For Durham native and military spouse D'Shawn Russell, starting up her own business was just a dream. She quit her job as an educator after 22 years and four years later business is booming. The Southern Elegance Candle Company's distribution facility sits off a dirt road in rural Hoke County. At the home base, hundreds of candles are made each day and shipped to all 50 states.
"I said ok. What's something I can do the best and can make money? I can okay, I can make candles," said Russell.
On any given day, you'll find a full-on candle-making operation inside those walls. It's non-stop fragrance mixing, wax pouring, wick cutting and labeling. All 25 fragrances are based on Southern Agriculture and cities she loves.
"I can remember when you could drive through downtown Durham and smell the tobacco going through downtown in the factories. When I created the Durham candle it was all about capturing that time," said Russell.
Russell says Southern Elegance came from humble beginnings. She sold her products in flea markets, festivals and churches early on. Local retailers wouldn't do business with her.
Did you know that August is #NationalBlackBusinessMonth? This is D’Shawn Russell, owner of @secandleco in Raeford. The military spouse and Durham native quit her job of 22 years to start her business. At 4:30, the challenges she faced and why she now calls it the American Dream. pic.twitter.com/qOKcklqQCq— Akilah Davis (@DavisABC11) August 13, 2020
"I am the last person people expect to talk to when they see the company. There are plenty of times when people call and ask to speak to the owner. I say I am the owner and they are still shocked because I'm Black. I'm female and middle-aged. I'll be 50 this year," said Russell.
COVID-19 forced her to lay off employees and close her doors temporarily. George Floyd's death sparked a global social justice movement which gave birth to overwhelming support for Black-owned businesses. Then business tripled. Since then she's been featured in several magazines.
Russell is a southern belle running a now thriving company with 13 employees and counting. She's created fragranced candles that remind her of the hot summers she spent barefoot in the fields with her grandmother picking blueberries to earn money for school clothes.
"It's like the American Dream," said Russell. "I decided that something was going to happen. Then, I made it happen with sheer will and a refuse to quit kind of attitude."