by Sabine Rhyne
Snowflakes were swirling around the metal building just north of Hyde Park, VT, where Way Out Wax makes and distributes their candle line. The front door opened into the staff kitchen, a large room with a very large table in the center, where Anna Barrett, the general manager of the company, was heating up a cup of tea.
After visiting so many local companies and so many diverse product lines, it is difficult to describe a “typical” workplace. But this one, with the kitchen at the center, Anna and Jim’s new baby in the office, and one of the salespeople’s dog happily coming through to check out the visitor, has an employee-centric Vermont feel to it.
“We employ twelve people, sometimes two to three more during the busy seasons,” says Anna. “This company was built around quality of life for our employees—we are the masters of flexible schedules!”
Way Out Wax, not too surprisingly, grew out of founder Jim Rossiter’s idea to make colorful tie-dyed candles, including a retail outlet for customers to dip their own. Eventually, the practice of this particular colorful candle-making seemed curiously out of sync with the environmental and health values of the staff. Candle ingredients often contain toxins that are both released when burned, and are worrisome to work with.
So, about fifteen years ago, Way Out Wax began specializing in candles that rely exclusively on essential oils—real ones, not chemical synthetic facsimiles. This decision meant that they turned away some opportunities, including private label business, (eight years ago they decided they wouldn’t even let in synthetics for private label customers). But they felt the values—and the differentiation—were worth the risk.
Since the candle industry is not required to label its ingredients, even some candle manufacturers that profess their use of essential oils may only have a few drops to supplement the predominance of synthetic fragrances. As you might guess, essential oils are more expensive to use than their synthetic counterparts, but like most quality products, the education that Way Out Wax imparted to their retail buyers and their online customers began to take hold. For some prone to allergic reactions to scented candles, the difference in the effects of those made with essential oils rekindled their interest in scents, and expanded the possibilities. Anna estimates that 90% of their business comes through retail outlets such as the Brattleboro Food Co-op, with a growing percentage finding them through their online catalog.
Anna says that Way Out Wax selects the best oils it can find, free of pesticides and herbicides, from across the world. Like any agricultural product, these oils’ availability and cost depend on environmental factors. Lavender, for instance, though having relatively constant numbers of acres in production, saw a decrease in oil yield following a hot summer. Patchouli from Indonesia took a hit from the terrible tsunami that impacted so many several years ago. Like any manufacturer, Way Out Wax attempts to absorb these as much as possible, while remaining committed to its ingredient philosophy.
Always looking for ways to lessen environmental impacts, Way Out Wax packages all of its candles with re-used newspapers, and fewer wrappings. They also have begun to carry candles poured into molded mycelium containers. This innovative process involves the vegetative part of the mushroom being grown into a votive-shaped mold form. There are very low inputs, they grow in the dark, are fully compostable, and naturally fire-retardant. The only drawback at this point is the cost, which they are exploring.
Some of the most popular items that the Brattleboro Food Co-op carries from Way Out Wax are the Clean Air tins: small, self-contained candles-on-the-go that almost magically eliminate odors in a space with their oil combination proven to synergistically bond with odor molecules. Both the pet and tobacco industry have taken notice. Other popular selections include the NonScents line, made with long burning wax blends and no essential oils, the beautiful Cobalt and Frosted Glass votives, and the captivating Laughing Buddha.Cori was freeing a bunch of Laughing Buddhas from their molds the day I was there. “They take a lot of TLC,” she said, popping one out of its re-useable popcorn tub. Look for them on the shelves: they will make you smile for sure."