Teri Johnson Harlem Candle Company

Native Texan Teri Johnson traveled to more than 70 countries before making New York City’s Harlem neighborhood her home. Inspired by her love of fragrance, jazz and her new surroundings, Johnson began crafting candles in her kitchen that evoked the richness and magic of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s in a way that felt modern for global citizens a century later. What drove you to start your own brand? Back in 2013, I made about 50 candles to give to friends and family for Christmas, with the help of a chemist I knew who created fragrance oils for candle companies. He concocted six different scents for me, and I went to town and started making candles. I got so into the process of making them, and I got really excited creating a story for each one. The reception from my inner circle—sharing how much they loved and would be willing to buy the candles—prompted me to take my newfound venture to the next level.

A resident of Harlem since the mid-2000s, I started selling my candles at local pop-up shops in the area and spreading the word about my new business. I soon realized the Harlem Candle Company moniker was available to trademark. Because I was able to get the name Harlem, I realized there’s a lot of weight to that name. I think about Harlem as the epicenter of African-American culture—there’s so much history, art and literature there. So, in 2014, the Harlem Candle Company brand was officially born, and each of its scents was inspired by icons who helped shape the Harlem Renaissance.

I noticed there weren’t any candle brands that centered around African-American culture and history, specifically, so I knew my idea was something special and unique. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. Starting the Harlem Candle Company was really a culmination of all my passions and interests into a brand that I believed in.
“I noticed there weren’t any candle brands that centered around African-American culture and history, so I knew my idea was special.”

What’s your favorite product in the line? The Speakeasy 22K Gold Candle because the scent, which is the essence of bourbon and palo santo, is so intoxicating. And I love that the vessel can be used as a cocktail glass upon finishing. When I first approached the very talented perfumer behind this scent, Catherine Selig, I knew I wanted to create something that transported people in time—specifically to a mysterious, forbidden speakeasy club with leather couches, bourbon and cigars. As we talked through this idea, we visualized what a modern speakeasy would look and feel like today and used that inspiration to create the scent.

What are your morning and evening routines? Each morning, I make sure to spend some time meditating and journaling. I really believe in the power of manifestation and affirmation, so doing these activities in the morning really helps guide me through the rest of the day.

My evening routine varies. On a good day, it includes reading historical fiction and the biographies of people who inspire me.
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I’ve had quite a few jobs/careers before starting Harlem Candle Co., and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I began my career in management consulting, co-ran a media company, worked as a travel and lifestyle expert and eventually made my way to the home fragrance industry. What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own business? My best piece of advice would be to remain authentic in getting a company up and running. It has to be something you’d be willing to do for little or no money in the beginning. Your passion for it can’t be fleeting.
Teri Johnson of Harlem Candle Company
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