Teri Johnson spent years running a travel blog on Instagram before setting off to launch her own luxury candle company. After graduating from Florida A&M University with an MBA, the Houston native set her sights on New York City.
Johnson released her first candle in 2014 and now has nearly a dozen scents that pay homage to figures and significant locations of the Harlem Renaissance. Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, and Duke Ellington each have candles dedicated to them. Her most recent release pays tribute to James Baldwin’s novel “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
One of Johnson’s missions is to connect her products with the community. The Langston Hughes candle was even launched in the home of the late poet.
AfroTech caught up with Johnson to talk about how she brought her creation and vision to life:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get into the candle industry?
I really love beautiful fragrances. I’ve been a consumer of luxury candles for a really long time and if I if I wasn’t making them I would still be buying them. I happened to just meet an incredible perfumer who has made fragrance oils for other candle companies. So I met him and we just talked a lot about different fragrances. Probably a year after I met him, I asked him if he had some candle fragrances that I could use because I wanted to make candles for Christmas gifts.
He gave me some different fragrance oils and I made some candles. I made about 50 of them for friends and family and gifted them and everyone went crazy for them. They absolutely loved them. My friends and family really encouraged me to start a candle line because everyone who knows me knows how much I love fragrances. I have since I was a child. I used to experiment with making my own perfumes when I was a kid.
I have a pretty good sense of smell where I can smell something one or two times and never forget it. I’ve helped my friends choose the best perfume and cologne for their body chemistry. I love doing it. So it was just kind of a natural thing.
You made perfumes as a kid?
Oh, everything that I felt smelled good, I would just mix it together. My bathroom was like my laboratory, so it would be a combination of things from my mom that I kept. She was basically like ‘Alright, you can have that, you can play with that and with that.’
So the combination of mixing different old perfumes that my mom didn’t want anymore or even things from the kitchen like different spices. I just love creating beautiful things.
Have you ever taken candle-making classes or is this something you taught yourself how to do?
The perfumer I was working with, he knows how to make candles so he told me the basics but I also I looked at YouTube, read a lot online. You know it’s such a process, so there’s a lot of trial and error language.
You’ve done a really good job of getting your name out there with your marketing strategy. The Langston Hughes launch is a good example of that. How did that come about? How did you even come up with the idea to host it at his house?
Well I have a friend who knew the woman who lives in the house. He made the introduction and I was like ‘Oh this is perfect’ because I’m releasing this new candle and I would love to do a launch party and there’s no place better to do it but at the house of Langston Hughes. It was kind of serendipitous.
How long did it take to kind of make that launch happen?
It took maybe about eight or nine months to develop. That’s just going back and forth with the perfumer about the fragrance, doing research to kind of understand what fragrance notes I saw that reflected those strong symbols and in Langston Hughes life. And also those fragrances that I felt like Langston would really love. I wanted to create a candle that was his candle.
If he was still alive what candle in the collection would he like? So there’s notes of tobacco and It has really nice incense notes. I wanted a sort of a fragrance note that kind of captures the after-hours experience. So that could be a mix of just coming from a jazz club. A little smokiness and it’s a little incense, elements of leather and then vanilla.
Check out Harlem Candle Company’s full selection here.