Running around collecting fireflies in jars was, hands down, one of our favorite summer activities as kids. The mission to collect enough fireflies to light up the inside of our blanket tents on humid Illinois nights created some of our favorite memories.
Childhood is supposed to be happy and carefree like those summer nights collecting fireflies – but in the case of the families of babies born with the fatal disease of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a disease similar to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it is crushingly sad and difficult.
We love that Wendy and her husband, founders of Firefly Wine Lights, have taken something magical (fireflies) and created lanterns with "firefly lights" inside to fundraise for a SMA cure. There’s something so powerful about fighting darkness and heartache with light. Enjoy reading the story of how they got started and the reason they can successfully work together as a husband and wife team while creating such purposeful, yet whimsical decorations! And check out the shop to see how you can support the fight against SMA.
The SHE Team: Can you share the mission behind Firefly Wine Lights and how you chose the name?
Wendy: We were sitting outside one evening and had a few of our lanterns strewn around the patio. We just remarked that they looked like little fireflies in a bottle. When we set up shop, the name came pretty quickly!
Our mission is to shine a light on spinal muscular atrophy, which is similar to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, except in babies. We feel compelled to help spread awareness about this little known, yet fatal disease and have linked arms with The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation (The GSF), a non-profit dedicated to supporting families affected by SMA.
The SHE Team: We follow you on Instagram and love your feed, but when you share the story of how you were chatting with a couple who loved your lights, but when the gentleman was ready to buy some, the women tugged him away and you heard her mutter, “We can get them cheaper at Michaels.” That’s hard. It is almost impossible to compete with big box stores – for many SHE companies. How do you explain the heart behind what you do and your pricing to potential customers?
Wendy: Thank you. Yes, that comment stung. I hadn’t encountered that sort of response yet, but had been aware that lights similar to ours were popping up across certain chain stores. I felt discouraged but then decided to post about it. The support was amazing. It was an assurance to me that those who love supporting small businesses, and believe in our cause, will remain loyal.
We are a two-man crew with two kids of our own and both work day jobs.
The late nights drilling and sanding and repurposing bottles and jars into these lanterns is all done with the babies in mind. And for me, specifically, their mamas.
The SHE Team: What are some of the most creative ways you’ve seen customers use your lights?
Wendy: Customers have used our mini mason jar lanterns as kitchen decor, hanging on coffee cup hooks, as nightlights, and ornaments during Christmas or on trees all year round! Our wine bottles have been the popular choice for weddings. Our Cobalt Blue Bottles were used as centerpieces in a silver & cobalt themed winter wedding in Maine. Another special order we fulfilled was for a wedding in England. The customer is also a Gwendolyn Strong Foundation (GSF) supporter, though she has no personal connection to SMA. Yet she has donated her time and resources to helping the very foundation we support. Her order meant a lot to us and although we cannot ship internationally, we found a way to get these lights to her so they could be a part of her special day! But the most special order of all came from a mother who had lost her 7 month old baby girl named Lexi, to SMA. She was expecting another baby girl and wanted to have something for Lexi to gift to her new baby sister. She chose the Purple & Blue Mason Jar Lanterns. Purple for Lexi’s favorite color, and blue for the color of her eyes.
The SHE Team: We love this line on your website: “repurposed for a greater purpose.” Where do you get your mason jars and wine bottles for FireFly Wine Lights? Can people donate them to you or is that easier said than done?
Wendy: Most of our bottles were acquired after we helped bottle wine in Paso Robles, CA, where my husband is from. We were rewarded with 8 cases (!) of Tempranillo, one of my favorite wines. We also source them from local wineries, who are happy to have the bottles taken off their hands. They cannot be reused, and most likely end up in landfills, since the recycling process of glass is so inefficient. A few people have offered to ship us their empty bottles, but honestly, shipping glass is just too cost ineffective. We will occasionally hit up local friends if necessary.
As for the mason jars, my mother in law does a lot of canning, homemade jams and salsas that we often receive as gifts. So we have her to thank for much of our inventory! We also scour garage and estate sales, and some are specially ordered.
The SHE Team: You run the business with your husband. Not everyone can do that! Any tips to share for successfully working with your spouse?
Wendy: It’s not always sunshine and roses! But, we realized we spend most of our time “dividing and conquering”, one takes this kid to soccer practice, the other takes this one to music lessons. At the end of the day, it’s nice to have something meaningful to do together.
The SHE Team: Not everyone knows about SMA. How did you become aware and when led you to weave it into your company’s mission?
Wendy: I had initially learned about SMA through a writer for a devotional website. She shared about a family who had just lost their 3-year-old daughter to the disease. Through this family, I found out about The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation and their own personal connection to SMA. Bill and Victoria Strong lost their 7-year-old girl, Gwendolyn in July 2015, yet continued their work with just as much resolve as they did when she was alive. I was so inspired by them. I started sifting through story after heartbreaking story of babies and young children who were losing their lives to this rare disease. I felt the Lord tugging at my heart, but didn’t know how I could help. I kept asking, “Lord, what can I do?” When we made our first big sale, I felt He was telling me to pursue this business as a way to generate funds and awareness for SMA. THIS became my answer.
The SHE Team: What are your favorite sustainable healthy ethical (SHE) brands you use? Wendy: My knowledge of which brands are truly fair trade is still limited, but I am definitely more selective about what I buy. A couple of brands I trust are Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate with Toffee or Crystallized Ginger and Numi Chocolate Pu-erh Tea.
The SHE Team: What's your favorite healthy guilty pleasure when the going gets tough?
The SHE Team: How can our readers best link arms and cheer you on??
Wendy: I would love for readers to check out TheGSF.org to learn more about SMA and about ways to help. It starts with awareness. My prayer has always been that the more people learn, the more they would be MOVED with compassion, the way Jesus was when He saw the multitude that was lost in Matthew 9:36. To not just simply have pity, but to be stirred to action. He lit a tiny spark and then fanned the flame in my own heart, and He can do the same in others.
If you would like to donate directly to The GSF, you can do so here: http://thegsf.org/donate