A Conversation With Melissa Gallardo, Founder of Bonita Fierce Candles, on Latinidad and the Creative Process

Melissa Gallardo Bonita Fierce Candles BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Frequently, we fail to realize the power of scents. Let’s take the smell of cafecito or sweet treats, for instance. Somehow, these scents are embedded in the memories of many Latinx people. 

Imagine being able to walk into your home, and it smells exactly like your childhood. Well, thanks to Bonita Fierce Candles, you can now recreate the essence of an environment you may hold close to your heart. 

However, anyone, whether their part of the Latinx community or not, can appreciate these unique scents, according to Melissa Gallardo, the founder of Bonita Fierce Candles. 

Born to Salvadoran parents, Gallardo, 24, took the drawbacks that the pandemic brought and decided to jump headfirst into the entrepreneurship world, becoming the first person in her family to ever contribute towards building generational wealth. 

We recently chatted with Gallardo about her journey with Bonita Fierce Candles and the role her latinidad played during the creative process. 

What motivated you to start Bonita Fierce Candles?

While I learned the tropes of candle making, I slowly realized that there was no representation of the Latinx community in the home fragrance industry. Sadly, when I would question it, I didn’t really find anything that catered to Latinx scents or our heritage.

What role did the pandemic play in your business?

As you know, during the pandemic, everybody started to create their own side hustles. People realized that they didn’t want to rely on their nine to five or income. And that’s kind of what happened to me, too. after one of my parents was laid off.  So, when we were all first locked out and in quarantine, I decided to pick up a quarantine hobby. From there, I went into candle-making. I made it my side hustle then. But I want candles to be my sole hustle now.

How was your candle-making training?

I’m actually completely self-taught — from YouTube to Facebook posts and groups and online communities on Instagram. I learned a lot through the candle community. 

What’s something that you’re proud about within the Bonita Fierce Candles process?

So, a big part of Bonita Fierce is our sustainability efforts and being very eco-conscious when it comes down to wax or wicks or vessels,  and the shipping process or shipping supplies. It’s been really important for me to create a sustainable product and that’s eco-friendly.

What influenced this project?

Aside from the pandemic, one thing that has influenced the trajectory of my career and my business is that I have always felt insecure being Latina, which has stuck with me my whole life, even until this point. 

I was raised in a predominantly white school district. Less than five percent of the population was Latinx. At around that same time, when I was in elementary school, my parents made the active decision not to teach me Spanish. This is something that many Hispanic or Latinx parents do — not teaching their children Spanish. It is a calculated choice with the goal of it being easier for their children to assimilate. Also, the fear of racism and discrimination turned a lot of people away from passing on language. So, I wanted to create something as a tribute to my Latina identity.

How has that affected you in your everyday life?

Well, it meant that I would straighten my hair. My mom never learned how to style my curly hair because there was always the stereotype of pelo malo. So, that was a really big part of my identity and my insecurity. However,  I have not straightened my hair in like three or four years now. It’s been so long. Like, I can’t even think about pulling my hair straight because I’ve worked so hard. Now, I wear my hair curly because I’m embracing my identity. I feel that I have so much more control over my actions and the way I see the world — I have come to my own, my own self, and all that had made me feel like an imposter trying to fit in with the crowd that I believed wasn’t me. But I made a conscious effort to overcome this insecurity, wear my natural curls with pride, and embrace music and food so that it feels right to me. 

After enduring these experiences, what’s a key element of your business that ties into it all? 

I always make sure that I uplift all the Latinx people out there who are insecure about their identities. And I hope I am a small part of their journey to find their voice because I know I’m still finding mine. It’s also the scent aspect to it and thinking about the memories that I had as a child.

What’s next for Bonita Fierce Candles?

I definitely want to expand to wholesale. I would love to get my candles into a big box store one day. And even before I get there, I’d really love to do my own brick-and-mortar in New York City. I’m honestly just speaking with people and other members of the Latinx community, trying to get the word out there so I can get it to continue to grow and develop more products and deliver for my community.

What’s your ultimate goal?

I want everybody to have a Bonita Fierce Candle in their home. And truly understand the Latinx experience while embracing our culture because it’s so important for all of us to be seen.