Shop Harlem Made Spotlight: The 125 Collection

In collaboration with Harlem Park to Park, we launched Shop Harlem Made in summer 2017. Shop Harlem Made is a movement uniting Harlem-lovers and Harlem artisans. In our Shop Harlem Made Spotlight series, we highlight the story and advice of local entrepreneurs.


The 125 Collection is a lifestyle brand that combines two unexpected things that go together perfectly: candles and personality. From sweet to spicy, each candle comes with a quote with just enough sass to make you laugh, or just enough inspiration to get you ready to take on the day.

We spoke with co-founders Joy Fennell and Valerie Wray about how they got their product in the hands of some famous influencers, the importance of taking chances in your business, and how they pride themselves on not just being an NYC brand but a Harlem brand.

You decided to join forces after already creating separate successful fashion and beauty businesses on your own. What made you join forces?

J: Valerie and I have known each other for about ten years. We both really enjoy decorating our home, and enjoy that experience of gathering and curating pieces for our home. We were just talking one day, wondering, “What can we do to celebrate individuality in the home?” And that’s how The 125 Collection was born.

How has building the 125 Collection been different from running your own individual businesses?

V: It’s different in that 1) it’s a completely different product that we’re selling, and 2) it’s product-based. I think this business is a lot more personal to the consumer, where other things I’ve done in the past may not have been. Being a New York based business also kind of takes on a characteristic of its own.

J: I was always more in the service-based business. Actually having a tangible product was definitely a different process for me. With service-based businesses, you’re always concerned with, “How can I always sell myself to other people?” But for a tangible product, now you’re concerned with actual costs, actual products, manufacturing, and all those types of things. I think that is the biggest difference for me. It’s just realizing that I actually have a product in my hand.

You’ve managed to make something as simple as a candle exude a combination of style and motivation. Why did you choose your main product to be a candle?

V: We both love candles. And we wanted to make 125’s mission be a self-expression movement. Although we love the idea of quotes on shirts and pants and stuff like that, we were more so thinking, “What is more personal, and is one size fits all?” It’s also easy to gift and it’s a mantra statement if you buy it for yourself.

Where do you get the quotes for your candles?

J: A lot of the quotes come from actual, everyday pop culture. Some of our quotes are definitely a little more inspirational. And then we also made up some of our own quotes as well. Because we definitely like writing and all that stuff. But most of it comes from pop culture.

How has the brand developed over time, and what are your goals for the future?

J: Well, I would say in terms of our brand developing over time, it’s definitely been a process. When we first started talking about our packaging, it totally looked different. Now we’re working on the design aspect, and trying to just get better and better. So we’ve definitely seen the evolution of our brand in this way.

Valerie designed our first ever candle as a bowl. It looked really big. So now our candles are a little more sleek, more sophisticated. We’re constantly trying to keep developing a better and better brand. Our goal for the future of course is to take over the world! We want to definitely make sure that everyone has a 125 candle in their home! Also, we eventually want to branch out and add some different types of products to our line. But, until then we really want to go full force with our candle brand.

You been featured in tons of well-known beauty and fashion print and online publications (Forbes and Cosmopolitan just to name a few!). Plus the #125collection tag on Instagram is filled with people bragging about their stylish candles, including a few famous faces such as Tiffany Haddish and Jersey Shore’s Snooki. How did you get this buzz going?

V: Joy set up the Tiffany Haddish one, but in general, what we’re finding is that we just go for it. We literally said at one point, “We want to be in Ebony. We want to be in Essence. We want to be in this magazine. We want to get in front of this person.” And when that opportunity comes, we just do it! And it’s kind of like, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

We found that by doing that, we’re getting into these places and we’re getting the buzz that we need. It’s really about finding those opportunities where influencers and people like that are going to be, and trying to get your product in their hands by any means.

J: That’s so true. And also, with Tiffany Haddish, a lot of it is you kind of have to know who your connections are in life in general. So we just so happened to find out that she was going to be at The View, and we knew someone who worked there. And we kind of just took a chance on it. We were like, “You know what? We’re going to see if we could get in there.” Like Valerie said, we don’t have anything to lose! So Let’s go for it! We just knew we had to get that candle in her hand. It’s a lot of hoping, praying, and wishing. And luckily, things have definitely been happening for us.

So what would you say to an entrepreneur who wants to start gaining influencers, but doesn’t really know where to begin?

J: Just start out with the micro influencers. The ones that don’t necessarily have the attention around them yet. Those are the ones that are truly just trying to get content for their page. So they tend to be a little more flexible when it comes to posting. The bigger influencers, they’ll tend to be a little harder to get—not saying that you can’t get them—and of course if you want to try it, by all means, try it. But micro influencers are definitely the ones that will take more of a chance on you and push your brand a little more.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from being entrepreneurs?

V: The most important thing as entrepreneurs that we learned, I think for me, is to always take chances. Because if you don’t take the chance it could be a missed opportunity. But it needs to be more so a calculated risk. Don’t just spend all your money on a chance. When I say take chances, I don’t necessarily mean financially, but just in any parts of the business.

Take a chance and partner with someone who has another brand. Take a chance and meet somebody and tell them that you want to give them a candle. You never know what can come out of that. Take those opportunities to meet people because other brands may be looking of other ways to expand their business, and reach other markets similar to yours. You could be a resource for them too.

J: That’s very true. And one thing I would add is work on strategy. Strategy is definitely really really important. And like Valerie said, calculated risks are huge. But the only way to take calculated risks is to really analyze your strategy. Make sure the strategy is on point, as well as your brand messaging. Those are things you need to take time on.

How has being Harlem-based affected your business?

V: I think it’s affected our business in an amazing way, because we’ve gotten so much support from the community in Harlem. Some of the businesses and organizations that help small businesses have really helped us expand. And the beauty of being in Harlem is that it’s known on a national level. Yes, we are a New York City brand, but people also like it that we are from Harlem. I think that allows people to remember us a little bit more. But from the Harlem community itself, just the people and programs and businesses out there have been super supportive.

What does the Shop Harlem Made movement mean to you?

J: It’s a really great idea in terms of getting people to support the community and business owners in Harlem. I think Harlem is definitely known around the whole entire world. People don’t realize how powerful and how impactful Harlem is. The people in Harlem love their community, and to know that Harlem-based businesses are around in one place through Shop Harlem Made, I think that is very powerful. That will definitely take us even further into the future. People will want Harlem products and be able to get them from all around the world.

V: And especially as a small business or an ecommerce business, one of the hardest things for any business is getting the word out and letting people know that you exist. So just having Shop Harlem Made is another platform to get our names out there. It’s really good, I’m glad that that is available for us.

J: We’re definitely happy to be part of the program, and we look forward to the future, to see it grow even more and more.

Visit The 125 Collection website


Want to learn more about Shop Harlem Made? Visit the site now to see the other amazing local entrepreneurs who are involved in the movement!

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