I see your candle at this store,’” she says. “So I’m glad that they can recognize that it has my personality.”

Fragrances have become a key part of her creativity as well. Florals, herbs and experiences inspire the various blends she makes. Walks in Yakima Valley’s Cowiche Canyon led to her most popular fragrance, an earthy scent she calls PNW. 

When she solved the toxicity problem, Ramirez immediately considered sustainability. She didn’t want her empty candles to contribute to waste. The containers she uses range from thrift-store finds and coffee mugs to Mexican dough bowls. She also initiated a refill program so empty vessels can be made into candles again and again. Ramirez accepts refill requests from customers, but also created kits so that customers can refill their containers on their own.

“We realized that candles take up a huge part of our landfill. So we choose containers that can be repurposed or refilled,” she says. “We actually started our refill program right when we started our business.”

Teaching how to make candles has been a fun addition to Ramirez’s business. At her mom’s suggestion, she decided to offer a small class. It was so much fun, she’s been adding classes ever since.

“I feel like I get to have my teacher hat on and I’m getting the best of both worlds right now,” she says. “It's been really fun getting to kind of meet my customers and get to talk to them. And they’ve been enjoying it, they seem happy.”

Her favorite student, though, is her daughter. Now a preschooler, she recently told Ramirez she worked too much. So the two now work together on anything from organizing materials to updating inventory and selling at weekend markets. Ramirez can always find an age-appropriate task to help her daughter feel empowered and involved, and said she wants her child to know that it’s possible to work hard and achieve goals.

“I want her to be able to grow up with, OK, well, if I want to own a business, I could,” she says. “And she just feels so happy that she gets to help. It’s been a challenge, but I’m hoping when she gets older she realizes this is all for her.”

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