When Laura Cameron started her social enterprise, Made with a Mission, it was her intent to do more than merely open a business. She wanted to light the way for others.
Made with a Mission takes torch-cut recycled beer and wine bottles and fills them with candles. Forty-nine percent of her business is owned by the Springs Rescue Mission, which uses profits to fund general programming. Cameron leases a workshop on the mission’s campus.
“This business tells the mission’s story,” Cameron said. “Its rehabilitation work with people who’ve hit rock bottom — that’s what we do with glass. It was trashed and thrown away, and we make something useful out of it.”
The 30-year-old Scotland native learned the benefits of being one’s own boss from her parents. While most kids are gifted socks, underwear and video games growing up, Cameron’s father gave his three daughters businesses.
“The first business he bought us was an airbrush tattoo business,” Cameron said of No Regrets. “We worked summers and would do temporary tattoos and learn about business — accounting, how to manage money, how to sell. It was cool and fun, and we made money too. We learned how empowering owning your own business could be.”
The money Cameron saved supplemented her education at the Université Paris-Sorbonne, where she studied human rights and French.
When she moved back to Colorado, she started another company with her sisters, this one refurbishing luxury handbags for sale online.
“We would take Chanel, Louis Vuitton, high-end stuff, and we had a cobbler in town who would refurbish them, fix the zippers, and we’d resell them for profit. That was great but I wanted to keep 90 percent of the stuff,” she said.
Cameron said that business helped her understand e-commerce, while tattooing meant face-to-face sales.
Cameron said the handbag business was a success, but she felt something was missing.
“My dad worked with the mission and he invited me to one of their Good Neighbor lunches,” she said. “I didn’t know a lot about the mission and at the end someone spoke about social enterprise and how it was something they wanted to do. I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do something. I don’t know what, but I have to do something.”
It has to be cool
Cameron said she had three requirements when considering her business model: It had to be cool and something people wanted to buy; it had to be affordable and it had to tell a story.
The reused glass was a great metaphor for second chances, but in order for people to buy her products, they had to be well-crafted, she said.
“I’ve seen a lot of social enterprises, and some are awesome, but some just want you to feel good about buying their products. This had to be something people wanted to buy,” Cameron said.
Made with a Mission hand-pours candles in 4- and 8-ounce sizes. The larger candles sell for $17.95 and come in one of five scents, with a rotating seasonal scent. All fragrances are created using essential, cosmetic- or food-grade oils and the wax is a soy and paraffin blend, which is porous and helps with fragrance absorption. The large candles burn up to 90 hours and the wicks are self-trimming. Each candle comes with a matchbook and directions on how it should be burned.
“There is a right way to do it and we want people to get the longest burn time out of our candles,” Cameron said. “For instance, when you first light it, you want to burn it for at least two hours.” Cameron said that allows the “memory pool,” or pool of melted wax around the wick, to melt to the edges, instead of only melting away the wax directly around the wick.
“I wanted something people will buy not only because it supports a good cause, but because it’s a quality product,” she said.
Just do it
Cameron started Made with a Mission in September 2013, but didn’t finalize her agreement with Springs Rescue Mission until August of this year. She said, within the past six months, sales have really taken off.
“I can’t believe how fast we’re growing, especially since August,” Cameron said. “In the past four weeks alone our growth has been unreal — 400 percent at least.”
Cameron sells her products through about 30 local retailers, including boutiques at The Broadmoor, Vie Boutique in downtown Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods Trading Post and Margo’s on the Alley in Monument. Cameron also recently began creating private-label candles for a Las Vegas casino, and just received an order of nearly 800 candles for a major credit card company’s luxury timeshare business.
The company’s growth means Cameron can fulfill another part of her business plan — hiring clients from the Springs Rescue Mission.
“Some are embattled with addictions and alcohol abuse and never had a steady job,” she said. “This is a good place for them to learn.”
Cameron said employees from the mission just might be inspired to create the next great social enterprise. Her first piece of advice: Have faith.
“The less you think about it the more you’ll actually do it,” she said. “There are so many things that can go wrong and they will. That’s life. But you’ll talk yourself out of it if you think about it too much.
“Richard Branson is a business mentor of mine. He doesn’t know it. But he has a saying: ‘Screw it, just do it.’ Absolutely! If you’re thinking about doing it, do it in a small way and see if it works.”
Made with a Mission
Location: 5 W. Las Vegas St.