Sharing Our Stories: Stories from our Alumnae Community

Cropped Tatianna Amatruda 17Tatianna Amatruda ’17 majored in journalism and media studies. She served as the student liaison to the AADC Board of Directors. A California native, she lives in Los Angeles, where she is the social media editor at E! Entertainment at NBCUniversal Media, LLC, in Beverly Hills. Here is her story, shared on November 4, 2020.

At the beginning of quarantine, my boyfriend and I decided this was the perfect time to start a business. We live together in Los Angeles and we each have a similar entrepreneurial spirit in the way that we’re scrappy problem solvers and are attracted to the autonomy and creativity that comes with owning your own business. On a Sunday night in early April, we sat down, poured a few glasses of wine, and had a casual brainstorm session. We tossed around a bunch of ideas but wanted to choose one to focus on, and that’s how our candle business, Wicks and Tricks, was born.

The first thing everyone says when I’m talking about our little wax babies is, “I love candles. I’m such a candle person.” I think it’s kind of funny to call yourself a “candle person” because most people love candles. I love them as much as the next person, and it occurred to me that during the quarantine, when everyone was so stressed out, pretty candles with special scents might bring a little joy and relaxation into people’s lives.

My focus was initially to make the labels cute, clever and classy. Our scents are phenomenal and distinct, but the sort of “wow factor” that sets them apart is the labels. Many candles will often just list the scent, and I wanted ours to have a personality of their own. We offer a wide variety of original names, such as “I’m Not That Innoscent,” “Cheaper Than Therapy,” or “Home Scent Home.”

Once we got more into the weeds of planning our business, the scents and ingredients became really important to us. We did extensive online research to find a local manufacturer in Laguna Beach that makes hand-poured soy wax candles without parabens and sulfates. The manufacturing is ecologically sound from start to finish, and the candles themselves come in recycled glass tumblers with unbleached cotton wicks.

Knowing that the pandemic would no doubt slow us down, we tried to hit the ground jogging instead of running. I want to make it clear from the beginning that this has been entirely self-funded. We took some of our savings and put it into the business. I think that’s important to mention up front because it costs a lot of money to start a business in America. It’s a ton of number crunching, which leads me to the most intimidating part of all this: paperwork. Administrative work is my biggest nightmare, and there are a lot of rules and regulations that you have to know in order to do things like file taxes properly and legally run a business in California.

I started by filing my DBA (“doing business as”) and it ended up taking almost two months to process due to COVID-19, which impeded our launch. We used that time to strategize and find a trusted, local manufacturer. During that time, we called and emailed a bunch of candlemakers in the area to ask about pricing, ingredients and everything in between. Since I couldn’t go to meet them in person, I ordered sample fragrance kits and ended up choosing a manufacturer about an hour away. After that, we worked with an amazing graphic designer via email to create our labels and got our first batch of candles!

We work in our apartment, so it has been convenient, but cluttered, having candles all over the place. It’s challenging not to have a designated space to store everything or an office, but the apartment smells amazing at all times so I won’t complain about that.

I’ve also been balancing Wicks and Tricks with working a full-time job at E! Entertainment. I knew it would be tiring, and it definitely is. For anyone trying to juggle starting a business with a full-time job, it’s clear that you have to set aside dedicated time for your business. I like to wake up early to handle packing and shipping out orders, but sometimes I’ll manage things after work, too. It’s about balance. I realized I’d have to sacrifice other things I want to do, like cooking, working out and reading. When I finally do have time, I’m usually really tired and want to watch TV – and that’s okay, too, for now because I’m committing myself to two jobs; three if you count being a dog-mom.

Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about how to scale up and meet larger wholesale type demands. That’s been the most challenging part of this whole experience because we have to make money from our sales and partnerships, since it takes money to make money, as the saying goes. Our target audience is mainly women and we’re aiming to work with female-focused brands and shops. Right now, we’re reaching out to influencers to help grow our social audience and to local shops for an in-person retail experience. We’ve got big plans and huge goals to hit. Eventually, we’d love to sell soaps, diffusers and other knick-knacks that fit within the scope of home decor. It’s a lot of cold emails, phone calls and even bringing our candles to shops. And honestly, it’s been such fun. We’ve already met a ton of amazing people who want to help and are interested in bulk orders.

We launched Wicks and Tricks in August and since then we’ve sold out of our inventory, got approved to sell in local farmer’s markets, are in talks for partnerships and started offering custom labels for events and companies who need larger orders.

I won’t say that it hasn’t been challenging and we’ve made a thousand mistakes – big and small – but we’re learning new things almost every day. It’s like going to business school in your pajamas. Candles have taken up an absurd portion of our daily dialogue and brain space, but we truly love it. Never in a million years did I think I’d get excited to go to the post office. I always joke that my boyfriend is my intern and I’m the CEO, but I really couldn’t have done it without him. I’m so excited to continue having an unhealthy obsession with candles, the postal service, and packaging – pandemic or no pandemic!

You can also find Tatianna’s business at wickstrickscandles on Instagram and wicksticks on Facebook.

Click here for links to all Sharing Our Stories