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Life and Work with Courtney D. Sykes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Courtney D. Sykes.

Courtney, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born and raised in a small town called Apopka, FL and relocated to Atlanta in June 2016 after living in South Florida and working in Higher Education for almost six years after graduate school. Transitioning to a new city was really tough as I job-searched for nearly six months and struggled to feel like I truly belonged. About a year and a half later, my mom’s Godmother, one of my Granny’s best friends and the woman I affectionately called “Auntie Lula” passed from her battle with cancer and gained her wings. She was someone who closely cared for my mother and I when I was younger – I looked to her as a bonus Grandmother. You see, she had just attended my bridal shower in August 2017 and a month later walked down the aisle at our wedding. Although I knew for months that her time on this earth was limited, I was no where near emotionally ready to let her go. 

As far back as I can remember, my Auntie Lula was the one who introduced me to the world of Art & Crafts – really using my hands as tools. As a child, she encouraged and allowed me and all of the kids in her home to explore their creative side; with her, I was always making things with my hands. I remember clearly being able to disconnect from the world and get lost in making blankets, crochet, jewelry (bracelets, earrings, necklaces), pillows, key chains – anything you can think of, we made it. If I went to my parents home right now, I’m sure I could find something tucked away in a closet that I made, lol! During those times with her I remember being at peace and not stressing over the issues I may have been dealing with as a child. Most of all, I remember just being happy and having fun!

Unprepared, unequipped, and unable to properly process my grief after losing her in January 2018 and several other close family members and friends subsequently in the past two years, I found myself in a really dark place which led to being formally diagnosed with depression. However, through therapy along with my strong faith in God, I was encouraged to develop healthier coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety, strategies to manage my stress and understand depression. I started to implement self-care, meditation and explore the world of Arts & Crafts again. I began to paint coasters, make ceramic bowls or key-chains and of course, our candles. Another common feature and fixture in my self-care routine became lighting a candle in my home every night. It sounds so simple, but allowing the flickers of the flame and the aroma truly helped to relax my mind and bring peace to me at the moment, even in the midst of grief.

So in my own way, I decided to create my company to honor my Auntie Lula, to thank her, and become the woman I knew she’d always want me to be. I also wanted to remember those who may have also lost their loved ones due to cancer and to celebrate the lives of others who have found victory on the other side of this disease or their own personal battles. People always ask me if she was the one who taught me how to make candles and the answer is – no, not at all. But she did teach me how to use my hands and introduced me to the world of creativity. I just wanted to go back to a place of happiness and using my hands created an outlet/space for that.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road to Lula’s Candle Co. was interesting – I would not say it was smooth, and it definitely was not the easiest. Normally, I am a very private person, so the decision to create a business and build a brand around my story and experiences was very difficult. You mean to tell me, I had to be vulnerable, share with “strangers” and open up? Needless to say, there was (is) a ton of second-guessing myself, fear of sharing my battle with anxiety and depression, an insane amount of perfectionism and obsessing. To date, I still have to overcome a lot of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, but once I made up my mind that this was what I was going to do, I challenged myself to push forward and continue to do so daily. 

To begin, there is a real science to candle making and learning about the different ingredients (like various types of wax, wicks, fragrances) took a LOT of time. It took a ton of trial and error because I wanted to make a great product that not only smelled amazing but actually burned well and didn’t look like something I was just making for fun or as a hobby! I literally had to become a chemist, accountant, editor, designer, spokesperson, social media manager, website developer, etc. to make this happen. But this company is my baby and I’m determined for it to be successful, so I just figured everything out along the way.

When I first announced I was creating my company, I actually launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help garner initial supporters, raise funds for R&D, share the vision for my business, and build an email list/customer base. That was just last year, on April 20, 2019 – it would have been my Auntie Lula’s birthday. I received a ton of support which allowed me to test, figure out what worked, what didn’t work and what direction I wanted to go in. Last summer, I was trusted to create custom candles for various special occasions (scholarship galas, birthday parties, luncheons, private dinners, etc.), sponsor products for brand events, and even participate in a few local pop-ups/vendor markets. However, it still took a lot of motivation from my husband, family and close friends for me to launch Lula’s Candle Co. online. Because of that encouragement, along with the support during that crowdfunding campaign, I officially launched the website on my birthday, December 10, 2019, as a gift to myself. 

My advice to other women who are just starting on their journey is not to let fear of failure, of not being ready, of not feeling adequate, keep you from doing what it is you want to do. If anything, use that fear to fuel you. Learn this lesson from me, don’t let YOU hold YOU back – taking the first step is the hardest, but just do it! The spirit of comparison is real, but don’t be tempted to compare yourself to anyone else. You’ve been given the skills, knowledge, and foresight for a reason. Not everyone is going to see your vision, and that’s okay. As long as you keep going, everything will fall in line exactly how it’s meant to! 

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Lula’s Candle Co. – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Lula’s Candle Co. is a company that offers handcrafted luxury soy candles in travel tins, luxury room mists, individual tealights, and candle accessories. My candles are 100% natural soy-based and I make it a priority to only use quality soy wax and premium phthalate-free fragrance oils in all of our products. 

What makes my company special is that I literally hand-pour each candle and room mists with love in small batches. There is no manufacturing or outsourcing – every wick, every label, every sticker, every card, every order is designed and packaged by me. I take pride in the work that I do because this business isn’t just for me, it is a representation of someone I love, honestly several people that I love. That is what I am most proud of – that I get to do something that represents my love for those that I have lost to cancer, like my Grandfather (Paw Paw) and Mrs. Marcia. I’m also able to honor those who have beaten their battle to this disease, like my Granny! When I create the names for my candles and choose fragrances they have a deeper meaning for me than “oh that smells nice”. For example, the fragrance Strength was chosen with my Paw Paw in mind – it is a masculine scent, very subtle, yet powerful just like the type of man he was. Abundance was chosen just for Auntie Lula because she loved soft scents like this one – it is sweet, soft and feminine. 

I believe that what sets me apart from others is my mission is to bring light to those in need of love, self-care, peace, and healing. Whether having lost a loved one, experiencing a personal struggle or simply a lover of candles or room mists, I believe that the mission behind my company touches everyone.! It’s unfortunate to say, but everyone knows someone that knows someone that has lost someone to or is battling cancer. 

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I’m not in it for the money or popularity, I do this to honor someone who was special and meant the world to me/my family.. More than anything, I hope to be able to spread awareness about the disease, cancer prevention and provide financial support to those impacted. With every purchase made, a small portion of the proceeds will support individuals (and their families) battling cancer. 

Giving back has always been important to me, so I always knew that would be a big component that I wanted to incorporate into my business. My Paw Paw, King David Aiken, passed away from his battle with multiple myeloma on December 28, 1999 – just 3 days after Christmas when I was only 12 years old. Years later, even as a young college student, I found myself trying to honor him by serving as a team captain for Relay for Life to raise funds for cancer research, walk in his memory and celebrate his life.

At the end of the day, cancer sucks and I’m tired of losing people I love – this was just my way of choosing to do something about it. I have faith and strongly believe that God will bless the work of my hands. I’m just grateful to be a vessel and that I get to use my hands daily to create something beautiful and that serves a dual purpose.

So whether having lost a loved one, experiencing a personal struggle or simply a lover of candles or room mists, I believe that the mission behind my company touches everyone! It’s really unfortunate to say, but everyone knows someone that knows someone that has lost someone to or is battling cancer. 

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
As it relates to building a network, my advice would be to show up as your authentic self and follow up with the people who you actually have a connection with and build from there. What has worked well for me has been following up with fellow creatives/entrepreneurs and setting up lunch or coffee dates. Not always seeking information, but just being available to bounce ideas and voice frustrations with each other has been really helpful. In these past few months, I’ve met some amazing women who have helped me along this journey through sharing their own experiences, struggles, successes and resources. I value being able to connect with people and build friendships/relationships based on our shared interests or experiences. I have luckily had the pleasure of collaborating with those same people to sponsor raffle giveaways at their events, and even create custom products for their brands, so I’m really grateful for those partnerships!

Pricing:

  • 2 oz. Luxury Room Mist – $8 USD
  • 3.5 oz Soy Wax Travel Candles – $14 USD
  • 7.5 oz Soy Wax Travel Candles – $22 USD
  • Luxury Room Mist Gift Set – $30 USD
  • Travel Candle Gift Set – $40 USD
  • Signature Collection Gift Sets – $65 USD

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Courtney Sykes

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