According to Inc., Johnson’s inspiration came during her college internship in Paris in the early ’90s. While there, she learned about Baker and other Black creatives who spent time in Europe experiencing relief from America’s racist society of the 1920s.
Johnson’s studies introduced her to the Harlem Renaissance, motivating her to dive deeper into the infamous era. In 2014, she was struck with the idea of using her candle-making hobby as a way to honor those who shifted Harlem’s culture.
“Everything just fell into place she said,” she said in her interview with 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.”
In 2015, she launched Harlem Candle Company with 25 scents priced at $50 each. The uniqueness of her candles resulted from Johnson and her team’s research into every illuminary they celebrated. Lasering in on details like Baker’s affinity for fragrances with rose and jasmine notes, Johnson used them as her reference points, causing her business to soar.
The Florida A&M graduate student now sees over $2 million in annual sales and sells her candles in countless department stores, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.
Speakeasy is the brand’s best-selling candle. A special touch to the candle is a map of popular nightlights drawn in 1932 by Black cartoonist E. Simms Campbell.
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Featured as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things, Johnson’s rose-scented Purple Love candle was a special request from the production company that worked on 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk film, which is based on Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name. The floral scent pays homage to Baldwin’s time spent in France where he spent every day near a rose garden writing the novel.
In January, Johnson is launching the Harlem Design Company, which will feature a set of journals honoring the Harlem Renaissance. New scents are also on the way, including one inspired by Nina Simone.
Johnson’s love of the Harlem Renaissance is rooted in the era’s charge for change. She hopes to create her own modern-day Harlem Renaissance with a network of fellow Black business owners in her area.
“It’s back. We are the creatives. We are the visionaries and the artists. We are the changemakers,” she said. “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.”