January Creative Spotlight: Evil Queen Candle's Ida-Sofia Koivuniemi Talks Scaling Up & Transparency
The first Wednesday of the New Year gave me a chance to interview someone I’ve admired a lot from afar - the owner and creator of Evil Queen candles, Ida-Sofia Koivuniemi. Evil Queen candles are made here in Los Angeles with hand designed labels and thoughtful, interesting, and oftentimes sassy names and scents. These aren’t your typical candles.
I don’t remember how I found them - probably on Instagram somehow - but I bought my first candles when they had an open house at the warehouse in Downtown LA (that they’ve since moved from to a bigger one!). I got to meet Ida and hear all about how they’re hand poured, with 100% soy wax and vegan scents. They’re clearly lovingly made, and the scent combinations and often hilarious labels are what them mak so unique. Evil Queen is truly one of my favorite local businesses.
Ida, naturally, was one of the first people that I wanted to interview for this ongoing series, and I am so excited that she said yes to answering my questions about her and her process. She and the team have always been transparent with everything that goes on in the warehouse, including some particularly 2020 obstacles, and I jumped at the chance to dig deeper into some of that with her, as well as what keeps her going running a small business in this day and age!
ARA: I have been a fan of Evil Queen for so long, but for those that are just learning about you and your business, what was the journey like getting to the beginning of Evil Queen? How did it start, what was the spark that told you this might be something?
ISK: You’re so kind, thank you! I officially started EQ back in April of 2016, but it was an idea for at least a half a year before that. I had kind of an ‘aha’ moment and realized people weren’t making funny candles at the time and decided I should give it a shot, never anticipating EQ would get as big as it has! I worked near a bath and body works at the time and I guess it implanted into my brain how much people like candles.
ARA: How easy or difficult do you find it to stay creative within the company - you design all the labels yourself, and have shared your calligraphy in the past on Instagram that goes into them, as well as creating the scent combinations - especially going into the possible upcoming rebrand?
ISK: I think for the most part it’s pretty easy since EQ is a true extension of me. As you said, it’s my handwriting, drawings, etc. Sometimes with things like the subscription box we used to have it became difficult to keep coming up with new scents and labels, but now it just feels like a process I’m used to and decent at! With the possibility of a rebrand it’s scary but exciting — and I think it’s the excitement that makes it easier for me to be creative. If I’m not excited about creating it feels stagnant and like a job, and I don’t want that.
ARA: Piggybacking off of that, how easy or difficult do you find it to stay creative in general? What do you do to replenish your well to keep going?
ISK: I think we all have our ‘meh’ days, but the more I just stick to something the more creative I feel. I really believe in that quote (I can’t remember it exactly) but the more you keep being creative, the more ideas and creativity you’ll get. It doesn’t dry up, you exercising that muscle makes it stronger. If I take a lot of time off doing the creative stuff it sometimes feels hard to get back into it, but just trying to destress generally helps me. I feel pretty creative by nature, and I’m grateful for that.
ARA: Evil Queen has gone through so many different changes over the years, how did you know it was time to start scaling up from just yourself? What has that process been like (including all the drama of 2020, haha).
ISK: I knew I needed help when I was sitting on my living room floor trying to box 800 candles that I had just made over a few weeks in my kitchen alone. It was my first big order (for Nasty Gal) and I was like.. okay, I can’t do this alone. That’s when I first invited Kylie to come help me and I’m fortunate that four years later she still works for EQ! I think when things feel extremely overwhelming and you have the means to even introduce a little help, it’s worth it. You start to realize that by delegating tasks you actually end up being able to do more, sell more, etc. Things are a little different now with a larger staff, but the concept is still the same. Things run smoothly when everyone does their work and when everyone is trusted to do their jobs correctly. As far as 2020 goes, we were definitely tested with a bunch of challenges, supplier issues, etc. But part of owning a business is solving problems, so I got to exercise that muscle a lot last year.
ARA: What are some of your goals for Evil Queen going forward? Small and big? And personal goals that might relate to your creative processes, or for Evil Queen?
ISK: One of my biggest goals (probably not surprisingly haha) is to grow EQ! I want everyone who wants a candle to be able to get one. Our current location somewhat prohibits that, so I’m working on expanding in a manageable and safe way. Obviously more stores carrying EQ would be great also. As far as personal goals, I think I need to learn how to chill out! I’m literally always working, and it definitely annoys the people in my life and even me haha. I’d like to learn how to really take a break.
ARA: What are some rituals or processes that you do to help motivate yourself towards those goals?
ISK: I’m big on affirmations, manifesting, visualization. I find if I’m in a good, grateful headspace, good things happen. I try to just tackle things one day at a time and trust that it’ll all sort itself out in the end.
ARA: You and the team have always been super transparent with consumers about what goes on behind the scenes, and it's helped create a close community on Facebook and other social media platforms - was that something you intended to do from the get go or did it develop naturally as you grew the company?
ISK: I had no idea when I started EQ that things would get as big as they are — especially the fb group! I think it’s incredible that there are people out there who like EQ that much, and I feel very fortunate. But like you said, I try to be very transparent and I think people gravitate to that because not many people do that in business. I like letting everyone know that, hey, there’s real people here behind these screens and emails and we’re making these by hand so please give us a little grace. If that’s not your jam, maybe EQ isn’t the company for you, and that’s okay too. It’s important for me to connect with my customers personally and have them know who is running this thing, because I like knowing that about companies I purchase from.
ARA: What are some of your favorite things to do to keep you balanced outside of work, especially in this really difficult year?
ISK: As I mentioned earlier, I’m pretty creative and like doing all sorts of creative things. Writing poetry is a big love of mine. Also painting, singing, playing the piano. Something I got into this year was sailing which helped clear my mind and release some of the stress of 2020 (and I definitely needed that)
ARA: What would you tell someone looking to start their own small business, or struggling with doubts and fears going into creative entrepreneurship?
ISK: My best advice is to just remember: there’s no one else out there like you. Yes, there may be other candles companies or jewelry companies or whatever it is you’re starting. There’s millions of books written but that doesn’t mean people have stopped writing books. Your unique voice is what will make your company stand out. So don’t think too hard about what other people do. Believe in yourself and your ideas and you’ll find the people that resonate with that. And be patient! Even ‘overnight successes’ don’t actually happen overnight or even over a year. Things take longer than you’d think.
You can follow Evil Queen on Instagram and join their Facebook group to get more information about the candles, the company, and the community. You can follow Ida's personal Instagram here, too. Even though a couple are sold out - you should sign up for the restock notifs! - I recommend Stolen Hoodie for a warm masculine scent, Can't Adult Today because it LITERALLY smells like Froot Loops, and of course her 2020-scent-in-a-candle What A Shit Show for a clean, sweet, and gently fruity scent!