From government shutdown to business owner: Why a Durham mom launched Bright Black –

By Sarah Lindenfeld Hall, Go Ask Mom editor

Durham, N.C. Tiffany M. Griffin's previous career took her around the world, meeting with world leaders and United Nations delegates. After earning a doctorate in psychology from the University of Michigan, she held positions with the U.S. Agency for International Aid, at the U.S. Senate and in academia, among others.

Today, she's making candles.

Griffin, who lives in Durham with her husband and young daughter, launched Bright Black in 2019. The company features candles made with all-natural products that honor the Black Diaspora through their scents and designs.

Bright Black was born during the government shutdown of December 2018 to January 2019. As Griffin, then a federal employee, waited to get back to work, she wrote the business plan, got the necessary permits and incorporated. On Nov. 1, the business officially launched. "It's been a WILD ride ever since," she tells me.

I checked in with Griffin to learn more about the business, the meaning behind it an what she hopes for the future. Here's a Q&A.

Go Ask Mom: What's the back story to Bright Black? How did it all come about?

Tiffany M. Griffin: I first learned candle making back in 2014 when my now husband and I first started dating. We both like candles and thought it would be a fun and romantic activity to make them together. He was really into perfecting the processes, and I was really into designing the scents. We gave our creations to friends and family and got really positive feedback. That's when we first thought we may be onto something. Initially, we thought we'd create candles that paid tributeto hip hop love songs (we both love hip hop and were falling in love!). It would take five years, amarriage, a baby, a move from DC to North Carolina and the government shutdown to create enough timeand space to refine our concept to what we know it today Bright Black!

In the end, we broadened our concept from hip hop love songs to Bright Black, but the essence of the companys mission remained. In the beginning, we wanted to highlight hip hop love songs because hip hop often has a really negative connotation. Our experience of the genre though was that much of the content is positive and uplifting and full of themes of love and the genre was truly, truly life saving for many people who enjoy it (beyond the mainstreamhits on the radio).

When firming up the concept of Bright Black, we saw parallels between the misconceptions of hip hop (and our contrasting experiences of it) and the misconceptions of black people and black culture as a whole (and our contrasting experiences of it).

When I got pregnant, I contemplated the messages my child would receive from society for countless hours. I, of course, could not control everything that she would see or hear from society about her blackness, but I COULD control what I teach her and expose her to. In many ways, Bright Black is about ensuring our daughter (and others!) have access to positive (and accurate!) representations about blackness.

GAM: Tell us about your candles. What sets them apart, and where can you find them?

TMG: There are a couple of levels to this answer.

First, theres the scent art and the mission of Bright Black. Then theres the materials that make up our candles and the packaging. And then theres the meaning behind candles themselves.

I consider myself a scent artist. Much of the power of Bright Black lies in the scents themselves. Smell is an extremely powerful (and completely underrated!) sense. You have to be present to experience it. It undergirds memory (and taste). There are hundreds of olfactory receptors. I define art as communicating messages through amedium of choice. My medium is scent. Im communicating messages of place andhistory through our Diaspora Collection, messages of creativity and resilience throughour Genres Collections, messages of coping and thriving through our Nourish NoirCollection.

When it comes to our materials and packaging, our candles are vegan and use all natural soy and coconut waxes that we blend ourselves. This combination of waxes creates a super clean, long-lasting burn. We use wood (whisper) wicks which crackle softly as the candle burns (as a nod to nature, and to provide an auditory component to the candle burning experience). There are no phthalates or synthetic dyes (actually no dyes period!). Inshort, the candles are made of extremely high quality materials. The black matte,simple, modern packaging is again a nod to the brilliance of blackness. The packaging isbeautiful and, along with the scent, sends a message before one even delves into themission and meaning behind the company. This was all by design.

And then there's the meaning behind the candles. Candles have been used as a source of light for over 5,000 years, beginning with the ancient Egyptians. They are one of the oldest sources of light on the planet. They transcend cultures, language, geography, race, and religion. They breakdown barriers and force you to focus on the aura of the flame. Candles sparkenlightenment, are a symbol of celebration, and can create a mood. Candles alsoilluminate subtly; they don't beat you over the head with messages.

The presence of a candle can spark dialogue, and they symbolize solidarity (think vigil), passion, security, warmth, hope, spirituality and connection to the spiritual world, new beginnings (think birthday candles!), health, protection, blessing, memories, calm.Candles speak to our souls. What better platform for sparking dialogue and connectionaround blackness?

4. What's the reception been like so far?

TMG: TRULY MAGICAL!!!!!!!!! Honestly, sometimes I cant believe it. Folks have been really supportive of the mission and really love the product. And the support has been pretty universal, including different racial, gender, age, and geographic groups. We feel beyond lucky and blessed.

GAM: You took a big leap leaving your full-time job to start your company. What's been the biggest challenge and the biggest reward?


I had been considering leaving my job for quite some time. A number of life events and logistics, along with wanting to ensure some sort of sustainability of my work, kept me in my position. But when the government shutdown hit, and then lasted for weeks upon weeks, I knew that my itch for entrepreneurship was not going away. I started seeing a counselor to work through a lot of my personal roadblocks. I knew I wanted to leave, but didnt know what Iwanted to do. I considered launching a consultancy in the same field I was in. My intuitionand gut didnt really want to go in that direction, but my fears and anxiety and ego did. I am adoctor and have held some pretty high profile jobs. My work took me around the world. Ivepresented to world leaders, schmoozed with United Nations delegations. Was I seriously going to leave allthat to make candles?!?!?

And then there was the financial stability element to all of this. I grew up very poor. Not middle class. Poor. Despite being upwardly mobile, the fragility of poverty was omnipresent as I embarked on this huge decision. All of this to say, that the biggest challenge has been psychological (how ironic that Im a psychologist! ha!). Ive worked REALLY hard to get over the negative self-talk, to trust my capacity, and to follow my heart.

Now, dont get me wrong, behind following my heart is a TON of planning, research and analysis. I saved for three years before resigning from my government job. My 2020 strategic plan alone is 15 pages long. I know exactly how many candles we need to sell to cover our expenses! But, in the end, I wouldnttrade it for the world! Ive by and large conquered the negative self-talk. First, Im not justmaking candles (and even if I was, that would be OK!). Im doing exactly what Ive done in all ofmy other positions to date Im trying to make a positive impact on this world we live in duringmy very short time on this planet. Its been research and policymaking and blogging in the past.

This is the platform Im leveraging now and who knows that may change in the future too! The biggest rewards have included the reception from others and positive feedback, the flexibility I have to be the mom I want to be. And, to be clear, I am NOT working any less than I worked before! BUT I have more control of when and how I work, which is a huge blessing. Also, when you work for the governmentyou represent the government and its agenda. Working for myself affords me thechance to represent my own agenda. I have my voice again. Finally, Ive REALLY enjoyed all ofthe people Ive had a chance to connect with while on this journey so far customers, suppliers,retailers, other business owners. Its been really cool!

GAM: What are your hopes for the future of your business?

TMG: I have so many!

On a macro level, I hope that our business builds more connection and infuses the world with more positivity. Im also really looking forward to doing more commissions and custom scents for families, organizations, initiatives and businesses. Its really fun!

I, of course, hope to get to the point of financial resilience, profitability and stability. Despite saving to get to the point where I could resign, this beginning stage of our business is very fragile, especially because our business is 100% bootstrapped no financial capital (not even from friends or family) has been applied to the business to date. I look forward to the time when we have the scale and systems in place to easesome of that latent anxiety and to breathe a bit easier.

Im also looking forward to releasing our future collections and limited edition scents, as well as leveraging our brand for group dialogue and connection.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.

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