Virginian Pilot Feature!
Erica Parham loves candles. She used to buy them all the time. She also used to keep getting migraines.
After being told to log her migraines, she noticed they were more frequent when she burned candles.
"I started researching what was in the paraffin wax, which is what's sold in big stores," said the 31-year-old who lives in Virginia Beach. "The toxins are everywhere, and you wouldn't know it unless you looked at the label."
There has been some debate about the idea that candles made of paraffin wax emit toxins, but Parham wasn't taking any chances, nor was she giving up her candles.
In November 2017, she took an online class and learned how to make them out of soy wax. The migraines stopped, and now she runs her own candle company called Sugar & Grace Co.
She's a one-woman shop, mixing scents like sandalwood and rose, taking photos of her products and teaching aspiring candle makers how to get started on their own.
Parham has sold more than 3,000 candles, she said.
A nurse, a mother of three boys and a military spouse, she needed flexible employment, she said. Her husband is active duty in the Navy and they move every three years.
"I needed something that's going to give me some flexibility to be able to stay home and run a business at the same time," she said. "With this, I can take it anywhere I go."
The candle debate began a few years ago. A 2009 study at South Carolina State University found that paraffin-based candles emit chemicals like toluene and benzene, which are associated with asthma, allergy issues and cancer.
After its release, John Heinze, a science consultant for the National Candle Association, fired back at the study in a letter. He said it implied that paraffin candles pose a health risk, but that's not supported by any data.
Parham swears by soy. This month, she's selling her candles at a pop-up booth in downtown Norfolk's Selden Market. She's also hosting her next Candles & Cocktails event Saturday at the Annex Collaborative Studio in Virginia Beach's ViBe District.
Participants can make candles using different fragrances while socializing and sipping cocktails. Usually 15 to 20 people show up, Parham said.
She started teaching classes in May, online and in person, to give aspiring business owners a leg up.
"People don't have access to those things right from the beginning," Parham said, reflecting on her own experience.
She has three students so far — two stay-at-home moms and a third woman who makes candles as a hobby and wants to turn it into a business. They have formed a Facebook group that's pretty supportive, she said.
"Let's just say they have a question or they're noticing a trend and they want to offer it through their business," Parham said. "It's basically a group of four that just likes to push each other along the way."
"Before I became a mom, I didn't know how much you put others in front of yourself," Parham said. "You kind of get pushed to the back burner. I want women to know that you shouldn't give up on your dreams. You can make things happen."
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sugarandgrace.co.
if you go
What: Candles & Cocktails, Virginia Beach
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Annex Collaborative Studio; 529 Virginia Beach Blvd., Suite A, Virginia Beach, 23451
Saleen Martin, 757-446-2027, email@example.com