Columbus candle maker growing business through relationships

Steve Wartenberg
For Columbus CEO
Johnaka Young is founder of Atmosphere Candles

Johnaka Young’s new, entrepreneurial life began late at night, while she slept, perhaps dreaming of candles.

“I woke up one morning [in late 2019], and the first thing I started thinking about was making candles,” Young says. “It must have been from a dream. Which is bizarre, because I wasn’t a candle person.”

Her dream quickly turned into an action plan. Young spent the next several hours on the internet watching how-to videos on the craft of candle making.

Now, almost two years after her awakening, Atmosphere Candles is a growing business. Young, 42, also has launched a line of lip balms and is forming a guild to help other women, especially single mothers and women of color, promote their homemade products.

Move to Prosper gives Young support to dream

Young, a single mother of two girls, Giada and Giselle (now 14 and 12), worked for Dublin Cleaners as a customer service manager in 2019. She was then accepted into the Move to Prosper pilot program, a collaboration between Ohio State University’s City and Regional Planning program and community organizations, led by Amy Klaben.

Ten women, all single moms, were given financial assistance to help them afford apartments in one of four communities with high-ranking schools: Gahanna, Dublin, Olentangy and Hilliard. The women also received life coaching and help integrating their children into their new schools and neighborhoods.

It was a life and a career changer for Young and her daughters, who moved from Galloway to Dublin. “I was always stressed out [in Galloway],” she says. “I needed some help, [the girls] were bullied on their way to school, it was a violent neighborhood.”

The girls began to thrive in Dublin. And so did Young.

“What we’ve found is that it all comes back to safety and feeling secure about your kids,” Klaben says. “Once you’re in a safe place, that opens up your ability to focus on yourself and taking risks that you otherwise never would have taken. Johnaka and her family have blossomed, and Johnaka worked really hard to create her new career path.”

Paraffin-free, Columbus-made candles

It took about a year and several waxy trials for Young to perfect her candle-making skills and turn her side hustle into a full-fledged business. “It was a lot of testing, learning about wax and over 100 different fragrances, dozens of wicks and different containers,” she says. “Blending fragrances is a little bit of science and a little bit of art.”

The formula Young settled on uses vegetable-based waxes that don’t contain paraffin because “they burn much cleaner.” All her scents are created with essential oils, and the wicks are 100-percent cotton, which she says creates a cleaner flame.

Sales were slow at first, two or three orders a week. The tipping point came when Young set up a booth at the Westgate Farmers Market. “I ended up selling over $400 worth of candles in three hours,” she says. “From there things skyrocketed.”

Kittie’s Cakes, which has shops in German Village and Bexley, wanted a candle that “captured the essence” of the bakeries, says Angela Edgemon, multimedia designer of Together & Co., which owns and operates the bakeries. “We searched [online] and talked to people, and that’s how I found Johnaka.”

Young created sample scents for Kittie’s to choose from, and the winner was smoked vanilla with cinnamon bread pudding. “She nailed it, people love them, they create the coziest, warmest feeling,” Edgemon says.

Other wholesale customers arrived via word of mouth, including Salon 12 and Fitness Loft of Columbus. She created two candles for the gym: a wet moss and fern blend, and a bergamot and cotton combination.

Young recently began a full-time job as a disability claims adjuster for the state. In her off hours, with the girls chipping in, she’s hard at work making and marketing candles.

“Every day I wake up excited,” Young says. Her line of lip balm has made its debut, and the Five Senses Guild, a collective for women crafters she founded, is coming together.

“From day one of Move to Prosper, I knew I had to do whatever I could to be successful so the program could continue. There are always people out there who are forgotten, and they get stuck there. They just need an opportunity.”

And a dream.

Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.

Atmosphere Candles

Business: Maker of scented candles and lip balm.

Based: Dublin

Founder: Johnaka Young

Revenue: Would not disclose