TRUCKEE, Calif. — The soft music calmed the massage room and the flame from the candles on the corner table gave the room a warm glow.
As Holly Redpath applied oil to her patient and began to relax herself, she spotted a sinister stain on the ceiling — a growing circle of soot was making itself visible.
“I was using Yankee (candles) and I knew better,” Redpath recalled of candles’ paraffin wax effects. “It was a wake-up call.”
That wake-up call was what led Redpath to begin creating homemade candles — which she burned during clients’ massages — an endeavor that eventually became Sierra Essentials.
Founded in 2008, the online business sells candles and other lifestyle products inspired by nature and handmade in Tahoe and Truckee.
Friends and clients began to ask Holly to make candles they could give as gifts, and for candles to decorate their homes and offices.
Before she had a name for her business, Holly found herself elbow deep in wax each night, hand crafting candles in her kitchen.
She stayed up late, melting soy wax, pouring it in recycled containers, and tying small strings around her products to make them pretty.
“I used to be a nocturnal candle maker,” she said with a laugh.
The foresight of her husband, also a massage therapist, helped Holly rethink her hobby.
“This is going to be our future,” he had said.
Now an established business-owner, Holly has expanded Sierra Essentials to an eco-friendly lifestyle product line. Her handmade products include lotions and body mists, soaps, oils, and pet care.
“Why buy it from Proctor and Gamble when it’s full of preservatives and petroleum, bad for you and bad for the environment?” she said.
Redpath’s personal relationship to the effects of paraffin wax products date back to her childhood in Kentucky. When her parents sold their home in 1997, she found the walls of the house she’d grown up in to be darkened by soot, much like the spot on her ceiling that day years ago.
Her home didn’t have a fireplace, and Redpath said her mother preferred to burn candles, and after 40 years of accumulation, the home was covered in the toxins from the artificial fragrances.
Redbacth believes her mother’s respiratory problems are a result of the petroleum by product being burned in the house.
“I’ve created my own line with things I like, but things that have an eco-friendly story,” Redpath said.
Her packaging comes from recycled jute bags from Sierra Pacific Coffee Company; and she is proud to use soy ink and recycled paper.
“Making the product is just one piece of the puzzle — I design and print each label on my computer. I feel kind of in love with all of this stuff, because I am,” she said.
To show just how in love, the former massage therapist and mother of twins points to her nose.
“It’s all about this,” she said. “It’s always been about this.”
Redpath describes herself as a “smelly girl,” saying the years of experience working with Aveda products, working with wine and wine reps, and owing her own massage business lead to the creation of Sierra Essentials.
“For some reason the recipe has come out the way it has,” she said. “I have all the ingredients of running a hand crafted business.”
Redpath’s products can be found at Kalifornia Jean Bar in Truckee, the Glenshire General Store, Mountain Ace Hardware, Mountain Home Center, and Echo Blue and also on her website at sierraessentials.com.
Holly describes the process of starting a business like Sierra Essentials as, “Crawl, walk run.”
“I’m walking right now,” she said as she sniffed one of her coconut lime verbena soaps. “I’m not running yet, but I’m holding my own.”
“I’ve created my own line with things I like, but things that have an eco-friendly story.”