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Boy’s bright idea to help mom turned into his own candle business

Alejandro Buxton, who’s 12, started selling on Etsy. This fall he opened a Smell of Love kiosk at Tysons Corner Center.

Alejandro Buxton, 12, runs the Smell of Love Candles kiosk at Tysons Corner Center in Virginia. He started making natural candles in the family kitchen because his mom got headaches from candles that contained chemicals. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Alejandro Buxton’s candle business started with a headache.

The 12-year-old’s mom suffers from allergies, and something in their house was causing her head to hurt. After some sleuthing, they discovered the culprit: the candles. His mom had no choice but to get rid of the scented items.

“My mom really loved candles, like really really,” said the seventh-grader from Fairfax County, Virginia. “It was hard to see her sad.”

To lift her spirits, he set up a lab in the family’s kitchen in the fall of 2019 and made a candle using only natural ingredients, such as soy and coconut waxes and essential oils. (Chemicals in her old candles were causing the headaches.) He named his first product Jurassic Orange, which resembles the fruit in color and fragrance.

“The first ones did need improvement,” he said. “At least it got rid of the smell of fish.”

Jurassic Orange was a hit with his mom, whose headaches disappeared. But Alejandro wasn’t done experimenting. Within a few months, he had about six scents, including Chunky Sweaters and Cozy Socks (since renamed Under the Northern Lights), which smells like a fruit smoothie blended in a pine forest.

In September 2020, he put his first collection of candles on Etsy, the online marketplace that specializes in handmade goods. He also sold candles at seasonal markets, such as the one in downtown D.C. where Vice President Kamala Harris was shopping for holiday gifts last year.

“Secret Service came by with rules,” Alejandro said. “It was pretty exciting meeting her. My mom was jumping up and down.”

He recommended two candles to the vice president: Cherry Blossom, because of her connection to Washington, and the Gentleman, because her husband is the Second Gentleman. She took some of his advice, but not all of it: She bought the Gentleman candle, but instead of Cherry Blossom, she chose Cinnamon Bun. “That makes sense,” he said, “because she loves baking.”

Jesse Benites, general manager of Tysons Corner Center, said the vice president’s visit “skyrocketed” Alejandro’s fame. A senior manager contacted Alejandro and invited him to rent one of the 12 retail carts at the mall. On September 1, Smell of Love Candles opened on the second level of the shopping center. Alejandro is the mall’s youngest business owner.

“He’s a pretty impressive young man,” said Benites, who purchased a Pink Candy candle for his wife.

Inside the mall, Alejandro turned a large room into his production facility, where he and his staff make 600 to 700 candles a week. The process takes several hours. First, the wax is melted, then poured into a pitcher to which the team adds fragrant oils and dyes. Next, they pour the liquid into a glass jar or tin and poke a wick in the center like a small flagpole. After a few hours, the wax hardens, and the candle is ready to join the other 25 scents on the shelf, a lineup that includes Donut Kill My Vibe and Alexa, Clean the House.

“We come up with the name first,” he said, “and if the scent doesn’t match the name, we will try again.”

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On a recent fall afternoon, Alejandro was working on his dessert candles, which are topped with a dollop of wax that looks like whipped cream on a sundae. He was also fine-tuning the scent for a black candle with glitter that he planned to call Galaxy.

When asked what the most difficult part of the job is, he said paying taxes. (His mom helps with the calculations.) And the best part? “Meeting people, especially Kamala Harris,” he said. “Maybe I’ll meet Martians in the future.”

If aliens do land in Northern Virginia, Alejandro is ready with a candle recommendation: Galaxy and Jurassic Orange, because, he said, “they’ve never met dinosaurs.”