Melissa Butler On Denequa Williams: She’s Defining Success On Her Own Terms

When you’re an entrepreneur in New York City, you quickly become aware of the other business owners — especially the Black female founders. We run in small circles, and people constantly talk about the products they are loving. I remember hearing about Lit Brooklyn before I even met its founder, Denequa Williams. Everyone was raving about these hand-poured, delicious-smelling candles out of Brooklyn, and I knew I had to try them.
Finally, I was at a trade show four years ago, and I walked over to Denequa’s table, where I instantly fell in love with one of her candles, Beau. I’m an Aries, so I’m attracted to masculine energy, and this candle smelled like cuddling up with the boyfriend I wanted. I bought three and also bought some travel candles. I travel a lot and hate the smell of hotel rooms, so it became a ritual for me to light a candle in every hotel room I stayed in. I recommended them to everyone, and our relationship grew from there.
Denequa’s ability to speak authentically to her audience is exactly what’s made her brand so successful. She understands who her customer is, and she’s speaking to their needs as she’s creating for them. This has obviously been a really tough year, and I’ve seen her prioritize self care in new ways — like when she launched her Freedom candle, which is all about Black joy. This year, Black women have been looking for ways to escape the constant trauma. I can’t be constantly wondering and worrying about where the country is going, who’s going to win the election, and the injustices on Black and brown people. I light her Beau candle, I meditate, I journal, and it's one big release for me. I can feel the love and energy she puts into her product, and it's therapeutic.
What Denequa does at Lit Brooklyn — which makes it very difficult for me to get a candle — is she works at her own pace. When you’re a small business owner, everyone is pushing you for growth and it’s very formulaic. But it doesn’t have to be. She’s not on anyone else’s timeline or metric of success. She isn’t like, Oh we’re growing, let me get a manufacturer. Instead, she’s like, I’m going to protect my peace. I’ll make them when I make them. When they sell out, you’ll wait until the next drop. That’s so rare in our industry. We praise people who we perceive to be big and look down on small businesses or act like we’re doing them a favor. I hope her story is a reminder to everyone that you can carve out your own journey, and you don’t have to scale to be a gigantic corporation and lose your passion. Do what feels good to you. 
Black Is The New Black is Refinery29’s celebration of Black women who are changing the game. Black women who are reminding the world that we are not a trend or “a moment.” We’re here — and we’ve been here. Check out the full list.
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