Local woman’s goal: to give old candles new life

By Sarah Brown

Show Camelia Moss a candle, any candle, and she can tell you what type of wax it is.

She’ll also tell you there’s a right and a wrong way to burn candles.

Moss, owner of Camelia’s Candles, Art and Craft Supplies, recycles used candle wax and teaches candle-making, but she holds tight to two main goals: to keep wax out of landfills and to create jobs.

She started making her own candles following two aneurysm repairs in 1989. Moss borrowed a large candle, which she calls The Aphrodite, and a friend taught her how to make molds and candles from it.

“That was just to keep me busy,” she said. “After going from corporate world to nothing, you don’t just sit there. Not when you’re on your feet for 20 hours a day.”

At the time, Moss had been managing the household of Harry A. Merlo, former CEO of Louisiana-Pacific. It was a job that took nearly 20 hours a day, seven days a week, she said, but the surgeries made it impossible for her to keep up any longer.

Still, “I had to keep myself busy, so I learned how to do my candles, just to keep me busy and keep me functioning.”

Eventually her candle-making hobby led her to open a shop in Beaverton, where she offered trades of used wax for discounts on her candles, she said.

“Next thing I know, when I come back to my store, I had boxes and boxes of them sitting outside my door.”

That’s when it occurred to her that tons of used candles and old wax were probably ending up in landfills. And “tons” was not an exaggeration. Since she started acquiring used wax in 2011, Moss has collected more than 80 tons of donated wax, she said.

Over the years, she’s learned to identify the difference between paraffin, soy, gel, palm and bees wax. She separates the used wax and melts it down to create bricks for candle makers. Paraffin, a byproduct from oil refineries, is her biggest seller.

Camelia stands with bricks of paraffin wax that is sold to candle makers and others who want to use it for skin care.

Accessing donated wax is the easy part, though. Moss has a big dream to take her craft and turn it into an industry that offers creative classes and creates jobs.

“I would like to take the kids off the streets. I want to work with those type of people as my employees,” she said. “My foundation is gonna be making sure people have a job, and educate them on working and work ethics.”

She knows what it’s like to be raised in a family that didn’t teach her family values, to learn to raise herself, and to have lows she had to bounce back from, she said.

Moss separated from her parents when she was about 15 years old and began her own family until she was about 21, at which time she moved to Portland on her own. She was fortunate to land a live-in housekeeping job for Merlo, who used her lack of education to mold her to his standards, she said.

During that time, Moss met three presidents — Ford, Reagan, and George H. Bush — as well as many celebrities, such as Tom Selleck.

“I met so many interesting people. It was a fun job. It was a hard job, but it was a job, and not everybody gets that opportunity.”

Like Moss, Merlo himself started with a background in poverty, and one of his success stories includes recycling trash wood products into the profitable oriented strand board (OSB) used in construction today.

She follows his example by finding ways to educate herself and locate resources to help her expand. Working with investors, skills programs, mentors, a thrift store chain and an attorney, Moss hopes to expand her little shop space into something sustainable.

“We’re going to go for it big. I’m gonna try to go to a 6,000 square foot space,” she said of her vision. “I want to have a candle craft store, art supplies and classes, with a production refinery in the back.”

Camelia also sells art and craft supplies, and local handmade goods.

 Her store, which moved to Lebanon six years ago, is located at 733 S. Main St., and also offers art and craft supplies, as well as wood spears, knives and guns hand crafted by Sweet Home resident Tim Dodge.

She occasionally teaches classes through Linn-Benton Community College. This fall she plans to teach six classes in making pillar candles, jar candles, beeswax tapers, Christmas candles, holiday gifts, molds from sand.

For more information on those classes, visit linnbenton.edu and click on the Schedule of Classes tab, then type “candle” in the “Search Class Titles” field.