InterviewsFeb 9, 2024

Meet the Artisan: Harlem Candle Company

Written by Kelsey Walker


We’re thrilled to feature Harlem Candle Company, a luxury home fragrance brand inspired by the Harlem renaissance and a friend of Shoppe Amber Interiors, today on All Sorts Of. Join us as we sit down with founder, Teri Johnson, to explore more of the brand’s story and mission.

Without further ado, Teri Johnson of Harlem Candle Company



a conversation with Teri Johnson…

Let’s start from the beginning! Tell us a little about the journey that led you to where you are now.

I worked as a travel expert and lifestyle content creator for many years! I have always loved collecting treasures and mementos from my travels to bring home with me, but I am most often drawn to aromatics. I found myself transporting suitcases full of lavender sachets, handmade soap, and locally sourced spices across oceans to enjoy here in New York City. I really believe in the transportive power of scents. I loved that what I brought home could remind me of the special time spent in each place. Beyond the aromatics I incorporated into my home from my travels, I have always adored the ritual of lighting candles and using scent to curate the energy of a space.

Living in New York City, I feel at home amongst other creatives and am inspired by the collaboration that so naturally weaves its way into my story. I began creating fragrances for my friends and family, giving them away as gifts over the years. I loved creating unique scents, choosing the colors of the packaging, and matching scents to each recipient. I would make candles in my kitchen, listening to jazz music from icons like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, and Langston Hughes. Ultimately, I fell in love with the story of each candle that was written through the process. Simultaneously, I was feeling so encouraged by my friends and family’s reactions to the candles and exhausted by the hustle culture of today’s corporate society. I was ready to venture onto a path that felt more aligned with my passions and personality – so I met with a chemist who created fragrance oils and Harlem Candle Company was born!

This company was built on this story! I want to capture the essence and honor the legacy left by these cultural icons and lifestyle of Harlem in the 20’s. I encourage customers to connect with the deeper purpose behind things – everything in life is connected to a special story if you choose to look for it. My goal is to inspire people, through fragrance, to connect with travel, culture, history, and the lessons that are accessible to them when they widen their perspective. More than a candle business, Harlem Candle Company is meant to transport people to a period in time, curate the mood of a space, and motivate both creativity and inspiration.


What inspires you? How have your passions and interests changed over the course of your career?

As touched on in the origin story of Harlem Candle Company, I am hugely inspired by stories. I love that stories can transport you to another place! When telling a story, I always linger on the small details – they play a big role in the imagination of things. Podcasts, music, blogs, and books are my jam. I really find it important to focus on one of the five senses at a time to connect fully. Immerse yourself into the experience and let your imagination paint the picture!

Fragrance is the same way – it can transport you and spark your imagination, allowing you to fully experience that moment though each one of the five senses at a time. I fall in love with a new scent nearly every day. Each one takes me down a new path of creation, but my passion and interests have always centered around the idea of storytelling and imaginative experiences.


You have a deep love of travel, having visited 71 countries! How has your passion for travel influenced Harlem Candle Company?

There’s a big difference between vacationing and traveling – with my preference on the latter. The reason I am so passionate about traveling is because it allows for an immersive experience of each place – exploring local markets, trying local cuisine, and taking moments to acknowledge and learn from all of those mundane cultural moments. I make it a point to learn about the history of each place that I visit and spend my time trying to honor that story. I feel a strong pull to go deeper into my experiences than vacationing allows for. I want every endeavor to mold me as a person and give me inspiration and lessons to incorporate into my lifestyle back home. There is so much wisdom to experience from traveling – and I want to leave feeling connected to myself and to others around the world.

Traveling is a gift of life and is what ultimately led me to be who I am today. The freedom of expression that I feel is represented in the fragrances available on-site, the design of the packaging, and the stories that the candles tell. Likewise, I want customers to feel these things when they burn a Harlem Candle Company candle in their home. Just like traveling, Harlem Candle Company is meant to invite customers to consider how they can expand their worldviews, appreciate moments more deeply, and use their imaginations to lean into the story behind every experience.


What does your day-to-day entail to support your company?

No day is the same! I like to start my mornings off with fresh juice when I can – I love ginger, turmeric, and orange flavors. If I have time to get some movement in, I like to go for a walk or take an exercise class from home. I spend the majority of my days afterwards on zoom meetings with my team and checking in on the manufacturing facility and fulfillment center. Occasionally, there are trade shows, pop-up events, or photoshoots that occupy the daytime hours. I like that everyday is a little different. I am always on the go!


How do you work to achieve balance in your life?

Balance, for me, is born from taking a moment to step away. This is another reason I value traveling and disconnecting from my everyday life so highly. My goal is to travel or participate in an immersive retreat at the beginning of every year. It’s important to be immersed in nature – surrounded by a new landscape, a language different from my own, or an environment that gets me out of my comfort zone. If I didn’t take the time to disconnect and explore, I wouldn’t have been able to build the business that I have. Overall, exploring curiosity through travel is how I balance the hustle.


What advice would you give other women leaders in the business world?

Lean into the unconventional! The most important thing in running a business is allowing everyone involved the freedom to center happiness. Whether that’s collaborating on ideas or projects, working from another location that inspires them, or making adjustments to their working style to feel more creative, it’s vital that everyone is able to do what they need to do to keep their imaginations healthy. I never want the people who work with me to feel restricted in how they operate – whatever allows them their productivity is encouraged. I encourage any business owner in a similar space to align their philosophies with the product they sell, because the customer can feel that.


We’re excited to now be carrying the Lady Day Candle at Shoppe Amber Interiors! Could you elaborate a bit about this candle and its celebration of Black History Month?

The Lady Day Candle is inspired by the white gardenia flower Billie Holiday always wore in her hair. I’ve always wanted to make a home fragrance inspired by Billie Holiday and given that the white gardenia was a part of her signature look, it all felt perfectly aligned. I wanted to explore the soft and delicate side of Billie Holiday, which is why the notes of ylang ylang and orange blossom are such an important addition to the palette.

Billie was not only a legendary artist, but a cultural icon and activist for justice. This candle is meant to celebrate her for all that she was – a reminder of the music, energy, and spirit that she left behind. I hope that this candle serves as a reminder of her legacy – and likewise, the legacy of other historical Black artists and activists.


How would you describe the connection between the world of fragrance and the world of interiors? How can we incorporate this connection into our own homes?

They could not be more interconnected! Existing in a space is an immersive experience – whether that’s conscious or not. Each space has the ability to instantaneously transport you. Every detail plays into this effect – colors, textures, décor, and fragrance. Fragrance is the finishing touch on a beautifully designed space – helping to leave an impression and develop the character created through the design.


What’s next for Harlem Candle Company? How do you hope to see the impact of your work take form?

We’re so excited to be expanding the brand to include perfume fragrance – Harlem Perfume Company. We’re creating body fragrances also inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, and Langston Hughes. Beyond that, I want to keep growing, selling to big department stores, and expanding the business to include other fragrance industries.

I believe that the impact of the work we do is directly tied to my story. As a Black woman entrepreneur whose business began in her kitchen, the success of my business is an inspiration to many. I am creating something unique that hasn’t been done before. I am so proud of everything we create. I am so proud of myself! Even though there have been mistakes made along the way – I am proud of those too, because that means that I tried.

rapid fire with Teri…

Favorite place to visit to spark inspiration?

National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. I could spend days there!


Color or neutrals?

Colors! All of our candles are made in jewel tones.


Favorite space in your home?

My living room / office! This is where I take meetings, play records, and display meaningful art to keep me inspired.


Favorite scent of all time?

Lady Day Candle
Josephine Candle


Most nostalgic scent from childhood?


My grandparents’ house! It smelled of old leather, wood polish, and fresh flowers.

Shop Harlem Candle Company

Lady Day Candle


Speakeasy Candle


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