How Latina-owned candle brand Bonita Fierce celebrates

When it comes to scented candles, certain scents are much more prevalent than others. Notes like vanilla, sandalwood, and even rose are commonplace, but what about cafecito con leche (coffee with milk), or the lavender version of the cleaning fluid Fabuloso? That’s where Melissa Gallardo, founder and owner of the delightfully named candle brand Bonita Fierce, is set on shaking up the market. From corporate to candle-making Like most entrepreneurs, Gallardo didn’t plan to create her own busin

own business; she had an entirely different path in mind. 

Having gotten a master’s degree in media management and interned and worked for major media companies including Comedy Central, Spotify, and ViacomCBS (now Paramount Global), Gallardo assumed she would spend her career in large organisations until she realised it wasn’t for her. 

“I realised very quickly as I entered the corporate world, that it wasn’t for me. Lucky for me, I graduated in 2019 and I immediately entered the corporate world when the pandemic hit in March 2020,” she said.

At the time, Gallardo was working as a “permalance”, or permanent freelance, employee at ViacomCBS, and her commute from Long Island to the office in New York City was two hours a day.

The shift to working from home allowed Gallardo to reflect on her career path and helped her realise that her work was not financially or emotionally rewarding.

“I felt as if I was never going to get converted into a full-time staff role with benefits. I was 18 months into my role [at ViacomCBS] when I left [to start] Bonita Fierce,” she said. She never looked back.

During the pandemic, Gallardo started a side hustle making candles to supplement her income. The process also gave her a sense of relaxation and joy. 

She strategically balanced this work with freelancing for media and tech companies, and soon, she was running Bonita Fierce as her full-time career. 

Embracing heritage through scents 

The name of the company was inspired by Gallardo’s Salvadorian-American background and her experience as a first-generation Latina who grew up in a multilingual household.

As Gallardo expressed, “Bonita Fierce came from the idea of starting with a Spanglish name, which took me a while to figure out because I really wanted it to represent where I was at an exact moment in time.”

Through her brand, Gallardo is seeking to reclaim her Latina identity, something she struggled with as a non-Spanish speaker. She sometimes felt that she wasn’t Latina enough or American enough.

“The idea of Bonita being a pretty identifiable word in English as pretty, and then fierce is how many Latinas are represented in mass media, as having too much personality or being overly dramatic…I really wanted to reclaim that,” she said.

When it came to selecting scents for her fragrance brand, Gallardo, a longtime candle lover decided to focus on creating products that were not readily available on the market already and brought to mind memories of her childhood. 

Thus, the brand’s signature candle scents like “Abuela’s Bakery”, “Horchata”, and “Como La Flor” (a reference to the iconic Selena Quintanilla song, which includes notes of Lily of the Valley, Rose, Jasmine, and Lilac).

This approach has led the brand to become the first Latinx-owned candle brand to be stocked at Urban Outfitters, Barnes & Noble, and Nordstrom.

Gallardo said the brand is on track to experience 100 per cent year-over-year growth and has plans on further expanding into the home goods category with items like fragrance diffusers.

The founder’s long-term goals?

“I see myself becoming the next Martha Stewart of the home space, the Latina Martha Stewart. To me, it’s really important to find representation and create products that are sourced from Latin America, because it’s not represented in the home space,” she said.

In her view, the home goods retail marker is dominated by a Eurocentric view, “and I want to dismantle that.”