According to American Express, more than 2 million small businesses are owned and operated by African American women. This Black History Month, we’re excited to spotlight one of these inspiring entrepreneurs: D’Shawn Russell, founder of Southern Elegance Candle Co.
We asked D’Shawn to share the story of building her $200-per-week side hustle into a thriving business, now making $20,000 each month. The first thing she told us was that while her story was multidimensional—she’s a black woman and military spouse building a national brand from a rural part of the U.S.—Faire gave her a platform to spotlight her products and let her brand speak for itself. “Once they know they love the product, they get to find out all these great aspects about our brand!”
D’Shawn shared her experience growing her company, everything she’s learned, and her goals for the future.
Faire: Tell us all about Southern Elegance. We want to know everything!
D’Shawn Russell: When I started the company, I was working in education, recently had a baby, and my son had eczema. I learned how to make a lot of products for him. One day I thought, “You know, I think I can turn this into a business and do this full time.”
But I had no business background. I took some courses on how to wholesale, how to build a brand, and how to create a brand. I started selling to pretty much anybody that would take me. I sold at school bazaars, church festivals, and fairs. Anywhere that would take me. I just started selling my product.
I wasn’t one of those people that thought, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to work for myself.” I just looked around and said to myself, I think I can do this. And I did it.
I wasn’t one of those people that was like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to work for myself.” I was not that person. I was just someone to say, “You know what? I looked around us, and I think I can do this.” And then I did it.
Walk us through a “typical” day at Southern Elegance—if there is one!
Our main priority is getting our product out to our customers in a timely manner. We try to get our orders out within 72 hours. Store owners and boutiques appreciate that. So once we figure out how to put out any fires in the shipping department, I’ll go over to the production manager. Are there any fires over here? And then if she has any fires, we put those fires out.
My job at this point is identifying new opportunities to grow the company. It is less about making the product and more about recognizing new ways to broaden our wholesale partnerships. So, the bulk of my day is spent looking for ways to expand Southern Elegance into new stores.
What was it like starting your business?
Initially, like I said, I knew how to make a lot of things. I know how to make soaps, lotions, sugar scrubs, and candles. I had to look at all of the items I knew how to make and say, “OK. Although I know how to do this, which one of these things would make the best business?”
I had to go from being a hobbyist crafter and maker to a business-minded entrepreneur. I looked at all of my product offerings and I said, “Which one of these has the potential to be the most profitable?”
I simplified the products down to only candles. This allowed me to have one product. I became known as the candle lady. It became easier to grow the company because we were known for one thing. And production was simple and easy to scale.
When you have that one product, it’s easy to make and easy to package. You’re not spending a whole lot of time doing a whole bunch of different tasks. Once we got our processes in place, it became easy to train others to do the candle making. So, hiring my first employees was pretty seamless.
This is a great segue into our next question: how has Faire helped you grow your business?
I love Faire. Everybody knows that. I love Faire.
I’ve been on Faire for two years now. We had a great, great, great product [before Faire]. We just didn’t have the exposure because we were a small business and did not have a marketing budget. So we went from doing craft fairs and festivals,] and making candles in my garage to my first production space, to my second space, and now we’re in a 4,000 square foot production facility. Most of that growth is due to Faire.
We use all of the [Faire] tools that are available. And whenever they roll out something new, we take advantage of it. As a result, we have consistent reorders. We’re constantly adding new vendors that find us both through Faire [and other channels]. But we send all new retailers through [Faire] because we love their terms. It gives people the opportunity to try our product without a lot of risk for them. So it has just really allowed our company to grow.
So even if they don’t reorder because I know how stores like to keep everything fresh, they may not reorder every single month, but they always circle back in order at least two or three times from us. So we have a lot of reorders, and there is no way that I would have been able to facilitate this type of growth on my own.
So, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far with your business?
The truth is, it’s way harder than I ever imagined. It is much, much more difficult than I ever imagined. And I think social media only focuses on the good aspects of running a business. You see these brands that just pop up and go, “Oh, I’m doing six figures in 90 days.” That is not realistic for most brands that are just starting.
Building a brand is very, very difficult. Selling stuff is easier. But building a brand that will resonate with consumers, that they’re going to come back to, and that you can grow and scale—that part is incredibly difficult. And I can’t stress that enough.
Faire makes it easier because you have a platform to put your product out to pretty much any retailer partner that has the Internet.
What do you love most about your business?
Financial freedom. This business has given me the financial freedom to be totally independent. And I talk about this often. I’m a woman of color. So for me to be totally independent of anybody, to make my own rules—I feel very blessed to be in that position.
And not only am I in that position for myself where I am in control of my own destiny. I have employees that I pay. Now, I am a wealth creator also. Just being in the position that I am in, is just phenomenal to me. The fact that I’m able to move through the world without having to ask permission, without having to wait to be chosen for the next promotion is freeing. I create opportunities to grow and expand my company. And Faire has really created a platform to help facilitate that.
What does the future look like for Southern Elegance?
Oh, what about world domination? We are looking at some different sales opportunities now. Thanks to Faire. We’re in stores from California all the way up to New England, down to Florida, in stores all in between. We’re in the Midwest, the north, everywhere.
Thanks to Faire, I can literally say we are a national brand. So my goal is eventually to take it global and move to more stores to not just be a national brand, but a globally recognized brand.
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