Mother-Son Duo Turns Pandemic Hobby into Successful Business

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The pair find structure and stress relief in their soy candle company, Joe’s Wax

By Shane Snider | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Joe Branan has a critical nose.

If he doesn’t like a scent shared by Laura Branan, Joe’s Wax chief financial officer and his mom, he offers up a simple “eww,” rejecting the prospect of a new candle. Joe started making candles with Laura in 2020 after COVID-19 shut down Carrboro High School. Laura says she found the activity online and thought it would be a good way to bring some structure back to Joe’s day during those early months of pandemic lockdown. 

Since then, the duo has churned out hundreds of candles and created a full-fledged business – selling both online and in stores. As CEO, Joe helps with every step of the process and hand writes the company logo and scent on each candle jar.

“At first, we were just looking for a hands-on task – something to fill the day,” Laura says. “I thought it would be a fun afternoon project for Joe. So, we ordered a kit, and he just loved it. We thought we’d just give them away to family and friends at first. Then we put them on Facebook, and friends were telling us we should sell them. So I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Joe uses a infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of the candle wax
Joe uses a infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of the wax

Soon the Branans’ dining room would become a manufacturing and shipping facility. “As it turned out, Joe has this really cool handwritten font. So, he labels everything with a Sharpie in different colors,” Laura says. “And he has a great memory, so he knows all the steps to make the candles. It’s just been a great activity for him.”

Asked which candles were his favorites, Joe says, “Sea Salt and English Garden.”

For Laura, the candle-making venture has made a difference to Joe, who is on the autism spectrum. “It’s had an impact,” she says. “We’re working well together. And I was inspired because he was so proud of himself. That was reason enough to keep it going. I think it gave him confidence. And then he was learning skills and learning to think about what other people might like.”

Joe graduated from CHS last spring, and Laura says the candle business continues to add structure to his life.

With 20 different scents and orders coming in from across the state, the duo keeps busy with the business. But being busy is good, Laura says. “The pandemic and school closing was stressful for him,” Laura says. “This was a way to express himself and ease his anxiety.”

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Chapel Hill Magazine

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