*My Person of the Week is PR star and global traveler Yvette Davis Gayle.
Her story of family, adoption, entrepreneurship, commitment and dreams continues to inspire those near and far.
Gayle is the founder and CEO of the Sitota Collection, a luxury brand of candles inspired by family and her international travels. The Sitota Collection—named after her five- year-old Ethiopian adopted daughter, Sitota—is a family venture. She is joined by her husband, Colin, with whom she is celebrating 14 years of marriage.
He is an international marketing, branding and advertising entrepreneur, who focuses on connecting American companies with South African and East African companies to partner and develop business opportunities throughout the African continent.
Gayle’s nine-year-old son, Mekhi, is the heart and inspiration behind the Sitota Collection. Gayle was making candles as a hobby for her family and friends. Mekhi encouraged his mother to open shop and expand globally.
At six years old, Mekhi walked into the kitchen where his mother was and said:
“Mom, I think you need to have a manufacturing plant.” He continued, “You should have stores in every country and sell your candles, and we can open a store in Los Angeles that you and I can work out of.” Gayle could not believe her son knew those words. Amazed, she said, “Let’s do it together.” Gayle took that moment to demonstrate to her son she could do something out of character and out of the box and become an entrepreneur. “Mekhi really takes joy in knowing that this is his company,” says Gayle. “When a candle is sold and he wants to know, ‘where is my cut?’”
Gayle said, as she reflected on that moment, that it started out as his dream and eventually became her dream. She suggested to Mekhi, they name the candle collection after his sister and make it about their journey as a family. For Gayle, that’s what it is. She does something she loves, and something they love, and they work hard at it together. Gayle explains that when it’s time to produce a 60 pound bulk order of candles, the family pulls together. The process of making candles takes hours of cutting up coconut wax and all the different properties; blending it all together and melting it. “We do it all,” says Gayle. “We label, sticker, Sitota even joins the assemble line and hand us the tops. My brother-in-law also is very instrumental and he is just as meticulous as I am. I have two other people that work with me as well.”
And three years later, the Sitota Collection is making inroads internationally with business opportunities in hotel chains in Africa and high-end spas in the United Kingdom. The Sitota Collection is also sold at Regalo, a popular retail outlet in Nigeria. Somewhere down the line, Gayle plans to open a store in the U.S., but for now, she is focused on developing partnerships with retail outlets in the states and expanding her online boutique, as well as exporting products abroad.
The Sitota Collection was also created out of Gayle’s adoption experience. She believes that African Americans don’t consider adoption for a variety of reasons. Next month, [November] is National Adoption Month. Her goal for that month and beyond is to raise awareness and, hopefully, encourage people in her community to consider adoption as a viable option for building their families. At the time, Gayle decided to pursue an international adoption because she felt that process was more in line with her immediate goals. She also felt that Ethiopia meshed greatly with her husband’s Jamaican background, and culturally it made sense. Gayle has partnered with Adopt Together, a nonprofit crowd funding agency that helps families raise money and cover the exorbitant adoption expenses. “[Adoption] has brought so much joy and happiness to my family,” says Gayle. “I’m extremely proud to be able to give back and that’s what this is really all about.” A portion of every candle sold is donated to the agency.
Gayle’s newest addition to the Sitota Collection is the Body Candle, just in time for the holiday season. She was inspired to make the Body Candle by a group of ladies from Regalo in Nigeria. The women were using the Sitota soy candles as a body lotion. Although Gayle doesn’t promote the soy candles as a body lotion, she thought, why not create a candle rich with nutrients to hydrate and moisturize the skin. “The Body Candle acts as a true candle and body oil,” says Gayle. “When you light it, it will scent your environment, in your room and in your home, just like a regular candle. The candle wax melts into a body oil. It’s made with 100% coconut wax, soy oil, shea butter, aloe vera, vitamin E, jojoba essential oil and other skin-loving essential oils.”
The Body Candle is perfect for moisturizing the skin—especially the feet. It’s designed to soften the skin and sooth dry spots. The Body Candle is scented with her top-selling, signature Aigyptos fragrance, which includes a blend of amber, lavender, and sandalwood. The Body Candle collection is packaged in three sizes. The Body Candle Travel Tin (1.5 ounces) is listed for $12.00; the Body Candle: Au Natural (5 ounces) is listed at $35.00; and the Body Candle (5 ounces) is listed at $45.00. The Body Candle Travel Tin makes great stocking stuffer treats and is perfect for multiple gift purchases for co-workers, friends and relatives.
The Sitota Collection features other gifting treats, including the Petit Excursion Candle Quartet. The Quartet features four signature fragrances including the Aigyptos, Blue Nile, Coco Noir and Havana. The Quartet is another great holiday gift. “If you are gifting someone and you don’t know what they favorite fragrance is, you may not know whether they like a feminine or masculine scent,” says Gayle. “The Quartet has one of each of the fragrances in the line. What’s really special about the quartet is, even though it has four fragrance, you get eight fragrances out it of because the fragrances are meant to be layered. So you can burn all four at once, or you can burn two and two as well as multiple combinations, so that’s what’s really great about that particular product. You don’t have to figure out if this is too sweet for this person or too masculine for that person, so you get a little of everything.”
When asked what her favorite candle is, she responds, “It’s like asking me which child of mine is my favorite.” Each fragrance comes with a different story. One of her favorites is the Havana candle. She wanted to create a scent that was masculine, but something that women would love too. “Men and women love the Havana candle and are often pleasantly surprised,” says Gayle. “It’s very complex and layered.” The fragrance of the Havana Candle relates to Gayle’s travel and family. The Havana is an ode to her husband’s side of the family—the Gayle family. His mother picked pimento berries in the fields of Jamaica, and the pimento berries are included in the fragrance. His great grandmother smoked a pipe on the back porch at her home in Jamaica. So there’s tobacco, leather, amber, musk, and teakwood in the fragrance as well. “I’ve taken all the wonderful things that I come across in places I visited and just found inspiration in all of the stories, and that’s what kind of inspires me,” says Gayle.
Gayle’s family candle making business is just one part of her very full and busy life. Her first priority is taking care of her family, but she also has a demanding position as Vice President of Publicity of Interscope Records, where she has led numerous successful top charting media campaigns with platinum and multiple award-winning artists, including Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent, just to name a few. Gayle loves her job and enjoys breaking new and developing artists. What people may be most surprised to know about Gayle is that, with all of her family and business responsibilities, she manages to find the time to hand pour most of her candles. “I love to do it” says Gayle. “I love that every time I sell a candle, I get to say ‘I made this with my own two hands.’ I’m a stickler for perfection. So, I’m like, ‘No, it’s not right, it’s not going out the door with my name on it.’ I love to do as much as I can. So for right now, the Body Candle is hand poured by yours truly.”
Currently, her products are manufactured in California, where she and her family reside, but Gayle’s passion and long-term goal is to open a candle manufacturing plant on Ethiopian soil. She wants to design a program to teach women there how to make candles. As her way of giving back, she would like to donate money to orphanages and other significant causes there. Her goal is to be part of building an infrastructure to help change the economy and be a catalyst for creating jobs and opportunities for Ethiopian citizens.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Gayle has traveled to Africa, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean Islands. Her desire is that the Sitota Collection will transport people to another place or help them recall some of their own personal travel and where it has taken them. The next stop for this global traveler is Kenya. This will be Gayle’s first trip to the East African country. She is looking forward to spending time with her family, exploring the thriving cities and beautiful villages, and getting to know the people there. Perhaps, her visit will inspire a new line of Kenya candles to add to the 2016 Sitota Collection.
For more information on the Sitota Collection, please visit the boutique at thesitotacollection.com.
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media specialist with a career spanning over 20 years. She is the founder of the African American Public Relations Collective (AAPRC) and the publisher of the AAPRC’s e-publication, Global Communicator. Her weekly columns, “Inside Broadway with Gwendolyn Quinn” and “My Person of the Week” are published on EURWEB.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business. Contact her at [email protected].