Martha Stewart

The Harlem Candle Company CEO shares how she found inspiration from figures who defined the New York borough—including Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, and Duke Ellington.

 

By Nashia Baker, November 30, 2020

 

Teri Johnson may be a Texan but she is fluent in the history of Harlem, New York City—a borough home to artists, poets, and performers who embodied the richness of the Harlem Renaissance. Even though 100 years have passed since the booming era of African American culture in this neighborhood began, the owner and founder of the Harlem Candle Company is on a mission to make sure the legends and their legacies will never be forgotten. "I have always seen this as a global brand because Harlem is revered around the world," she says. "I [want] to do my part in helping to carry on the legacy through almost a new renaissance, [while] still celebrating what made Harlem so unique."

Using her luxury home fragrance brand, Johnson infuses scents associated with greats of time. With the likes of James Baldwin—hinting at his love for his St. Paul de Vence garden with fresh notes of apple and cloves in the "Baldwin" Candle ($60, harlemcandlecompany.com)—and Harlem's night life with auras of bourbon and palo santo in the "Speakeasy" Luxury Candle ($45, harlemcandlecompany.com)—the brand epitomizes an artistic age that has defined and transcended history. Ahead, Johnson details how she got her business started and continues to put sentimental value behind each of her products.

Discovering a Passion

Johnson made her premiere batch of homemade candles in 2013, however, she didn't intentionally see this as a business. "I made about 50 candles to give to friends and family for Christmas," she says. "I decided to make candles because I love getting [them] as gifts." To complete her gifting for the holiday season, she enlisted the help of a chemist she knew created fragrance oils for candle companies—and it changed everything. "He whipped up about six different fragrances and gave them to me, and I went to town and started making these candles," she adds. "I got so into the process of making them, and I got really excited about creating a story for each one." Each of her candles—poured in different colors and packaged in labels—were branded as "La Maison de Bougie de Teri" (Teri's House of Candles) to make her creations even more official and personal. The reception from her inner circle sharing how much they loved them and would be willing to buy the candles prompted her to take the newfound venture to the next level.

As a resident of Harlem since the mid-2000s, she started selling her candles at local pop-up shops in the area and spreading the word about her new business on Instagram. In the process of growing her brand, she soon realized the Harlem Candle Company moniker was available to trademark. "Because I was able to get the name Harlem, I realized there is a lot of weight to that name," Johnson explains. "I think about Harlem as being the epicenter of African American culture—there's so much history, art, and literature." So, in 2014, the Harlem Candle Company brand was officially born.

 

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