Teri Johnson: How A Visionary Woman Used $50,000 Saved For Her Wedding To Start A Business That’s Now Worth $2 Million

by Gee NY

Teri Johnson, a 47-year-old African-American entrepreneur from New York City, has transformed her love for Harlem’s cultural heritage into a thriving luxury candle business.

In 2015, she founded the Harlem Candle Company, using $50,000 initially saved for her wedding, and it now boasts an annual revenue of $2 million.

When Johnson moved to Harlem in 2000, the rich cultural history and Black icons that surrounded the community reignited her deep passion for Black culture.

In 2014, she began crafting scented candles in her kitchen as gifts for 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.”

Teri Johnson. Image credit: Harlem Candle Company

Armed with an MBA from Florida A&M, an HBCU, and a background in management consulting, Johnson navigated the business landscape effortlessly.

However, the challenging part turned out to be funding her venture. That’s when she made the bold decision to repurpose the $50,000 intended for her wedding.

Convincing her parents she wouldn’t get married anymore, she redirected the funds toward inventory.

Since then, Harlem Candle Company, initially selling $50 luxury candles, has grown into a business with $2 million in annual sales.

Johnson’s luxury candles, paying homage to the Harlem Renaissance, are now available 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, with 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, 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 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.

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