Teri Johnson, a 47-year-old African American woman from New York City, turned her passion for Harlem’s cultural heritage into a thriving luxury candle business. In 2015, she founded Harlem Candle Company using $50,000 originally saved for her wedding and now it boasts an annual revenue of $2 million.
When Johnson moved to Harlem in 2000, the rich cultural history of Black icons that surrounded the community reignited her deep passion for Black culture. In 2014, she started crafting scented candles in her kitchen as gifts for her family and friends, realizing an opportunity to blend her hobby with Harlem’s cultural heritage.
“Everything just fell into place,” Johnson told Inc. “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.”
As a former management consultant armed with an MBA from Florida A&M, an HBCU, Johnson effortlessly navigated the business landscape. However, the challenging part turned out to be funding her venture. That’s when she decided to repurpose the $50,000 intended for her wedding, convinced her parents she wouldn’t get married anymore, and redirected the funds toward inventory.
Since then, Harlem Candle Company, which initially sold $50 luxury candles each, has grown into a business worth $2 million in annual sales. Her luxury candles, which pay homage to the Harlem Renaissance, are now sold in 134 stores, including major retailers like Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s. Johnson has also ventured into corporate gifting, securing clients such as JP Morgan Chase, Google, and Meta.
What sets her candles apart is the storytelling aspect, each fragrance and packaging telling the tales of Black luminaries such as Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, and Langston Hughes, among others. One of her creations, Purple Love, a floral-accented candle inspired by James Baldwin, even earned a spot on Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2023.
“I do my research, and my perfumers take my vision and go deeper to create these essences that really do transport you back to a 1920s speakeasy or to the creative space of a Langston Hughes,” she said.
Beyond candles, Johnson expands her creative endeavors with the Harlem Design Company, set to launch journals celebrating the Harlem Renaissance. As she continues to draw inspiration from the past, her brand becomes a bridge between history and the present, capturing the essence of the Harlem Renaissance for a new generation.
“With me being a Black woman, having a business based here, and celebrating Black culture that celebrates Black excellence, and Black history, I felt a very strong responsibility to be a part of it,” she said.
Learn more about her company via its official website at HarlemCandleCompany.com