Cotton core wicks, high-quality fragrance oils, no parabens and plenty of activism. That’s the recipe EJ Wood uses for his candles. Wood started making candles as a 20 year-old college student. When he sold out of his first batch of candles at a local craft show, Wood decided to drop out of college and pursue the business full time.
What began as a wholesale business, called Untamed Supply, turned into a brick-and-mortar store during COVID-19. Now you’ll find Untamed Supply at The Outpost just off the Liberty Square at 131 S Water St.
Wood was never a fan of the typical 9-5 corporate lifestyle, which is one of the reasons he decided to start Untamed Supply. But operating out of a permanent storefront is surprisingly fulfilling for the maker, who loves being a part of the Liberty and Kansas City community. Using his customer’s support to promote other artisans is one of Wood’s favorite parts of owning a small business.
“Being able to bring in all different artists and makers from all over the country, on a small scale has been really, really fun,” Wood said. “We look for stuff that’s small-batch made in the United States, or at least designed here. A lot of it aligns with a lot of our values too. Whether they’re queer-owned, women-owned, minority-owned, anything that we can do. The only way we’re going to make changes is if we support those that aren’t being supported otherwise. So we really seek that out first, and then environmental [causes]. I’m spending a lot of money with smaller businesses to bring in more merch, and that helps them. But I’m also having my coffees roasted here in Kansas City, all my labels are made in Kansas City. The labor is all from right here in the Liberty area. We really tried to be just as conscientious as our customer is with where our money is going and who we’re supporting because I think that’s being entrusted whenever you come and shop here.”
Wood’s customer base responded well to his business and the intentionally selected products sold alongside the candles at The Outpost. The store was immediately profitable.
Those customers continued to be supportive as Wood became more vocal about who he is. Wood is a trans man. Using his story to promote inclusivity and acceptance was a necessary, albeit scary, aspect of running an authentic and ethical business. So far, Wood says he’s received nothing but an outpouring of love and support from the community – a welcome surprise.
When Wood decided to seek out gender-affirming care, the cost was nearly overwhelming. Gender-affirming surgeries, like the top surgery Wood was saving for, can cost upwards of $10,000. A cost that is not typically covered by insurance.
In an effort to help raise the funds and bring more visibility to trans issues, Wood decided to run a fundraiser through The Outpost. He created a “top-shelf” candle and t-shirts, with all the proceeds going to his gender-affirming care. The fundraiser gained traction immediately, and they sold out of the first 100 candles the day they were released. Soon, other Kansas City businesses also began to fundraise for Wood’s care. The results of this trial-run fundraiser were shocking.
Within a week Wood raised enough for his surgery, post-operative care and pay for his employees while he’s recovering.
“Coming out is a very vulnerable thing to do. Now that I’ve had to do it twice in a lifetime you would think I would have it down,” said Wood, who first came out as a lesbian as a teenager before accepting his masculine identity in his 30s. “It’s terrifying. I think owning a business and still being in the Midwest, there always seems like there’s an inherent risk to be that vulnerable and authentic. It’s been far better than I could have anticipated. I’ve gained a lot of customers because other people are sharing it and spreading it. Which is really overwhelming. I’m more of an introverted personality. I don’t even like my photo being taken, let alone telling my whole story. So even though it’s been overwhelmingly a positive experience, I still have to retreat in and take time for me to process all of it. [In the first] four days I don’t think I stopped crying – happy crying.”
Despite all of the support Wood is receiving for his business and in his personal life, there is still the constant threat of discrimination. Recent bills proposed all over the country, including Missouri, would bar transgender children from playing on the sports team of their true gender.
Forcing transgender youth to play on the team corresponding with the gender they were assigned at birth is just another way Wood notices the normalization of discrimination and violence against transgender people. Transgender youth have a bravery and a certainty that Wood admires and says should not be rejected.
“I think you have to know who you are to take a deep dive within yourself to come to the conclusion that the gender you were told at birth is not your correct gender. I think young people, children probably know themselves better,” said Wood. “Being told that you can’t do something that everybody else gets to do, I can’t imagine what kind of trauma that can bring in. It does long-term damage to an already vulnerable population. I have a lot of empathy for these kids. It’s more of a reason to stay in front of it. Because discrimination has no place. No matter what the discrimination is, it shouldn’t have a place here.”
In the face of ever-present intolerance, Wood still has hope for a more equitable and tolerant future. The support he’s received from the Kansas City community reaffirms that hope. The painful measures are bringing transgender issues to the forefront. When discriminatory measures are met with the LGBTQ+ community and allies, Wood says there’s an opportunity for change.
“I think that was my whole thing – trying to be more visible and putting everything out there to create more conversations. Because once we start with conversations, things start to change, even if it’s harder now,” Wood said. “I mean, we already know that as transgender people we are already discriminated against. So to make it lawful, that seems like a huge step backward. I think there’s fear around it. I think there’s sadness. I also think there’s a lot of hope. Looking back at same-sex marriage, how many times did we have to step backward before we really got to take a big step forward? And I think that’s where we’re at. I think we’re in the midst of a lot of change.”
Wood is committed to being a part of that change and making his business a tool for acceptance and activism as well. Following the success of his fundraiser, Wood plans to continue the top-shelf campaign to bring gender-affirming care to other transgender people in the area.
Since Untamed Supply began, a portion of every candle sale was donated to the National Parks. Wood estimates that they’ve donated over $10,000 to the cause.
While National Parks are a worthy cause, Wood thinks he can have more of an impact using those proceeds to support initiatives in the Kansas City area. After he recovers from top surgery, Wood says that Untamed Supply will go through a bit of a rebrand to more fully partner with and promote worthy local causes.
But you don’t have to wait until then to shop at The Outpost. The store has cocktail mixes, stickers, t-shirts, socks, wall art, greeting cards and plenty of other finds. Of course, there is also a plethora of candles.
Whiskey smoke, Glacier and Desert are Wood’s favorite scents, but there’s plenty of variety to choose from. Untamed Supply uses the maximum amount of oil that the all-natural soy wax will absorb in their candles. That means that your candle will have a long-lasting, present scent.
The high-quality candles are made in their liberty shop. They offer various sizes of candles in tins or glass, which you can bring back to the shop to have refilled once they burn out. You can even have a candle poured into a container you bring it. Nearly every scent is blended in-house at The Outpost, so you’re getting a unique product each time.
The Outpost is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sundays. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook for updates. You can also buy candles through Untamed Supply’s website.
Setting candles. Photo by Christina Kirk Goods at The Outpost. Photo by Christina Kirk