Effing it Up: Birdie Hansen’s wicks and politics at Effing Candle Co.
To Birdie Hansen, becoming a self-made dipped-wax magnate a la Jan from The Office was not part of the plan.
“When the sourdough phase of the pandemic was winding down in summer of 2020, I needed something to do with my hands and my brain,” she says. “I used to work at Anthropologie so I have burned like a million candles in my life. This started as a pandemic hobby, then turned into an obsession of testing different fragrances, different wicks, different waxes. This was just a little arts and crafts thing for adults that I could have to keep from going insane.”
She began making a few candles for herself, branding them to moments from her life or small gestures of goodwill in the world.
“My first batch was called Warm Hugs. It’s like a sweet tobacco amber and vanilla fragrance. It smells the way a warm hug feels. And there’s a lot of nostalgia factor in there. People smell it and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this reminds me of my grandpa, because he smoked a pipe’”
As she shared images of her batches on her (once modest) social media, friends started asking if they could buy them, but Birdie insisted that they just come by and pick ‘em up for free. Then it started to spiral in scope and scale. When people started insisting that they give her money in exchange, it went overnight from a personal project to a small business.
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So what is an Effing Co. candle, and how did it lead to Birdie being voted “Best Local Maker” in The Pitch’s “Best of 2021” issue?
“I’m biased,” she says, “But I think most candles, especially novelty candles, have absolutely garbage ingredients. I probably don’t talk about the ingredient story enough, but every ingredient we choose is meant to be something you can feel good about burning in your home (biodegradable/vegan/sustainable/USA sourced wax, phthalate/paraben/cruelty-free fragrances, and FSC-certified wicks). Our candles are more fragrant than other brands to help make your house smell incredible, and our slow-burning wax will burn for around 50 hours per 7 oz. jar. Our single-ply wood wicks are all-natural. All wood used to manufacture our wooden wicks is purchased in the USA and only from mills that maintain an FSC certification and practice environmentally friendly forestry standards. All our discarded wick materials are composted.”
What does that mean to the layperson? “If these candles were a musician, they’d be Phoebe Bridgers,” she says. “They’re not for everybody, but when they’re for you? They’re for you.”
And then there are the cheeky names.
“When I was a little girl, I thought the coolest job in the whole world was naming nail polishes, so getting to create the names for the candles is a dream come true,” Birdie says. “One of my favorite scents—Rooftop Margaritas—is named after a night out during a girl’s trip to Mexico and plenty of blood orange margaritas. The scent reminds me of dancing on the table with your friends after one too many drinks.”
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Bottling up a slice of life doesn’t always mean bottling up the good things.
Last September, Birdie found out her mother died. “She’d actually died 18 months prior,” Birdie says. “She passed away and they couldn’t get in touch with the family, and if you don’t tell anyone where to look, no one goes looking.”
In recent months, her long-ailing cat Luna also passed away. As life starts to pile on, running a one-woman show becomes even more difficult.
“You’re at a pop-up and realize that you should just be at home with your cat, but you’re in a slow season and the business can’t fall apart. The next morning, your cat is dead on the kitchen floor. Thirty minutes later, you get a call that 450 pounds of wax and fragrances are about to be delivered. I’m sitting in the parlor, holding my dead cat, while my husband and our neighbors are trying to deal with pallet delivery, up the steps of a 126-year-old house, and you don’t get to pick and choose when you fall apart. You just have to keep running your business, and you have to keep living your life. And sometimes that hurts a lot.”
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“I grew up in a family that very much believed that little girls should be seen and not heard,” Birdie says. “I grew up with all of these thoughts and ideas and opinions just stuffed inside me. And they had nowhere to go. So, now when I have an opinion, they’re big. I think people want women to have small opinions. I’d rather be seen as an asshole instead of not being seen at all.”
At some point, Effing Candles pivoted hard into a lane far outside of rooftop drinks and old leather. What follows is an answer to a question no one has ever asked: How politically radicalizing can you make a smell?
After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Birdie—like most of America—was simply in awe of what a dirtbag Josh Hawley had acted on the national stage.
“I had this orange creamsicle candle that no one had pre-ordered,” Birdie explains. “I was printing labels at home and I thought it would be funny to make a candle that says ‘Josh Hawley Sucks’ and just post it online. I printed 12 labels and took a picture with my phone and just went on with my day. When I came back to Twitter, I had hundreds of likes and retweets, and my direct messages were tons of people asking how they could buy one. I panicked because there was no way I could fill these orders. I set up a pre-order page, and so many people wanted it that—that’s the point this went from a cute little hobby to a full-time job.”
As a publication, it brings us no pleasure to say this, but, “Thank you, Josh Hawley.”
“I had another fragrance sitting around that smelled like Chai, macadamia, and coconut,” she adds. “It smelled to me like sunscreen and bad decisions. And Ted Cruz had just gone on vacation in Mexico instead of keeping people in his state from freezing to death. So, the candle Cancun Cruz was born. It went viral on TikTok and… you know how Kelis’ milkshake brought all the boys to the yard? My Ted Cruz smell brought all the Democrats to the yard.”
Earlier this year, as it became obvious Roe v. Wade would be under attack from the Supreme Court, Effing Candles released a cause-based scent (with notes of eucalyptus, spearmint, and cucumber) that Birdie knew would change how she did business—and lived—moving forward. Ahead of its release, she hired a lawyer, stopped doing pick-up orders from her home, and had her address scrubbed from the internet.
The label reads “Abortion is Healthcare.” A large portion of each sale supports Planned Parenthood Great Plains. For a candle, it was not received warmly by certain groups, especially after it was retweeted by high-profile personalities like Monica Lewinsky. And then the death threats started pouring in.
“We used to have a tagline about being luxury candles with a sense of humor,” Birdie says. “But now I guess sometimes we aren’t making people laugh.”
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Can a candle make a difference? This city seems to think so. Birdie’s operation has such high demand that it has finally expanded beyond her kitchen and into a storefront at 3703 Main St.
“Our house has, since late last year, been unusable. At any given point in time, there are 1,500 glass jars, 4,000 lids, 500 pounds of wax, and 16 to 18 fragrances. Our kitchen is where we make everything and our dining room is where we keep direct-to-consumer stuff. Without the air fryer having space in the kitchen, I think we would starve.”
With Effing’s compound rate of success and expansion, even the Main Street location won’t last them long.
“I can do the projections,” Birdie explains. “In five years, there will be a warehouse. There will be full-time employees. So many other products that reflect our values. We’re currently up around 460% as a business, year over year. The numbers feel imaginary. But there’s so much going on. There’s another election in two years, and local elections long before that. There’s so much happening to people legally right now. There’s so much good we can do at now o’clock.”
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On the day this story went to press, Birdie arrived at her store to discover that it had been broken into during the night. “I wanted a space that was a little open and airy, but this is ridiculous,” she posted on social media, captioning a photo of all the glass windows fully smashed to bits on the street.
When asked if they took anything from the new shop, Birdie responds, “They didn’t take any candles. Honestly, I’m most hurt by that. Why wouldn’t you take a candle? They’re really good candles!”
Sweeping up the glass from inside her unairconditioned studio while cracking jokes, you can see why it would be impossible to stop Birdie Hansen from being out here, constantly Effing it up.