Jessica Tornquist started Erin Jane Illuminations nine years ago after she was disappointed with a candle she bought. She wanted a quality product, one that smelled good and lasted. So she and her daughter, Lauren, decided to make their own.
But that’s just the on-the-surface story of how the Steilacoom-based company got its start. The real reason Tornquist began making candles goes much deeper.
“I would let (Lauren) stay home on certain days if I knew she needed to just be home. I call it a rainy day,” Tornquist explained.
Rainy days were numerous back then. Tornquist’s youngest daughter, Erin Jane, had recently passed away at the age of three from complications due to a liver transplant. She was born with biliary atresia, a rare disease that affects an infant’s liver and bile ducts.
It was on one particular rainy day that Tornquist and her daughter Lauren made their first candle.
“We had it lit when my husband came home from work,” she said. “It wasn’t the world’s greatest candle by any stretch. But it was cool. He was like, ‘You know, you should do this for a business.’”
After that, Tornquist spent six months creating candles and testing different oils and waxes. She was obsessed with making a simple, beautiful, well-made product. It wasn’t until a little later that she realized her customers cared that there was a deeper meaning behind the product.
“I didn’t know that other people wanted a connection when they purchased a product,” she said. “People would say, ‘Oh, what’s the story?’ I didn’t want to share it because I just thought, it’s going to make somebody sad.”
Erin Jane Illuminations sells two sizes of candles, a home and body spray, and a reed diffuser, all in six different scents. The candles are crafted with coconut wax, beeswax, and cotton wicks. There’s no dye, and everything is as pure as possible. Plus, a small portion of the proceeds from each item sold goes to charities benefitting children.
“I wanted something very elegant but simple, that could be versatile, that could go anywhere. I could take it and put it in anybody’s home in any room and it’s going to go,” Tornquist said.
At the beginning, Tornquist hired a company to make her products for her.
“Now I’ve taken it back and I do production in my studio,” she said. “I bless the candles when I make them. There’s a lot of love. To hand that over to somebody, I don’t think that I’m going to.”
Tornquist’s daughter Lauren has also remained heavily involved with all aspects of Erin Jane Illuminations.
“It’s always been really important that Lauren was a part of this, because it’s kind of like a healing thing for us,” she said. “It’s so much more than a business. Actually, the fact that it’s a business makes it difficult for my heart.”
Each candle is named with Erin in mind: Radiant, Peace, Light, Love, Forever, and Celebrate.
“This is spreading her light, and just keeping her out there,” Tornquist said. “She taught us to celebrate every single day. This girl had me sing Happy Birthday to her every day.”
Losing a daughter was, in Tornquist’s words, “devastating.” But despite the unbelievable difficulty the family has faced, Tornquist said they have gained an equally unbelievable gratitude for life.
“The things that we learned from that, moved us lifetimes,” Tornquist said. “The level of compassion for the human spirit that we have. The appreciation for each other and for life. It’s hard to even comprehend that.”