Get to know entrepreneur Teri Johnson, who makes scented candles in Harlem. She picked up the trade after immersing herself in Black Paris while on a college internship. She discovered the extraordinary stories of Black artists including Josephine Baker, who became one of the most famous performers in the world after dancing in a banana skirt at a show in Paris.
In 2000, Johnson decided to move to Harlem to learn more about the stories she was exposed to when she was in Paris. At the time, Harlem was experiencing a period of economic and cultural excitement after years of high crime rates and urban blight, Inc.com wrote. Johnson would spend the next decade mulling over ways to participate in this revival of Black pride in Harlem.
In 2014, she had a business idea to go into making scented candles after making such candles for friends and family for the holidays in her kitchen.
“Everything just fell into place she said,” Johnson told Inc.com. “I was encouraged by friends and family who had received my candles. I was making the candles in Harlem and I loved the Harlem Renaissance. My goal became to put Harlem on the map with a beautiful, luxurious fragrance.”
The following year, precisely in 2015, she launched the Harlem Candle Company based in New York. the company creates candles that honor Black greats such as Baker, Duke Ellington, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes.
According to her, her goal was to tell impactful stories through both the candle fragrances and the packaging: Inside every candle box, there is a card that explains the inspiration and fragrance notes for the candle.
She has released more than 25 scents since she first started selling in 2015 through her website. Today, the company makes annual sales to the tune of $2 million, according to Inc.com. What is more, Harlem Candle Company products are sold in 134 stores, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s. The company also has a corporate gifting business with clients such as JP Morgan Chase, Google, and Meta.
To launch her current business, Johnson used $50,000 her parents saved for her wedding as seed capital. “I told my parents that I wasn’t getting married and that they should give that money for my business,” said the Houston, Texas native.
Before starting her own business, the MBA holder worked as a management consultant at Accenture. That work experience helped her launch her own company, she said.
“I had the experience of being able to understand something and then build a system through automation and technology. Creating a website and the process flow for the candle company was easy,” said Johnson.