Upon first glance, you might not realize that Denequa Williams, a city girl to her core, is the mastermind behind an eco-friendly candle company. With her chill demeanor and straight-shooter attitude, Denequa catches most people off guard when they realize that creating spaces of wellness and healing through candle-making is her calling. What began as a fledgling interest soon transformed into a full-time business that she is at the helm of; from wax and fragrance selection to the design of her tins, Denequa is holding down the fort as one of Brooklyn’s (dare we say New York City’s?) best candlemakers.
Since its launch in 2016, LIT Brooklyn’s growth can be attributed to Denequa’s clever on-the-ground partnerships and the realistic fact that her candles, cleverly named “Hustle” or “Muse”, just smell so damn good. In this interview with BAUCE, Denequa discusses what inspired her to start a candle company, the business challenges she faces as a solopreneur, and what advice she would give to any young woman of color who is thinking about starting a business.
Denequa, you are a Brooklyn native. What motivated you to start your candle company, LIT Brooklyn?
Denequa: I kind of want to say that I’ve always been self-motivated. In a sense, I’ve always known that I wanted to have my own business at one point. I’m not saying that when I was a little girl I dreamed of candle making, but I somewhat always knew that this was just the path that I was meant to take as far as entrepreneurship. My dad was an entrepreneur for over 30 years before he passed away last year, and for the most part, I just always loved the idea of making your own rules. My motivation really came from seeing my dad run his own business and of also my own curiosity of whether or not I could do it.
What was your first investment into LIT Brooklyn candles? What was the first thing you bought that helped you get your candle company off the ground?
Denequa: The first thing that I purchased was wax. It was wax, it was containers and basically, I guess your basic candle making kit. But you’d need a jar, you need wax and then you need wicks. It was a lot of trial and error. I had to see which fragrances I liked because sometimes you can make something and you may think that it’s poppin’ and somebody else is like nah, I’m not really feeling this. But for the most part, the first investment was definitely the material to make the candle.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your process? Like what made you decide to go the eco-friendly route?
Denequa: I think that anything that you want to become an expert at or learn to do, you have to do your research. So, I think it was a lot of research. And ultimately, I just had to ask myself what kind of candle company do you want to be? I had to hone in on it. I knew that I wanted it to be something eco-friendly, something that was safe for you to burn in your home. And I’m a candle lover — like I love candles. I was very sad to see that when I did do the research on some of my favorite candle companies and my favorite candle brands, that they were not necessarily using safe products that people should be using in their home. I knew that I wanted to be able to create a “luxury-esque” product at an affordable price that was safe for you to burn in your home whether you had children, whether you had a sick parent, whether you were pregnant, or whether you have pets. My product is just something that is your go to when you want something that smells good but is also good for the environment too.
What has been your biggest business accomplishment to date?
Denequa: My biggest business accomplishment to date would have to be the fact that I have a product that’s in so many people’s homes. It’s one thing to have a product or new clients, but to have returning clients who love your product?! I think that’s every business owner’s dream — to create something that people love. And also, of course, being featured in one of my favorite magazine’s that I knew growing up. I was in the December holiday issue of Essence for the Black holiday guide. I was also recently featured in a Budweiser commercial. I’ve only been in business a year and a half, but in a year and a half, it has been amazing.
And speak to us about the challenges you face. What would you say is the hardest part to running a candle company?
Denequa: I would say my biggest business challenge is something that I guess I am seeing more of now. It’s the fact that I have experienced people “not being original” or copying my brand. I know that I’m not going to always be the only candle brand — I understand that. They always say that copying is a form of flattery. In my head, it’s 10 percent flattery and 90 percent annoyance in a sense. This is a vision that you have, this is a dream that you have worked tirelessly to bring to life and to have people who lack passion but try to mimic what you’ve poured all your energy into? That’s the most annoying part of it, and I guess that’s something that you can’t fight.
You know, once you put something out there, you have to be prepared to be copied because I think that people view you as successful. They think that they could skip out on the work and just jump to the results. But that’s not how it works. I try not to pay it any mind, but I think that that’s something that I can put out there that hopefully could help someone who’s dealing with the same thing.
Do you have a team?
Denequa: [Laughs] No, I don’t have a team. I am my team.
My life since I launched LIT has been different. It is difficult wearing every hat, but I feel like what works is finding balance and knowing what your limits are and not pushing yourself to the limit. Even though I am working for myself, some folks think that’s a luxury, that I am able to just get up when I want to. But it takes a lot of discipline. Like I wake up every morning around like 6:00 or 6:30 without an alarm. I’ve mastered my time without an alarm and the first thing I do, as far as work goes, is check my emails because e-mails are just the Holy Grail. I check my e-mail, and then I check the orders that come in. I have learned to keep a good amount of inventory in stock so I don’t have to pour candles every time I get a new order or whatever the case may be.
I may schedule a meeting. I may have a photo shoot. I may have to meet with a client, or I may have to ship off stuff. So, every day is different but for the most part, it is all about balance. And I think that it is possible to run your own business. It does get tiresome. I am looking for possibly an intern soon but I just want to make sure that I’m ready because I feel like you can be your own boss, you can run your own show, but having to delegate — now that’s a different story.
Denequa, what is your definition of a BAUCE woman?
Denequa: A Bauce to me is someone who is able to get her point across extremely clearly and sometimes without even uttering a word. A bauce is someone who does not believe in “no”. Who finds a way. Who is able to let her product, or whatever it is that she’s selling, speak for itself. A bauce is someone who doesn’t make excuses. I think a bauce is someone who is fierce. She knows what she wants. All of those things to me define what I think a bauce woman is.
What would you tell someone who sees what you’re doing and is inspired by your growth as a businesswoman? What is your advice for someone who wants to be as “lit” you?
Denequa: I would definitely tell them to one, research and just figure out what your lane is and figure out exactly what it is you want to do. I would also say prepare to do the work. On this journey, wherever you’re going, you cannot skip the work and the work is so important. I would also tell her to stay encouraged. Also, maybe be prepared to be alone. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing because in those moments of solitude is when you are able to figure out who you are, what you want to do and what your place is especially in this life and on this earth.
And I would say don’t give up. Try. Don’t give up. Don’t dream about it. Don’t wish on it. Just go out and do it. Even if it doesn’t work out, the fact that you tried to put your all in — that’s all that matters.