Photos by Emily Sobecki
Walking inside Kristin Bivens’ whimsical Niles home, the sweet smell of lemon and lavender washes over you as you are greeted by a big fluffy cat and then Kristin, readying her creative space for the candle-making day ahead.
Though Kristin has a full-time day job at a nonprofit in southwest Michigan, her entrepreneurial spirit is what lights her fire. Having tried other crafting businesses, one landing her a 4,000-piece order of one-of-a-kind wooden spoons for Sarah Michelle Gellar, she says her Wicked Pop candle-making business has undoubtedly been her most successful.
A self-described creative soul, Kristin laughs when asked why she thinks her candle-making company has been so popular.
“I just do random crap, and thankfully people like it,” she says.
There’s more to Kristin than “random crap.” From the thousands of spoons she created specifically for Sarah Michelle Gellar’s brand in 2016, to the 1,000 candles she churned out for a gift box company, Kristin is a crafty force to be reckoned with.
For Kristin, her love of candle-making began with an introduction to the science of it all, from an Indiana-based fragrance/essential company perfumer. Kristin worked for the company in their marketing department and was able to learn from the perfumer the art of combining scents and waxes to create a candle.
Thus began her love for the art of candle-making, and soon after, Wicked Pop was born.
Kristin laughs at her own cleverness as she explains how she came up with the name of her candle company, combining her love of pop culture and arguably the most important part of the candle — the wick.
“I love TV and movies,” Kristin explains. “I chose ‘wicked’ because of the wick and ‘pop’ because of pop culture.”
The candles are creatively named after her favorite TV shows, lines from movies and iconic pop culture references.
Customers can choose from the Harry Potter inspired “I Suspect Nargles.” As Kristin explains on her Etsy page, “Luna Lovegood may be the only one that really likes dirigible plums, but now that you’ll actually get a chance to smell them you might just fall in love with their tart, grapefruit fresh fragrance.”
For those looking to celebrate a long-time friendship, Kristin summons her inner Golden Girls with “Thank You for Being a Friend,” which, according to the young candle-maker, “smells like old ladies, but in a totally good way.”
Being a small-batch manufacturer has its advantages for Kristin, as she is able to handle most special requests with no upcharge. Her favorite special request was a lemonade scented candle she made for a Beyonce lover.
When Kristin was approached by the subscription box company to make 1,000 candles that would be featured in their fall box, named “I Need a Nap,” she was excited, but hesitant. Making that many candles in her kitchen would take some trial and error — and organization — but she was ready for the task.
The company, named Smart A** and Sass, is full of the same quirkiness and snarkiness as Wicked Pop, so for Kristin this was her chance to get in on this coveted market.
Kristin decided on an apple cider scented candle, she titled “Yes to Staying in More,” that gives a nod to pop culture icon Tina Fey’s famous 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon.
The 1,000-candle sale gave her the ability to build up inventory — buy supplies and make more candles. Often Kristin is making candles when they are ordered, rather than being able to make them ahead, and this will change that.
Making the candles is relatively simple now, but has taken some trial and error on Kristin’s part to ensure the candle burns evenly, maintains the quality she expects throughout the life of the candle and holds up in shipping.
Kristin turns her little kitchen into a makeshift manufacturing facility and sets about her business of making candles, explaining each step along the way.
“You can’t just throw any amount of wax into any jar with any wick. You want the candle to burn all of the wax out of the candle,” she says. “It’s a bit of science to have the right size jar with the right amount of wax and the right size wick — that way the candle burns evenly to the bottom, not leaving any wax on the sides, allowing a clean candle burn.”
Currently, all of the candles are white because adding color adds another factor to the burning equation. The color makes the wax burn differently and the wick needs to be re-tested with each color.
Kristin has tested each size candle with their wicks prior to making batches to be sure the candles will all burn the same in the jars.
It’s easy to see the love she has for her wicked creations, and all things pop culture. She is a believer in small-town businesses and keeping manufacturing local.
Ultimately, her goal would be to run an arts and crafts type store in downtown Niles — a place where people can buy paint or scrapbook supplies, and also purchase funky gifts.
“I really love those type of weird, quirky stores that sell hand-made things and have a passion for keeping things local,” Kristin says.
Even in a world where brick and mortar stores seem to be giving way to the online industry, Kristin still sees a need for this niche store and fulfilling her dream.
“I feel like the downtown area is coming up with what’s happening there, so I feel like now might be a good time,” she says.
For now, Kristin will continue to set up manufacturing in her cozy kitchen, and produce her one-of-a-kind creations, which can be purchased locally at The Brass Eye in Niles, Deck the Halls in Dowagiac, or online at her Etsy store.