Throughout the year, local businesses across the United States have faced many COVID-related challenges, and that has certainly been the case in Durham for local candle crafters Bright Black Candles. The Chronicle previously profiled both Bright Black Candles and Bougie Luminaries in February of this year. Both Durham-based businesses are Black-owned, local candle making outfits focused on educating about and drawing awareness to their cultures. However, as the pandemic swept through the United States and the Black Lives Matter movement became even more prevalent, Bright Black Candles was faced with new challenges, was endorsed by Beyoncé and has collaborated with the likes of Jordan Peele and Michelle Obama.
Black Bright Candles, co-owned and founded by Tiffany Griffin and her husband Daniel Heron, has the mission to “tell stories of Black greatness through the artistic medium of scent.” Sales in early 2020 were already off to a good start, but their business model was greatly transformed throughout the year.
“Scent art inherently requires one to be present to fully experience it,” Griffin said in an email. “The lack of physical interaction in the midst of this pandemic has been tough and has required me to be incredibly vivid in my scent descriptions to convey what we're trying to communicate through our various scent designs. Taking scent art virtual has been tough, but we've risen to the challenge.”
Bright Black had to move business almost entirely online, but another bombshell event would affect them later in the year.
In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and prominent protests for racial justice, people across the country looked to support small, Black-owned businesses. Bright Black Candles had so many orders that they had to streamline their offerings at the time to meet demand. Then, on Juneteenth, Beyoncé curated a list of Black-owned businesses on her website and included Bright Black.
“That day was like every other day this summer — grinding away in our basement, trying to make candles and juggle family life,” Griffin said in an email regarding the day she heard about Beyonce’s endorsement. “We've had to make some major pivots, halting online sales, implementing longer shipping windows, delaying wholesale deliveries until we shipped all online sales and saying ‘no’ to opportunities because of our constrained capacity. More recently, we've leased a commercial space that we hope to move into soon and procured equipment that should help with production moving forward.”
In a July interview with WUNC, Griffin said that while she and Dariel were “incredibly grateful that, out of all the businesses to support, so many people chose [them],” they were also mindful of their emerging responsibility. That responsibility and new demand did not stop with Beyoncé’s endorsement. As the summer progressed, Bright Black was approached by other high profile individuals for collaborations. Jordan Peele and HBO approached them with a partnership on his new show. Michelle Obama reached out in a “get out the vote” effort in collaboration with When We All Vote.
“These were both collaborations of a lifetime, and let's just say that when Michelle Obama asks you to collaborate, you collaborate,” Griffin said in an email. “Prioritization, particularly in such a new business and in a completely bootstrapped business… is incredibly tough. [The quality of our work] is always of the utmost importance.”
The opportunities and challenges presented to Bright Black this year have also made it more difficult for them to work on several of the projects they initially intended to this year. Earlier this year, Griffin told The Chronicle that they looked to partner with local museums and businesses to educate the general public on the art of scent-making. They have partnered with the Durham Co-op and local soap-making company Fillaree, as well as designing many custom scents for local partners, but they’re still hoping to work with museums in the future.
“The Durham arts scene is incredibly dynamic, powerful, supportive, bold and community-minded,” Griffin said in an email.
Bright Black has been regularly supporting that community by donating to local funds such as the Northstar Artist Relief Fund, and they ask that others do the same. The goal of economic and racial equality is paramount to Griffin, and she asks Duke students to consume mindfully in Durham.
“If [our values] include supporting real people with real families, real dreams and real bills, then that most likely means consuming locally and/or with small businesses,” Griffin said.
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The Bright Black website reopens for all sales Nov. 1, and the craft of beautiful scents will shine all the brighter following their exciting and challenging opportunities.