by Patheresa Wells
When you walk into Noir Lux Candle Bar in Belltown, you are greeted with a unique ambiance. Colina Bruce, CEO & chandler (maker of candles), has put together a space that feels like an Instagram-worthy living room, but this space is for more than socializing. Here, you can sit with friends and create a one-of-a-kind candle as Beyoncé plays in the background.
Bruce’s unique business started as a way to practice self-care. Bruce, who has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years, was looking to bring in additional income at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m a person who tends to feel like I always have to be doing something. So when I felt like I had more downtime, I started thinking about ways that I could create supplemental income,” she told the Emerald. She settled on learning to pour candles.
Bruce read articles, watched YouTube videos, and did hands-on research as she tested the best methods for candle-making. Soon, Bruce’s family and friends were encouraging her to turn the blossoming hobby into a business. She started selling her candles online in September 2020, and expected to only sell a few. Instead, her entire stock of more than 100 candles sold out within two hours. The interest encouraged her to take her business online.
Soon, Bruce was also attending pop-up markets — like events at Black Coffee Northwest and the Tacoma Mall — connecting her with other small businesses and a larger customer base. Since more people were building virtual communities over the pandemic, Bruce began to get requests to host virtual candle-making classes, parties, and team-building events. The more attention Noir Lux was getting, the more Bruce contemplated opening her own brick and mortar shop, even if it seemed unattainable at the time.
But there are times when you have to chase a dream. Or, as one of Bruce’s favorite musical artists, Beyoncé would say, when you must be prepared to slay. Bruce knew she would regret it if she did not at least attempt to open up a retail location. So when the opportunity presented itself, she did. “I made a decision that I was going to be intentional about pursuing a space, and here we are. It wasn’t without challenge, but it definitely felt like a manifestation come true,” she shares. Noir Lux’s grand opening was held in February.
Bruce wants customers who come to the storefront to understand that as well as being fun, pouring a candle can be a healing, helpful time where you can focus your energy and set an intention. Pouring sessions are open to the public during regularly scheduled business hours, and while walk-ins are welcome, reservations are encouraged, especially for groups. Private pouring parties, as well as event rentals, are also available. During each pouring session, customers are guided through selecting a fragrance or choosing multiple to craft a custom blend. Next, they choose a vessel and then prepare for the pouring. And as a finishing touch, customers can craft a custom label naming their candle. Recent ones include “Sisterhood of the Traveling Hijabs” and “About to Be Lit.”
In addition to pouring candles and buying premade ones, customers can shop from a selection of products that include shower milks, body butters, journals, and other items, all crafted by Black vendors. Bruce says that one way to provide healing is to use a product that someone else handcrafted for your self-care.
Some of the challenges Bruce has faced were to be expected, like dealing with logistic and supply issues as the pandemic impacted the economy. And others were specific to Bruce’s experience as a Black woman opening up a small business, like the barriers People of Color can face to accessing capital.
But these weren’t unfamiliar problems. Growing up, Bruce watched her mother, a hairdresser in the Central District, struggle to keep her shop open as she faced rising rents due to gentrification. “I’ve learned a lot from her,” Bruce said. At one point, her mother even moved her salon to their home. “Which is a full circle moment for me because I started making candles in my kitchen, and now I’m into brick and mortar.”
Fortunately, Bruce was able to access grants and funding set up expressly to support small Black businesses. This funding allowed her to shape the space into one that fit the vibrant aesthetic of Noir Lux, including beautiful wood accents, bold artwork, and a social wall to take photos with a sign that reads “Too Lit To Quit.”
Because she knows how hard it is to build a BIPOC-owned small business, Bruce wants Noir Lux Candle Bar to be a place where others can come to build community. She envisions the growth of the space to include workshops by other artisan crafters and pop-up markets. This summer, she hopes to hold events on the building’s rooftop terrace. “I think it’s so important to have a space that is a safe space [and] … a beautiful space. Where you can come and you can feel a little bougie if you want to but you’re also just gonna feel like you’re at home.”
Patheresa Wells is a poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She currently attends Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
📸 Featured Image: Colina Bruce turned a self-care practice into an official business as Noir Lux Candle Bar in Belltown. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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