Q&A with Teri Johnson of Harlem Candle Co.

Q&A with Teri Johnson of Harlem Candle Co.

Every once in a while, you come across a brand or product that just blows you away. Harlem Candle Company did just that. The scent of the "Langston" candle (my personal favorite), is a deeply complex blend that perfectly evokes Langston Hughes, a true Renaissance man. Teri Johnson has created brand that is just as visually and experientially stunning, immediately transporting you back to the elegance and magic of the Harlem Renaissance.


Q: What made you want to make the leap into starting Harlem Candle Co? 

I’ve always loved beautiful fragrances and have been a huge consumer of luxurious scented candles. About six years ago, I stopped into a fragrance store in Harlem and was blown away by all of the fragrance oils and perfumes available. After talking to the salesperson and smelling hundreds of different scents, she introduced me to the owner, a chemist, who had created fragrance oils for various candle companies. He introduced me to the world of fragrance and I eventually started making candles for friends and family using fragrance oils he would make for me.

Needless to say, they were a huge hit with my inner circle so I decided to package them and sell them at artisan markets, and I quickly realized that I could turn this into a business.  Of course I needed a name, and because I was making the candles in my kitchen at my home in Harlem (often while listening to jazz and drinking a glass of wine), I decided to call it the Harlem Candle Co. The domain name and trademark “Harlem Candle” was available, which I took as a sign and I felt like it would be perfect to use the Harlem Renaissance period (1920’s-1930’s) as inspiration for the fragrances, packaging and design.


Q: What lessons have you learned through this business?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to follow my instincts despite how great an opportunity might seem. I’ve been approached by different investors and companies interested in partnering over the years, but have yet to pull the trigger because there was always something a little off. I’ve never regretted those decisions and have been able to lead and build the Harlem Candle Co in a way that is authentic to the brand and to the history of the era that we celebrate. 

Q: As a business owner, what are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it? 

I am most fearful of not being able to fully recognize the potential of the Harlem Candle Company brand. From the time I moved to Harlem, I became a student of its history, art, music, and culture. Harlem is a special place, and I feel blessed to have been able to trademark the name Harlem Candle and tell the stories of the legendary people and places that were significant during the Harlem Renaissance period.  I believe the Harlem Candle Co has the potential to become a global brand that celebrates excellence, history, and elegance while honoring the achievements and the artistic movement of the 1920s and 30’s.


Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your career and the way you approach your work? 

My biggest influence has been my family. I grew up in a household that celebrated culture and history. My grandparents and great grandparents were involved in the civil rights movement, mostly from an educational point of view, and a lot of their contemporaries were musicians, artists and politicians. They understood the importance of art, design and education, which I think influenced me and my desire to share all of the beautiful forms of expression that came from the Harlem Renaissance.

Q: What is your favorite daily tool or routine that you can't live without?

Visualization. I am a dreamer (very much a Pisces) and I enjoy daydreaming. I understand how to use this gift to get lost in thought to the point of actualizing my ideas. I might write a few simple words on paper (making it complicated doesn't work for me) and then I just turn my focus on the end result and things seem to naturally align to what I visualized.


Q: What are your favorite words to live by?

Be grateful.  Show appreciation.  Smile.  Be kind and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Q: What advice would you give other emerging business owners?

Be 100% committed to building your business before jumping all the way in. You can’t even be 99%, you need to be 100% convicted that this is what you should be doing. When you have ideas and a vision that keep you up at night, that you think about as soon as you wake up, that you can't let go of, then go for it.


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