Americans often use the words safety and security as synonyms, but any refugee can tell you that they are actually two very different things.
Refugees flee to the U.S. seeking safety from the horrors of war or the brutality of oppressive regimes. Coming from a place like Syria or Burma, a safe night’s sleep is nothing to take for granted.
But with few possessions, limited English, and scarce job prospects, many refugees find themselves dependent on public programs, temporary work, or the kindness of strangers – not what anyone would call a “secure” life.
Refuge Is Only a Start
As an immigrant herself, entrepreneur Ferzan Jaeger understood better than most how an independent income could increase the sense of security for refugee women. But she also knew that security had an emotional element – that feeling of belonging to a family and a community.
That was the impetus behind Kin & Care, an artisanal candle company that proudly wears its mission on its label: Made in Maryland by Refugee Women.
It all started in late 2015, when a fellow immigrant walked into Olive & Loom, Ferzan’s gift shop in the Washington, DC, suburbs. The two began chatting about the growing number of refugee women resettling in their community and the need for secure, steady employment.
“The US gets the cream of the crop when it comes to refugees,” according to Ferzan, “but here they have to start all over again, from zero.” In their home countries, many of the women were accomplished and successful – artists, business owners, professionals – so a paycheck is part of their identity.
“These women don’t necessarily want donations or charity,” Ferzan says. “That’s not a permanent solution.”
As a hobbyist candlemaker with a retail store, Ferzan figured she had the requisite ingredients for a social enterprise that could offer, if not a permanent solution, at least a foundation of security and community for women who had so recently lost everything.
She converted her home basement to a studio and invested in an industrial warming machine for candle wax – the single nod to modernity in a product that is otherwise 100 percent handcrafted. Even the scents like orange clove or sandalwood vanilla are mixed by hand in small batches.
Toward a Brighter Future
While she’s definitely not shy about her mission, Ferzan wants Kin & Care to stand out for its quality and not just its story. “I didn’t want people to feel bad and make a pity purchase,” she says. “We wanted to create the real deal, something customers would love.”
Word spread quickly among the refugee community in Maryland, and today Kin & Care employs women from across the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Though they are hesitant about allowing photos or using their names, Ferzan says these women from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds have formed a kind of community as they work side-by-side each day.
Soon that community may grow even wider.
“We’re not limiting where the women come from,” Ferzan says. “We’ve grown by word of mouth, so women tend to come from the same region. But as we grow, we’re now reaching out to other organizations for help, like nonprofits working with African refugees, for instance.”
Other growth plans include branching out beyond candles. With support from The Off Ramp, a Texas-based philanthropy working on refugee issues, Kin & Care is launching a new line of reed diffusers featuring its signature fragrances.
“I didn’t want people to feel bad and make a pity purchase. We wanted to create … something customers would love.”
Sales have been strong recently, with retailers joining the distribution network from California to Texas to North Dakota. As the brand grows a national footprint, Ferzan plans to use her labels to emphasize that the refugee issue knows no regional bounds. Instead of “Made in Maryland,” those labels will soon read “Made in the USA by Refugee Women.”
As the company gets bigger, Ferzan is allowing her dreams to get bigger, too.
“Candle-making is a transitional job,” she acknowledges. “It fills the gap until the women can find something better. But in the future, I want to be a place where women want to work full time and grow a career.”
“We want to be an all-woman company – marketing, accounting, logistics. All the roles, lots of growth opportunities. That’s what it would look like to give economic independence to women in need.”
Spend for Good: Kin & Care features more than two dozen products in its online shop, with prices starting at just $9.