Photos by Mochie Snyder

As a small-business owner with five kids and two cats, Kjerste Whaley’s home is anything but quiet. Add in the soy candle company that Whaley and her husband, Derek, own, and things can get downright chaotic at times.

Today, Wax & Wool Etc. ships candles across the world to Germany, Japan, Canada, France, and beyond, but the enterprise began as a home operation on the kitchen stove with a small metal kettle.

“We were dirt poor; we had a surprise pregnancy right (on) the heels of another pregnancy, and an extended hospital stay that ate through our savings,” Whaley recalled of her then-hobby. “The housing market had burst, and we were upside-down on our mortgage.”

After three more children and a long battle with depression, Whaley finally found the motivation to open Wax & Wool Etc. in 2016. The couple started an Etsy shop and negotiated a deal to sell candles in the Tacoma Art Museum gift shop.

By December of that year, the duo had already surpassed its three-year goal. “This business that was supposed to add $15,000 a year to our income was rapidly becoming a major way of supporting our family,” she said. Production soon moved from the kitchen stove to the garage.

Now, Wax & Wool Etc.’s sales have more than doubled during the coronavirus pandemic; the duo has upgraded equipment to triple output; and, in January, Wax & Wool Etc. moved to its first brick and mortar production space on Center Street in Tacoma. Here, the Whaleys and their staff can pour hundreds of candles per day.

The couple also plans to open a retail experience once a month, though Whaley said they don’t have any current plans to grow the business much further.

“I don’t want to take over the world. I’d like to see our sales grow, but I don’t see us expanding our operations beyond where we’re at,” she said. “Then again, I never saw myself moving out of my kitchen, so we’re here for the journey — one step at a time.”


6:15 a.m. My husband, Derek (aka: “the shipping department”), brings me my coffee, and we go through the day’s schedule to make sure we’re on the same page.


6:30 a.m. Our five kids get up and get moving; breakfast and lunch-packing chaos ensues.

7:25 a.m. I push everyone out into the world and begin my morning hustle: dishes, laundry, start the robot vacuum and the slow cooker, and pick up our grocery order.


9 a.m. Time to hit the studio. I crank the heat, plug in the wax melter, load the jar warmer, and check the previous day’s candles for any imperfections.


9:45 a.m. I catch my breath and make a coffee, then I dive into emails, social media, and invoicing.


11 a.m. With just over an hour left to work uninterrupted, I quickly pull our wholesale orders and prototype scents for two of our international stores ̶ one in Montreal and one in the Channel Islands.


12:15 p.m. Derek brings the three littlest kiddos to the studio. We eat lunch and start homework together while I manage to squeeze in a few more emails ̶ barely.


2:15 p.m. Two of my team members, Emily and Ally, arrive, along with our two older kids. We go over what needs to be poured, labeled, and shipped, and then the kids and I head home.


3 p.m. More homework followed by a trip to the park and dinner prep.


6 p.m. It’s dinnertime, to be shortly followed by bedtime rituals and stories. We’re in the home stretch: trying to ignore my phone and be fully present.


9 p.m. I’ve made it. Time to snuggle in with a stack of books; a glass of whiskey; and, of course, a candle. I’m always thankful for bedtime.