CTOAN Candles for Every Body

by | May 1, 2024 | 0 comments

Until a few years ago, Morgan never considered a career as an artist. But today, her gender-neutral, plus-size candle business has grown so successful that the 37-year-old Milwaukee resident was able to quit her full-time job and hire a part-time staff of three. It’s outgrowing her living space, too.

“I was definitely someone who colored outside the lines,” said Morgan, whose company, CTOAN, proudly offers art that celebrates fat bodies. The soy wax candles, plant-based planters, and other products made by CTOAN (“C’TOAN,” an acronym for Can’t Think Of A Name), frankly feature stretch marks, FUPAs, side rolls, butt dimples and the like, in all their human glory. They are designed with a gender-neutral perspective, says Morgan. That means all of them, the ones with genitals, too.

“Someone may be viewed or appear to be a biological female, but without them telling you, they may identify as trans or nonbinary.” Morgan said. “So I just didn’t want to gender the candles. I’m surrounded by a lot of queer individuals, so I wanted a business to involve everyone.”

An Insta Hit 

CTOAN’s origin story, and how a former security guard found a passion that brings queer and plus-size joy to so many, begins during the early days of Covid. Before that time, Morgan enjoyed hiking and long walks. But when the pandemic hit, “the world was a chaotic place, and I didn’t necessarily want to go outside,” she said.

When Morgan grew impatient with indoor gardening—and cooking up organic haircare products wasn’t her jam either—she turned her attention to candle-making. And that ignited her creative spirit. Soon, Morgan looked to create something a little different, and ordered a 3D body candle mold online.

The body candle was an instant hit with her Instagram followers.

“People really liked the 3D body mold candles,” Morgan said. “One person messaged me, and they were like, ‘Can you make a candle in my body type?’ And they were plus size.” With a mold sourced from Poland, Morgan began making her signature candles. Then she had a reality check.

Advised by her wife, Chaya Milchtein, that selling her candles on Instagram was not a legitimate business, Morgan found such demand for her plus-size candles that for a time, it became her before-work side gig. “That’s when we started to create our own molds for the candles,” Morgan said. Of the 14 body type candles featured on the website, 12 were developed in-house.

Designed with Followers in Mind 

While Morgan and her team’s creations appear life-like, she says the molds are designed with computer software, not live models. Each torso, booty, or the very popular thigh of thunder is hand poured and can be burned like any candle, although most consumers use them for display.

“The names of the candles are all intentionally gender-neutral,” Morgan adds. “We pretty much go on Google and type in ‘gender-neutral names’ because we try very hard to use gender-neutral language when it comes to the candles, because a lot of people do not fit in the binary.”

Most of the candles are available in dark brown, light brown, or white with a choice of unscented, sandalwood, lavender, or a seasonal fragrance. Wax melts that mimic the shape of a vulva are newer to the collection. Fans of CTOAN can also enjoy many of the products by subscription, which include stickers and coloring pages.

Morgan takes her inspiration for new products from the feedback of her followers, which number 46.5K on Instagram. Folks often ask if she can make a candle in a particular body type. “People are asking for C-section candles,” Morgan said. “But I don’t think we’re going to do that yet.” Some have asked for a body type with wider shoulders and smaller hips.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are a few social media trolls who call Morgan’s artwork lewd. “At the end of the day, I’m not doing anything that you won’t see hanging in a museum,” she says.

While the bulk of CTOAN’s sales are online, Morgan meets admirers of her creations at local shows, too. About a year ago, Morgan found just how diverse her audience was when an older woman approached her at one such market. The woman, who was perhaps over 80 years old, recognized Morgan from a TV news segment and complimented her work. “I was like, ‘Oh, thank you.’” Morgan recalled. “Then she was like, ‘If only there were things like this when I was growing up.’ And it gave me a good feeling.”

Trying to Give More 

It’s also a good feeling to give back to the community, which CTOAN has done to the tune of $10,000 so far. It’s all part of CTOAN’s mission. A recent effort in memory of Nex Benedict raised funds to make Wisconsin schools safer. Separately, for every collection, a certain percentage of the cost of each candle goes to a nonprofit or mutual aid fund.

“I believe that representation definitely matters,” Morgan said. “And growing up as a young queer teenager who had a hard time because of my sexual orientation, it’s good to involve the community in the work I do.” That means CTOAN has big plans for Pride month, but Morgan is keeping it under wraps for now. “I can’t really give all the details yet,” she said, only promising “Pride will be massive.”

Morgan still marvels at her unexpected success. “I never set out to be a business owner,” she said, adding that she’d like to connect with other Black small business owners. Although she enjoyed her career in security because of her love of sports and entertainment, Morgan realized it was, in her words, a dead end.

“Two years ago, I was making $15.74 working at a museum with more than 10 years of experience,” Morgan said. “And in the last two years, I’ve been able to donate over $10,000 to mutual aid funds. Plus, I’m able to pay my employees a living wage. So I’m just really grateful. I’m not a big corporation. I don’t have investors. This is just me and my team trying to give the world more diversity of art.” 

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