Former science teacher now experiments with candles and soaps
After a decade with Alief Independent School District, eighth grade science teacher Jennifer Strong wanted to do something different with her life. Armed with a candle-making kit, she started selling to friends and family. Last spring, she quit her teaching job and launched Madewell Mercantile (madewellmercantile.com), selling scented candles, wax melts and soaps at area markets, including the Westchase District Farmers Market.
“This market was the perfect place for me to start, because I’ve gotten to know the local people and I’m surrounded by the best products,” Strong said. Her candles use wooden wicks harvested from fruit trees at certified mills in the United States, which she said creates a crackling sensory experience that produces no soot. Her “Jackass Soap” is made from donkey milk and she also offers a line of goat milk soaps. “When my brother learned that I was making soap from donkey milk, he insisted that I name it that,” she said, laughing.
Last fall, Strong introduced a new feature to her growing enterprise: “Step Van Morrison,” a 1995 Chevy P-30 step van that once transported fire extinguishers. Strong and her family took about six months to convert the van into a “mobile mercantile,” installing insulation, walls and wallpaper, flooring, lighting and shelving to create an attractive and transportable store. “It was really just an empty shell,” Strong said. “I wanted to design a space that felt comfortable for shoppers to browse. I have to give my boyfriend credit for coming up with the nickname.”
She also uses Step Van Morrison to feature goods from other local vendors, such as men’s grooming products, leather goods and salsa from Chilequiles, a fellow seller at the farmers market. “It’s important to me that all of my products, whether I make them or I feature other vendors’ goods, are American-made,” she said. “Plus, all of my packaging is from recycled materials. Since I was a science teacher, of course I encourage recycling.”
When describing her business, Strong avoids the word “boutique,” not wanting to connote that her products are for ladies only. “From the colors and scents to the packaging and promotion, I want to appeal to men as well as women,” she said. “I’m always looking for ways to improve and discover what my customers want next.”