Race Car Driver Teen Turned Father’s Day Gift Into Award-Winning Business

Little girl surrounded by candles
Kierra Perkins, owner of Kandles by Kierra

One of the strongest business trends over the past several years has been the rise of Black women entrepreneurs. According to the 2018 State of Women-Owned Business Report commissioned by American Express, the number of firms owned by Black women grew by a whopping 164 percent between 2007 and 2018. Could it be that the entrepreneurial spirit is rubbing off on our youth as well? If so, 13-year-old Kierra Perkins would be the poster child for it.

Two years ago the Nashville, Tenn., native and race car driver launched a line of candles that fill the home with aromas of freshly baked delights without adding calories to those who live there. I spoke with her shortly before Kandles By Kierra won the Idea Tank for Kids national competition this month.

TNJ.com: How did Kandles by Kierra come about? 

Perkins: I wanted to do something different for my dad for Father’s Day so I decided to make him the chocolate chip cookies and milk candle. My mom took a picture of me with the candle and posted it on Facebook. I got a lot of positive responses so I decided to keep going with it.

TNJ.com: What did you have to do to really get going with it? 

Perkins: My mom ordered a lot of materials for me to get started.

TNJ.com: You’re still in school. How much time do you have to devote to the business?

Perkins: In the summer I can do a lot of candles – I work on them about forty hours per week. I make the candles myself. For some of them I use molds, and others I make free-handed.

During school it’s usually a little over twenty hours per week.

TNJ.com: Were you always an artistic person?

Perkins: Yes, ma’am. I’ve been crafting for as long as I can remember. I used to do tie dye; I’ve  made cloud lamps for my room; painted wall accents; decorated shoes, sewing.

TNJ.com: Does that skill run in your family, or are you unique in that way?

Perkins: I’m unique in my family. No one else really likes to craft as much as me.

TNJ.com: What was your dad’s reaction when he saw the candle that first time?

Perkins: He was really shocked. He tried to take the cookie out and was like, “Oh it’s not moving!” But he was really proud of me and he encouraged me to start a business. He was very supportive.

TNJ.com: What would you say makes your candles stand out from all the other candles people are selling?

Perkins: My designs are very unique. I have a Strawberry Blast Shake candle, which is one of my top sellers. Another top seller is the Fresh Cut Christmas Tree. That’s the top seller over the holidays. My candles are very uniquely designed.

TNJ.com: Running a business can be costly, especially for such a young person. How do you fund the raw materials?

Perkins: My mom and my grandmother helped me a lot with buying the source materials, and now we re-invest from the sales.

TNJ.com: Do you plan to add other products and services — do you know how big you want the business to grow?

Perkins: I want to get my candles in any major stores, and hopefully one day to open my very own candle store.

TNJ.com: What did your friends think when they first heard you were running your own business?

Perkins: Some were excited, but some weren’t because it took too much time away and we wouldn’t be able to spend time together, or go out together.

TNJ.com: What do you do when you’re not in school and when you’re not making and selling and promoting  your candles?

Perkins: I’m a race car driver and I’ve been doing it since I was eight years old at a National Hot Rod Association racetrack. It’s a drag strip and you race other cars. My car goes seventy miles per hour for an eighth of a mile. I have a Spider Man car. People usually think it’s a boy who’s driving so they’re really surprised when I take my helmet off and they see it’s me.

TNJ.com: Do your friends do that too, or are you the only one who does?

Perkins: None of my friends race. I’m now the only African-American female in Nashville who drives a race car.

TNJ.com: How did you get into race car driving?

Perkins: My grandfather and my sister used to race all the time. I kept bugging my parents, but because of my age they said ‘no.’ But when I turned eight, our parents bought me my first car.

TNJ.com: Tell me about your book, A Special Gift For Dad

Perkins: I wrote my book last September. I wrote it for kids because I want to encourage them to start their own businesses. I think kids should start businesses because they can work for themselves, not for anyone else. It also keeps them out of trouble and keeps them focused. It builds their confidence because I feel kids who are more shy will be more social after starting a business since it boosts their confidence. I also like to encourage the parents if the child wants to start a business to support them.

TNJ.com: Who did the illustrations for the book?

Perkins: My mom contracted someone.

TNJ.com: How can people purchase your candles and your book?

Perkins: They can go on my website. 

TNJ.com: And do you know what you want to be when you grow up?

Perkins: I want to continue being a business owner when I grow up and go to Vanderbilt College and major in business and finance.