Episode 20: D’Shawn Russell

Scent of Success

Growing up in Durham, North Carolina, D’Shawn Russell was no stranger to racial tensions and prejudices. Her great-grandmother and grandmother were huge influences on her life, and she still applies their values to her business today. After a 22-year stint as a math teacher, Russell realized it wasn’t the path she was meant to embrace. So she did what many of us wish we could do: She turned her hobby into her full-time job.

Russell founded the Southern Elegance Candle Company — where candles throw back to a simpler time and are made using locally sourced products — and hasn’t looked back since. Each candle represents a place that has meaning to her in the South. Find out how she dealt with racism and sexism on a regular basis as she grew her company from the ground up. You’ll get it all on this episode of SheVentures.


Key Moments

  • 3:37 — Listen as D’Shawn Russell discusses the values her grandmother and great-grandmother instilled in her from a young age, and how this helped her get to where she is now. (Teaser: Her great-grandma started churches under trees!)
  • 10:38 — Russell was a math teacher for over 22 years. Find out what drew her to a field where still only 15 to 20 percent of the workforce is female.
  • 13:36 — At what point do you quit your day job and chase after your dream? Russell divulges the point at which it’s time to quit and go full speed ahead with your entrepreneurial spirit.
  • 19:31 — Russell highlights the importance of having a clear idea of the “brand” of your business, and how her childhood in the South influenced her brand for Southern Elegance.
  • 24:37 — Using American suppliers for her products is important to Russell. Listen as she discusses why paying a little extra to support local businesses makes all the difference.
  • 28:57 — Cold calling can work — no, really! Russell details how she spent day after day chasing and following up with local stores so that they would give her brand a real chance. With her candles in 300 stores today, it worked.
  • 32:49 — “Bootstrapping” your business may mean you don’t collect a check yourself during the first couple of years. Find out how Russell dealt with that, and why it was all worth it.
  • 38:24 — How did Russell find being a woman of color in business? “I’m always a black woman when I show up in a space. Nobody ever takes me serious when I tell them I have a candle company.”
  • 42:40 — The winning pitch at Bunker Labs snagged Russell a cool $10,000, but no one thought she would win before they heard her speak. Listen as she describes the everyday sexism and racism she has been forced to contend with in the business world.
  • 46:18 — Russell went from nothing to $250,000 in revenue in three years. Hear her advice for any budding entrepreneurs out there.