Maker Spotlight: Wildwood Candle Co.
There’s something inherently calming about breathing in the crisp, fresh forest air. And if you've ever wished you could invite nature’s fragrance home for the holidays, Kylie Antolini has just the thing. Inspired by Portland's 5,300-acre nature preserve, Forest Park, Wildwood started where Kylie's passion for trail running and homewares intersect.
Hand-poured in her home studio, each candle is thoughtfully developed to capture the real-life aroma of the trail and features a wood-burning wick with a charming crackle reminiscent of a campfire. Finding ourselves enamored with Kylie’s pioneer spirit and story, we caught up with her to hear about Wildwood's beginnings, her top candle burning tips, and what makes a wood wick special.
Could you tell us a bit about your background? How did Wildwood Candle Co. begin?
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with candles. The design, function, and scents that other brands would come out with would inspire me to keep purchasing them to enjoy.
"I wanted to create a line of nature-inspired candles that were fueled by my love of trail running in one of my favorite places — Forest Park."
Given that this was getting to be quite expensive over time, I decided to finally register for a local candle making class at the end of 2016 to figure out how to make them myself. I was immediately drawn to the process; the scent formulation, science, and art that goes into making a candle spoke to me. I couldn’t contain my excitement and felt so passionately about this idea.
Not only do you know a lot about candles, but you also seem to know a lot about Forest Park and the history of each trail! How did your love for the outdoors influence your brand?
When I moved to Portland in 2012, I was astounded to discover an urban park with over 75 miles of trails right in the heart of the city. I distinctly recall my first Forest Park experience: I wrote down directions to run from Leif Erikson to Wild Cherry, to Wildwood, and then down to Firelane 1. I took a few “wrong turns” but told myself that one day, I would know the park so well that I would have my own mental map memorized over time. It has taken over 8 years, but I now have a pretty good feel for where all the trails are in the park.
Forest Park has over 70 miles of trails for hikers to enjoy (via Portland Monthly)
Portland is lucky to have access to the endless possibilities of Forest Park, including the 30-mile-long Wildwood trail. Every quarter-mile of Wildwood, a blue diamond is marked on the bark of the tree to indicate “progress” and that you are still on track. The diamond shape inspired the design of my labels, and the wooden wicks brought a unique nature-inspired element. Being blessed with a sensitive sense of smell (for better or worse), I’ve always been drawn to very earthy, organic, non-department store smells. I loved the idea of telling a story through scent, inspired by Forest Park.
All of your candles are hand-poured in Portland, Oregon. Could you share more about the candle-making process from initial inspiration to final production?
All candles are hand-made and hand-poured from start to finish in the heart of my home basement. I touch every single aspect of creating each candle. Most of my scent formulations were mentally formed as I spent time running in the park. I would jot down notes on my phone whenever inspiration struck. From there, I would research and test fragrance oils that evoked the scent combination I had envisioned. After many months of testing and tweaking, I start producing labels and making batches between 60-100 candles.
From there, I work on the final touches – remelting the tops for an even surface, cleaning up wax drippings, trimming the wicks, then topping them off with a protective dust cover. Finally, I inspect each candle for quality. Soy wax has many variations from batch to batch (sometimes producing cosmetic irregularities), but it's also how consumers can trust they are getting a soy candle! It isn’t always perfect, but it’s so much more sustainable for the consumer and planet.
What makes a wooden wick special?
Several years ago, wooden wicks were very unusual to find in the candle world. I purchased my first wood-wicked candle at a home goods store many years ago and fell in love with the inventive and comforting crackling sound. Once I decided to create a candle business of my own, I knew I wanted to set my brand apart — I didn’t want to look like another mass-produced Target candle.
I wanted the story behind the candles to reflect in the design and vice-versa. Although wooden wicks do have their quirks (they have more variations than cotton wicks and require a LOT of trial testing to ensure a proper burn), they contribute an aesthetically pleasing nature and forest element to the design. Wooden wicks have also become a part of my brand identity: making a riff of “wild (burning) wood." The ethical supplier I source from also gives back to Trees For The Future by planting trees and offering educational opportunities for women. It’s a win-win.
All of Wildwood's candles are inspired by the real-life scents of Forest Park. Do you forage items to create such unique fragrances?
Each trail name inspires the color of the label and what the candle will smell like. Starting with the blue Wildwood trail marker, I repeated the theme of colored labels for other trail scents. For example, the Maple trail makes me think of the changing fall color palette. So, it is a burnt-orange color with scent notes of sweet potato, nutmeg, and maple syrup.
"Forest Park is a lush blanket of green — moss, ferns, fir. So, it contains notes of oak, moss, mint, and amber."
I wish I could say I create my own scents from scratch, but sustainability-wise, it would not be great to forage from the park. I use clean, safe scents that are free of phthalates, carcinogens, mutagens, and other toxic chemicals that are formulated for optimal candle performance.
Candles often facilitate a restful and relaxing atmosphere. I think we could all agree that taking time to rest and reset is an important part of mental health (especially these days!). What's one thing you’ve been doing to take time for yourself?
Absolutely! A restful, recharging atmosphere is what I 100% encourage with bringing these candles into your home. Even though I juggle a full-time job as a dental hygienist while building my candle business, finding the time for fun and relaxation is crucial to prevent burnout. To be honest, what helps me most is spending time running in Forest Park whenever I can (not to be predictable!). It’s a bit more challenging during these Covid times, so I try to time it strategically when it’s less busy and then come home to a hot Epsom salt bath with candles, of course!
Finally, do you have any projects on the horizon you’d like to share?
As of right now, my primary focus is strategically scaling up and trying to hire my first employee. I’m always wanting to launch a new scent but also try to restrain myself as to not run through all the trails (no pun intended)! Holding steady with nine scent offerings while also maintaining existing collaborations with Schoolhouse and Pip’s Original Donuts is the perfect amount to handle at the moment. I am excited to see what future opportunities will come down the pipeline and am so grateful for the local businesses I’ve had the pleasure to work with so far. It’s been an amazing adventure.
Wildwood’s Tips For Burning Wood-Wicked Candles:
Wooden wicks burn differently than cotton—treat it like a burning fire.
Hold the candle at an angle when lighting; contact the wick with flame for at least 5-10 seconds.
Upon first lighting, allow the wax melt pool to reach the edge of glass before extinguishing to prevent wax tunneling. This may take at least 2-3 hours.
Before each use, trim excess burnt wood on wick to 1/8-1/4”. This is very important! If not properly trimmed, the wick may not light, or the flame may be too high.
If you notice the flame height getting too low after burning for an extended amount of time, it may be necessary to snap off any excess ash or burnt wood along the top of the wick. The flame will then return to its proper optimal height.
Please recycle! Wait for the wax to cool and re-solidify after the last burn (when you have about 1/2" left). Using a spoon or butter knife, gently lift and scoop the wax (soy is soft and easy to remove) from the bottom of the glass while standing over a trash can. Metal wick tabs may be dislodged by lifting with a utensil as well. Wash remaining residue with hot, soapy water, and/or through your dishwasher.
Photos courtesy of Kylie Antolini & Forest Park Conservancy