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Building a Candle Brand Based on Heritage

De Lo Mio is a Dominican term of endearment often used to express familial solidarity or affection with one another. Translated to “Of My People,” this expression is a way of seeing and naming our connection to others so that we can deepen our sense of belonging and grow stronger together. This Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, Squarespace is honoring the essential role community plays in affirming our identities and cultivating spaces of care.

When Aisha Cort launched her vegan candle brand, VELA NEGRA, it was a natural extension of her lived experience — and her research as an academic. Reflecting and representing her identity as an Afro-Latina woman, VELA NEGRA candles use scents and namesakes that represent Cort’s heritage. 

She recently talked with Squarespace about monetizing her passion, and how integrating identity, culture, and creativity into her products is what makes them stand out.

Squarespace: You’re a successful academic — what inspired you to launch a premium vegan candle brand alongside your work as a scholar? 

Aisha Cort: I've had VELA NEGRA written down in my notebook for over six years. I knew I was going to do it, I just wasn't sure of when. It seems like an odd outlet from the outside looking in, but despite my many different interests and pursuits, for me, everything is connected. All of my work and projects are different ways to explore, express, and share my identity and experiences as an Afro-Cuban and Guyanese woman. As a scholar, I obsess over narratives — how we talk about ourselves and each other, who tells our stories, etc. VELA NEGRA is another outlet to share my story.  

SQSP: How does your research into Afro-Latinx culture inform the Vela Negra brand? 

AC: VELA NEGRA is another way that I have been able to express and share my lived experience as an Afro-Latina with the world. VELA NEGRA is just another extension and iteration of my scholarIy work. It's a love story, an homage, and a celebration of my roots via scent. 

SQSP: What advice would you give to an aspiring multi-hyphenate professional on how to align (and monetize) their passions? 

AC: My advice would be to embrace the fear and doubt that comes with the uncertainty of taking the path less traveled and keep moving forward. I also have to remind myself of this as I navigate all of this. I've also found that when you start with the passion, the money comes — because you're willing to do the work. When I've tried it the other way, it's always failed me because there just isn't enough drive or interest behind the projects to keep them going when things get hard. 

SQSP: What role did your online presence play in establishing Vela Negra? 

AC: I thought that social media would play a much bigger role than it has. LOL. I am so thankful for the press and media features that we've had so far. VELA NEGRA serves a much different audience than my other businesses. Each audience has grown pretty organically, and I've run limited ads, so most of the growth has been from word of mouth. It has been really beautiful to see who VELA NEGRA resonates with. We don't have the most followers on social media, but we have a loyal and engaged audience, which is powerful and appreciated. 

SQSP: How does the spirit of De Lo Mio come to life in your work? 

AC: I've been exploring collaboration in all its forms since we launched. Whether via giveaways, supporting other small businesses by liking and commenting, joining business communities, or projects like our latest Herencia Hispanic Heritage Month Artisan Collection collaboration with an Afro-Latina graphic designer. I love working with other creatives to see what we can create together and have thrived from the little communities that have been formed in the process. 

SQSP: What parts of your identity do you draw from to create? 

AC: Definitely my artistic side and my empathy. I want to create a whole experience for you from the moment your order arrives — from the label, to the jar and packaging, to the inserts and thank you notes. It all adds up to making sure that you know that your order is appreciated. Culturally, I pull from it all — all the intangibles — the warm feeling when you get a deep hug from your mom, the memories your grandmother's perfume evokes. Scent is transcendent. 

SQSP: In what ways are you expanding definitions of community? In how you define yourself and see yourself?  

AC: I am who I am because of the community that raised me and poured into me. They encouraged me and let me dream and believe in things that I didn't even know that I should have questioned or been fearful of from a young age. Now my understanding of community has expanded and also been refined. I no longer live close enough to my family to drop in randomly, so I've had to seek out and create my own communities — IRL and virtually. VELA NEGRA has helped to foster that community.

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