Meet Teri Johnson, a Harlem businesswoman who creates perfumed candles. She learned the trade after spending time in Black Paris during a college internship. She uncovered the incredible stories of Black artists such as Josephine Baker, who rose to fame as one of the world’s most famous entertainers after dancing in a banana skirt at a Paris event.
Johnson decided to move to Harlem in 2000 to learn more about the stories she had heard in Paris. According to Inc.com, at the time, Harlem was undergoing a period of economic and cultural enthusiasm following years of high crime rates and urban decay. Johnson would spend the following decade pondering how he could contribute to Harlem’s resurgence of Black pride.
She developed a business idea in 2014 to start creating scented candles after making them 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 next year, in 2015, she established the Harlem Candle Company in New York. The company makes candles in commemoration of African-American icons like as Baker, Duke Ellington, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes.
Her goal, she says, was to tell meaningful stories through both the candle fragrances and the packaging: inside each candle box is a card that explains the inspiration and aroma notes for the candle.
Since she began selling on her website in 2015, she has released over 25 perfumes. According to Inc.com, the company now has yearly sales of $2 million. Harlem Candle Company products are also available in 134 retailers, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s. The company also does corporate gifts for companies including 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.