At the table with Leslie Abrams

One of the greatest perks of working with small businesses is meeting the founders, having a sense of the humanity behind each brand and, in many cases, getting to meet other entrepreneurs whose projects are equally inspiring. I met Leslie through Korie, the wonderful natural skincare creator I debuted my At The Table series with, the three of us sat for tea and cake back in the fall and since then I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with Leslie on a photoshoot and now I am excited to share more of her and her brand, Yo Soy Candle, through this piece.

Crafting candles with incredible scents and simple, yet powerful messages of intention, Leslie created Yo Soy Candle to remind people to reflect and to care for themselves. Read on to learn more about Leslie’s story and purpose.

A recap of our earlier Yo Soy Candle photoshoot may be found on our Work page.

+ Where were you born?
I was born in Chicago, Illinois. I lived in Milwaukee until I was about 8 years old, then we moved to Atlanta, where I was for most of my life but it never felt like I was from there, I always felt like a Midwesterner at heart in a way. It is funny, I don’t really relate to any place I lived in, not too deeply. I relate to Portland, a lot.

+ How long have you been in Portland?
Almost two years, it’ll be two years in April, it feels like I’ve been here for ten years, it feels very homey!

+ Do you have any family here?
No, I have a twin sister and an older brother and they both live in Atlanta. My immediate family is all in Atlanta, I escaped.

+ What do your parents do?
My mom is an entrepreneur, she’s had a very successful jewelry business for 30 years. My dad works in sales, but he’s an aspiring entrepreneur, he always wanted to work for himself; he is also a musician on the side and plays little gigs here and there, mostly for fun.

+ Why do you do what you do at Yo Soy Candle?
It is my passion and purpose to remind people to reflect and to care for themselves, to self-love and find deeper meaning everyday. To invite people to embody something that I think we all inherently want in our lives. Every time someone gets their hands on a Yo Soy Candle I think it helps imprint something in their lives, hopefully, that pushes me to get more candles to more hands, for the message to be spread. Yo Soy Candle allows me to connect with my customers through the product… and really, we are all connected anyway, so regardless of product and customer and me, the messages are something I think we all understand and crave more of.

+ What makes you wake up every day and be excited to work at Yo Soy?
You know, that’s an interesting question because it is just this thing that comes naturally to me, I definitely wanted to work for myself, I wanted to build this life of freedom and also abundance, I think with that formula we can find happiness and ease in our everyday lives. Yo Soy for me is definitely more than just a candle, there’s a lot intention, love, thought and purpose that’s put behind the product. Although it is technically my “job”, it is also a practice,  it is like a daily ritual for me to start the day with raw materials and end with a finished product.

+ Could you tell us a little more about how Yo Soy Candle came about and how it became the concept we see now?
In 2010 I took a huge career leap from esthetician to yoga instructor and I wanted to gift about 100 clients who supported me in this transition, so I decided to take up candle making. The candles turned out delicious and people wanted to actually purchase them from me! After giving it some thought, Yo Soy Candle was slowly born.

On my yoga path I became really inspired by the power of daily intention setting and mantra, that is how I got to this amazing way of blending the intention setting side of yoga with candle making.  The two came together so effortlessly that it just made sense to call it “Yo Soy” and put I AM on each candle.

I think the brand has really developed through the meaning behind each I AM statement. The affirmations are very basic, they’re things we all crave to receive and give more of.

+ What is your bestseller?
We have a candle of the month box that includes one candle, a meditation card, a journaling exercise and three tea lights, that one is very popular. We also do really well with the 4oz candle, and currently the best seller  is I AM CONNECTED, Amber & Driftwood.

+ What are your best sales channels?
We sell at a lot of craft markets, online sales are also good and what’s working really great for us right now is wholesale orders and getting into new, local shops that way.

+ How do you financially support yourself?
Yo Soy Candle. I’ve finally gotten to a place where I can pay myself a salary that I can live on every month, that was a lot of hard work getting there, especially transitioning from Atlanta to Portland. It is definitely not a ton of money but it works, I am not a big spender, I just buy myself things that keep me healthy, good quality food and shopping local are for me.

+ What has been the biggest challenge in building Yo Soy Candle?
I think getting the people of Portland to know and trust my brand after I moved here. I had a strong community in Atlanta, I knew a lot of people and I was kind of my only marketing tool, I knew my customers. Moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone made it really hard to get my brand out there, it feels easy now because I’ve built so many relationships in such a small period, but starting off I was like the new kid on the block, I was getting rejected by shops, markets, and I remember having this moment of doubt whether it is was going to work… let’s just say it took a lot of nos and a lot of maybes in order for me to push through and find a place of ease. The trust and the belief that this is what I am meant to be doing got me through, a lot of it came from confidence in myself and my brand. I love the product, I trust the product, therefore I believe other people will  too.

+ How do you stay motivated about your brand and its future?
I experienced stagnation in my early 20s and it took a lot of power and forced motivation to get out of it, I just made a promise to myself when I was about 28 to never be that person again and ever since then I strive to always try my best, move forward and do whatever I have to do to take that next step. I told a good friend  the other day that my mantra is do whatever you have to do to get that shit done, because we just go back and forth all the time, “oh but this, oh but that” and we create our own obstacles. I am interested in my obstacles, I have a practice of observing them and finding out what it is all about, then push through and push forward, rather than just sit with it for too long that it becomes my way of existing.

+ What has been the best resource in building your brand?
I think community, most of my friends here are makers too. I think building relationships with people that are doing the same thing you’re doing and also have similar goals to your goals really helps in feeling supported.

+ What is your favorite brand?
One of my favorite brands here in Portland is Honey Mama’s. Chocolate is this industry where there are a lot of options, everyone knows what it is and most people love it, I just think she does an amazing job of making it really unique with her healthy ingredients and the different flavors that she comes out with. I really respect her brand because she’s low key, creative, and the product is so simple and delicious, it doesn’t have to be really complex in order to be great

Where do you see Yo Soy Candle in the future?
Very short term, I am working on getting some Yo Soy Candle workshops going, I have one called “I AM” RITUAL at Project Object on January 25th, it’s going to be a unique experience like no other!

I am also at this sticky point right know where I’m asking myself how can I grow sustainably?, I have this awesome vision of having a team of about 5 people and we are making candles together in a beautiful warehouse. We also have a ritual and practice that we do together everyday.

That sounds idyllic, Leslie, I am sure it’ll happen! We are about to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with fellow entrepreneurs?
I just wanna say that we need to be more curious. I think curiosity, asking a lot of questions when we feel compelled to, makes a huge difference on our trajectory. I think I’ve gotten to where I am today through curiosity, because it’s gotten me the answers that I need to move forward. So don’t be scared to get rejected and possibly looked at strangely. You never know what will come from talking to people and being brave enough to JUST ASK!