With millions of people taking time out of their busy schedules to unwind, products like 125 Collection’s candles have solidified their spot as staple home related gifts. As a New Yorker, as soon as you see the numbers 125 you immediately think of 125th street in Harlem. Business partners and friends, Valerie Wray and Joy Fennell, are the co-founders of the candle company and definitely had Harlem in mind when creating the company.
Joy: Harlem is the Mecca of black culture and my first stomping ground when I came to New York so, we fell in love with it.
New Yorkers are known for their style and edge, so they wanted to create a candle that could fit in all homes, with any decor. Instead of an extravagant pattern, their candles feature words on a simple canvas (black jar, white sticker, and black font). Valerie told us, “It reminds us of New York. We would hope that if you look at our candles and if someone else has a candle, you could definitely tell which one is from New York City.”
Joy: In New York, you just need that down time. Candles are the best option. You can light a candle, throw on some jazz or whatever you listen to and just chill. Relax. No matter how big or small your place is.
This business helps this duo gel their passions into something different from what they do on full time basis. Joy is a makeup artist and Valerie owns her own online fashion company. Their beauty and fashion backgrounds help them keep track of trends. On their website there is a "Latinx" collection, a "Boss Babe" collection, a "Spirit" Collection and many more. This company has a candle for everyone’s personality and they pride themselves on that.
Valerie: We both love candles, we both love setting that ambiance in our homes but, for us the 125 Collection is all about self expression. We make sure to work with the perfumers that design our fragrances so it is equally as important but, when we created the line, we focused on the quotes first. We really didn't realize—I mean we knew our fragrances smelled good, but I remember Katrina was the first person who told us “It doesn't matter which scent it is they will buy these candles”.
Joy and Valerie recognize their Harlem community as a large contributor to their success.
Valerie: We met a customer that comes to NiLu and wants to double support. He buys our candles, but he only gets it from NiLu. I think now, we are all realizing that we have to support and buy from each other and everyone is actually starting to do that.
Joy: Harlem has believed in us since day one. It is so powerful to see how much love we get in our community.
Their only struggle as black women business owners is recognizing how hard it is to raise capital. Majority of their business has been self funded, but even in the small amount they have tried to raise—they know it is no where near easy.
Valerie: You can see the level of what is needed out of a black woman versus what is needed out of someone else to prove themselves.
They do not have the resources other people might have through venture capitalists or even friends and family. This is why Joy’s main advice to anyone with an idea that they are nervous to turn into business is to utilize your connections.
Joy: A lot of times we try to do stuff on our own and that can get tiring. I think we as a community need to start leaning on our connections, our own personal connections. Let people know, this is what I’m doing, this is how you can help. Of course if they can’t help monetarily, maybe they can help with something else. Can’t be afraid to ask for help.
Valerie quotes the Nike ad “Just do it” as her advice.
Valerie: If Joy and I say we are going to be in a magazine, we push until we are in that magazine, you just have to do it. If you believe in your product, you just have to put the time into it. If you have to have two full time jobs to pay the bills, then that's what you have to do.