On the same street where she operates an Arlington boutique, Tschaner Sefas Azubuike once fielded emergency calls as a 911 operator at the city’s dispatch center. 

In between calls – many coming from women experiencing domestic violence – Azubuike often turned to her favorite art form: Transforming paper into beads that could then be used in colorful, unique jewelry. 

“It was very overwhelming for me and it upset me that I couldn’t reach out to those women,” she said. “I never knew what happened after the calls. I thought: ‘How can I translate this from paper beads to an art piece that is kind of reaching out to these women?’” 

The result of that project, titled “Nurture Me Please,” hangs above 31:13 Ecofriendly Accessories, located at 308 W. Main Street as part of the artistic coworking space and gallery Create Arlington. Since the boutique opened in February, Azubuike has showcased lightweight earrings, rings, bracelets and artwork she creates from recycled paper using a rolling technique that originated in Uganda. 

Her store also includes eco-friendly products from around the world, including biodegradable pens, hats made out of vintage couches and embroidered bags using recycled materials. 

Azubuike knew she wanted to support other environmentally conscious artisans by selling their products. She began researching companies that share her values of reducing waste and using eco-friendly materials. But the list of matches was a short one. 

31:13, referring to a Bible verse about a virtuous woman working with her hands, currently carries products from only one local vendor: the Fort Worth-based Stappato Candle Co., run by her friends Tara and Adrian Ortiz. 

People across North Texas and the country have been talking about making more sustainable life choices – such as carrying a reusable water bottle, or bringing reusable grocery bags to the store – for decades, Azubuike said. But getting companies to actually take action is a different story.

“People are slowly starting to get into (sustainability), but then they also have to think about: How does that work for my business to transition from using this material to that material?” she said. “A lot of times, your materials can end up being a higher cost, depending on what it is that you do.” 

Stappato Candle Co. sells their candles at markets across Tarrant County, alongside online sales and a spot inside 31:13 Ecofriendly Accessories. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

‘We’ve found our people’

Tara and Adrian Ortiz say the idea for their candle company was born from drinking a lot of wine during the COVID-19 pandemic. The world was stressful, Tara Ortiz said, and it felt like whatever could go wrong was going wrong. 

“I was like: ‘The world’s ending, and I will just lay on the ground to let my dogs lick my face and that will be it,’” Tara Ortiz said. “We were both thinking, ‘We can just lay here on the floor like this or do something that seems more productive that gets our hands moving.” 

Tara is a frequent candle-buyer, and Adrian noticed the growing number of containers laying around their home. They put two and two together to create their business, Stappato Candle Co., which uses recycled wine bottle glass to hold 100% soy wax and eco-friendly wicks primed with vegetable-based wax. Their scents range from the coffee-scented “Barista” to the woodsy “Smooth Talker.” 

When they rolled out an Etsy page about a year and a half ago, they had about 10 candles for sale. At first, they weren’t sure if they could break into a saturated market of homemade candle manufacturers. 

Financial backing was also a challenge, but the couple’s background as staffing and operations managers helped them stand out, Adrian Ortiz said. 

“Our mindset was: ‘OK, everybody sells candles. How are we going to be different?’ ” he said. “How can we stand out against a wide variety of vendors? And how do we give back to the environment? It became, ‘OK, let’s give back what we’ve earned.’” 

Picking an organization to contribute to wasn’t easy, Tara Ortiz said, involving hours of research. There’s a fad of organizations that plant trees, but not all of them care about planting in areas where they can have the most impact for the planet, she said.

Eventually, they chose to donate to the nonprofit One Tree Planted, which has planted more than 40 million trees in 43 countries around the world. Tara Ortiz, who handles the sustainability end of the business, said their donations have headed to tree-planting efforts in British Columbia, which needs help recording from wildfires and preserving wildlife habitat. 

Currently, 5% of Stappato’s total sales goes to One Tree Planted, but Adrian Ortiz said they hope to donate up to 10% by the end of the year. At the Tarrant County markets where the Ortizes make the bulk of their sales, customers frequently respond to Stappato’s larger mission and want to learn more about their commitment to the environment, Tara Ortiz said. 

“We’ve found our people. We know that there’s a want and a need there,” she said. “The fun part is when we have someone come up to our booth and say: ‘Oh, your candle was at my friend’s house. It smelled so great. I’m so glad you’re here.’” 

The Ortizes, who hold full-time corporate jobs outside of Stappato, have been encouraged by the growth of their business since early 2021. They’ve also been welcomed into a community of entrepreneurs and customers that has been invaluable during stressful times, Adrian Ortiz said. 

“It’s so hard to make friends as adults, and we’ve made so many friends because of this, from clients to other vendors,” he said. “We didn’t go into it thinking that we were going to get rich. We wanted something to do and honestly, the best thing that we’ve gotten out of this is just other connections.” 

Tschaner Sefas Azubuike displays original artwork and products from other eco-friendly entrepreneurs, including these hats, in her boutique on Arlington’s Main Street. (Seth Bodine | Fort Worth Report)

Growing eco-business community remains a challenge

Running an eco-minded business isn’t always as simple as a mission statement or donation — something Stappato and 31:13 quickly learned. Part of the challenge is that there are so few local businesses that specialize in sustainable products or recycled materials, they said. 

Every time Azubuike attends a festival to sell her jewelry, she tries to set up early so she can walk around the booths and see what other vendors are offering. There are hundreds of vendors at local festivals and markets, but she has not found many products made of reused materials or that use less environmentally harmful products. 

“The community is very small,” she said. “It’s tricky, because I want to have some bath and body products. But when you look at the local vendors, they haven’t transitioned to waste-free products.” 

Tara and Adrian Ortiz understand the difficulty of choosing the “sustainable” option over the one that will help make the business more profitable. Beeswax produces clean fumes with little smoke and is biodegradable, but the wax is much more expensive, difficult to find and doesn’t hold fragrance well, Tara Ortiz said. 

Where to find 31:13 and Stappato Candle Co.

31:13 Ecofriendly Accessories products can be purchased in person at 308 W. Main St. in Arlington. The boutique is open Wed.-Sun. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Online purchases can be made here

Stappato Candle Co. frequently sells at local Fort Worth markets, including sales at Lola’s Farmers Market and the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. Candles can be purchased online here

Looking for other environmentally friendly companies in North Texas? Check out GreenSourceDFW’s “Green Businesses” directory.

The couple ultimately decided to go with soy wax, which burns slower than a traditional candle made with paraffin wax. All products for their manufacturing process are also purchased locally to cut down on waste from shipping, Tara Ortiz added. 

“It’s this balance of trying to figure out and truly weigh the options of what is the healthiest for us and for the environment, and what is the healthiest for our business,” she said. “When people talk about being a ‘carbon-neutral’ company, the realities of that are so challenging, because as a business, there are things out of your control, like how the products got to the place you’re getting it from.” 

Azubuike has kept her costs low by using recycled magazines, but has faced a similar issue with the seed paper she uses for her earring cards.

The benefits of using the specialized paper are clear: Instead of throwing away the packaging, customers can plant the biodegradable paper. However, the product is very expensive, and adds another cost to her bottom line, she said. 

Helping other businesses and potential entrepreneurs navigate those challenges and explore the opportunities of creating more eco-friendly products is a key goal of both Azubuike and the Ortizes. 

Azubuike plans to meet with new businesses like For the Love of Zero, Fort Worth’s first refill shop that offers liquid soaps without aluminum or sulfates, household cleaning products and refillable glass bottles to reduce plastic waste. 

And when Tara Ortiz and Azubuike discuss future goals, they imagine a district of shops where customers know they can find businesses that are focused on improving the social good, whether that means helping the environment or giving back to the community. 

“That’s something I haven’t seen in the metroplex,” Azubuike said. 

In the meantime, the Ortizes are exploring the possibility of opening a shared retail space, preferably in the Near Southside, that would bring other eco-friendly creators into the fold. Azubuike also eventually plans on moving to Fort Worth, where most of her customer base resides. 

Growing the community of businesses pursuing these goals is crucial to the success of their company, and to pushing larger corporations to make their own products less wasteful, Tara Ortiz said. The impact of many will always outweigh the impact of one, she said. 

“We know we’ll never compete with the Targets and Walmarts, but if we can push them to do better and provide the same services they do (more sustainably), then we’re still doing better because we’re pushing them toward that better future,” she said. “Our little retail space is a tiny, tiny speck of that big picture.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org. Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...

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Seth BodineBusiness Reporter

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....