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Life and Work with Kristina Kochan Wingrove

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristina Kochan Wingrove.

Kristina, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
It was all by accident, really. I studied Italian language and Fashion Merchandising at the university. Graduating into a job market that was not quite what I had hoped for, I took the first job I was offered. I had always expected to work a corporate life considering my industry, but my short-lived experience at a massive shoe company taught me a quick lesson in how awful it could be. There was a huge lack of transparency and rumors of horrible working conditions in foreign factories. I couldn’t fake being okay with that. I lasted two weeks. They begged me to stay which only made me feel like it was worse than I could have imagined and they were desperate. I left with no idea what I would do next. I was distracting myself with a craft store run on my first unemployed day when a small brand I had interned with called to see if I was available for hire and could help open their first brick and mortar location. I agreed, feeling like fate had more to do with it than I could understand.

Working with that small business to launch was a critical experience that I think has really aided in my success so far. While my Fashion degree was really just a glorified and more fun business degree, there is no comparison to real world experience and application of things you read in a classroom. Still, she could only afford to hire me part-time which meant a lot of time on my hands to reflect on my disappointment about not having tons of money or the glamorous, high-energy job I had expected myself to have.
One day, likely out of copious amounts of free time, I read the label on my favorite lip balm. I didn’t understand half of the ingredients and started reflecting on the differences between big brands and small ones and the need for more transparency for customers. I daydreamed about being able to shop for products and not have to scrutinize the back label to make sure I wasn’t using something toxic. I decided to try to make my own lip balms. I didn’t want to use the one I had anymore and didn’t feel like I could trust that brand.

My first batch came out perfectly. I passed a few out to family and friends and soon they were begging to buy some. I launched my first Etsy shop in summer 2013 under the name Homegrown. The interest in my lip balms was growing and I decide if I was going to stick with this, I needed to refine the brand into something that better represented by aesthetic and brand and could also last. It was around this same time that I made a big batch of lip balms with an incorrect measurement of an ingredient. I couldn’t bear the thought of it going to waste so I found an old jar in the cupboard, put a wick in it, and made my first candle.

The light bulb moment went off minutes after lighting it. Adding candles would diversify my customer base as well as expand it. So, I started studying. After two months of studying, reading, and experimenting, I poured my first set of candles that went for sale. Now, I’ve been in business for nearly 5 years and am in over 25 stores nationwide. Sometimes things just happen for a reason!

Has it been a smooth road?
When people ask what I do and I tell them I’m a small business owner, their first reaction is always, “Wow! That’s so cool!” What people often forget is what it means to be a small business owner. I am first a wife, a daughter, a dog mother, a friend…then, I am a creative director, accountant, manufacturer, shipper, manager, and more. Owning your own business is HARD work, especially if you’re the only one in the company. Every single task falls on my shoulders. It’s a lot and sometimes it’s devastatingly hard. It’s also difficult to not take everything personally. My first few craft shows were rough. I tried my best not to cry through them but definitely cried afterward. People of the public don’t always understand what goes into the making of the product. I would have women come to my booth and smell a candle or two and then say, seemingly purposefully loud enough for me to hear: “Ew, that’s gross.” My husband would pat my back and remind me that 10 other people had not only praised but purchased said “gross candle,” but I felt personally attacked. By year three, those comments just started completely rolling off. I had to build my confidence in my product and myself. For me, coming up with a work-life balance was critical to my business’s success. I work normal working hours (except for the holiday season, of course) and occasional weekend dates for events or candle workshops. If you burn yourself out, you cannot grow.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Wilderess – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I hand make candles, lip balms, and reed diffuser home fragrances. One of my motivations when I was first starting out as a poor college graduate was to create a brand of affordable luxury. That meant high-quality products, clean and simple design, and a price tag that felt like you were treating yourself without breaking the bank. I’m known most for my clean-burning and long lasting soy candles. All parts are non-toxic and I work hard to create fragrances that fill the room without being overwhelming. I make products that I want to use. My other main motivation was about transparency with my customers. I outline each ingredient of my products on my website giving a definition, description, and/or purpose so that they can fully understand the products their buying and using.

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Image Credit:

Preston Wingrove

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