Birdie Hansen of ‘Gifts By Birdie’ on turning a hobby into a hustle

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Birdie Hansen accidentally started a business. She began making candles as a way to pass time, and in a year of increased time at home, making sure one’s home smelled good became arguably more urgent than ever for many candle burners. Before she knew it, she’d launched Gifts By Birdie, a one-woman operation currently operating entirely online, although you can find the store‘s eccentric candles and gifts at the occasional pop-up. Hansen shares her insight on running her own business and what makes a scent so important in the Pitch’s Questionnaire.

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What started for Birdie Hansen as a fun pandemic hobby has become a booming candle and gift business, and this happened by accident. // Image courtesy of Birdie Hansen

Social media handle(s): @giftsbybirdie

Hometown: Long Island, NY

Current Neighborhood: Midtown

What’s your guilty pleasure?  Trashy television. I have just been working through so many series from start to finish. Right now I’m watching Shameless for the first time, so I can’t get enough. But I have kind of sublimated this behavior in a way where, like, I only let myself watch it when I’m working out.

Best advice you’ve ever received? Probably from an old boss, and it was to fail fast and learn quickly, which I think actually works really well as a small business owner.

What does Kansas City need more of? I guess as we come out of the pandemic, community. I think people are just really craving connection and human interaction. And I think there was plenty of it before the pandemic, but we can all use a little more love.

How did you come up with the idea for Gifts By Birdie, and when did it really get started? I used to work at Anthropologie so I have burned like a million candles in my life. And you know, the pandemic rolled around, and a lot of my previous business had to shift around. This started as like a pandemic hobby that kind of turned into an obsession of testing different fragrances and different wicks and different waxes.

And finally, in December- which is a terrible time to launch a candle business because it’s in the middle of the holidays, I highly don’t recommend that- I couldn’t process orders anymore. I was getting so many from DMs on Instagram and Facebook messages and text messages, and finally I was like, “Okay I guess I need to build a website.” So I put together a website in December, but I had been playing around with wax and candles for about a year just on my own.

What prompted out to branch out into something completely on your own? I have always kind of wanted to be my own boss. And this was, to be honest, a total accident. Like I did not mean to launch a candle brand, it just kind of happened. I was giving things away as I was testing stuff and people liked it. People kept asking, “Can I buy this?” and I was like, “No, just have it!” I just really like making it and it makes people happy.

I was making so many candles and giving them away. And you know, fragrance is a really personal thing, so I was making stuff and I was like, “I don’t know if any of this is good. I don’t know if people will like this.” So I kept giving stuff away, and people were like, “These are really good candles.” And I was like “Oh, your friends are sweet, your family is sweet,” and people were like, “No, I want to buy these as Christmas gifts. Please sell them to me.”

How have people been responding to it? It’s been awesome. It has exceeded all of my expectations. I sold out completely during Valentine’s Day, I wiped out all of my inventory. The feedback has been incredible. Just the number of people that have been supportive of candles over the past few months has been amazing.

We launched a charitable element to it, so we give 2% back to local charities. Right now it’s Harvesters and KC Pet Project, it might change over time. But it’s just like a nice little give back. We work with Daily Karma, which is an app that integrates with Shopify, so it automates the giving process. That’s been awesome.

What goes the fastest? The gift sets of travel tins are super popular. They’re a great way for people to try out multiple fragrances without before they commit to a bigger candle. And the saffron and tobacco is our best selling fragrance. It kind of smells like a warm hug.

A big part of Gifts By Birdie and the products you make is the sustainability and the eco-friendly component. What makes that an important part of what you do?  It was an important part for me just because there can be so many icky ingredients that go into candles. And being eco-friendly, you know, you’re burning something in your home so you want to make sure that the air that you’re breathing in your home is still clean and safe. I’ve got a lot of pets at home so just wanting to make sure that they’re safe and wanting to be kind to the earth.

This might be a tricky one to narrow down, but what is one candle scent that you don’t think you’d ever get tired of? That’s like asking me to choose a favorite cat! I love the saffron and tobacco, it’s just like a best friend. Like whenever you’re having a bad day, it just smells great. It makes the room smell amazing and it’s super giftable. It’s one of those fragrances that takes people by surprise, because they’re like, “I have no idea what that’s gonna smell like.” And then when they smell it, they’re like “Oh, this is actually really good.”

Categories: Questionnaire