In 2013, Yvette Davis Gayle launched The Sitota Collection, a luxurious candle company based in Los Angeles, California. The company’s name is Amharic and translates in English to “gift.” Sitota is named after Gayle’s five-year-old daughter, whom she adopted from Ethiopia.
Gayle, who has been the VP of Publicity at Interscope Records for the last 14 years, set out to re-define luxury with her candle line, suggesting that it no longer has to be identified by being unattainable. She uses the highest quality of fine fragrance and essential oils and uses traditional artisan techniques of blending renewable soy and coconut waxes to create her product.
“I hand pour each candle in small batches so that I can pay particular attention to every detail,” says the mother of two.
Each candle is then exquisitely packaged and offered at an accessible price.
“The collection reflects, emphasizes and celebrates cultural diversity and a commitment to family,” she says.
Inspired by her global travels, the line boasts four fragrances— Aigyipto, which is defined by seductive base notes of amber, sandalwood, musk and vanilla; Blue Nile, which embraces rich earthy bamboo with bergamot, lemon, lime and red grapefruit; Coco Noir, which perfectly combines creamy coconut with tantalizing cassis enabling natural exotic blends to effortlessly calm and relax your spirit; and Havana which is a masculine masterpiece highlighting tobacco, leather, amber and musk.
Gayle also offers the Petit Excursion Candle Quartet which is a gift set containing a three ounce votive of each fragrance as well as the Signature Excursion 7.5 oz candles. The candles may be burned singular or layered together to achieve four additional fragrances. In the beginning of August, Gayle launched the Body Candle, which is a unique candle experience. Made from coconut oil, shea butter, soy oil, jojoba essential oil, vitamin E and aloe vera, Body Candle melts into a hydrating body oil, scented with her bestselling Aigyptos fragrance.
“Acting also as a true candle, it’s perfect for the person who appreciates a beautifully scented home and body,” she says.
All fragrances are available through the online boutique at thesitotacollection.com, as well as at various retail and spa destinations in Beverly Hills, Palm Springs and New Orleans. However, adding to Gayle’s international ambitions, the company’s best retailer is Regalo in Lagos, Nigeria. Proceeds from each candle sale are donated to charities and non-profit organizations like AdoptTogether.org, which assists families who are going through the adoption process.
What inspired you to start making body candles?
In African cultures, they love to use body oils. My clients in Nigeria were using my soy candles as body lotion. But the thing is, you cannot use a candle as body oil unless the manufacturer specifically states you may use it that way. Some fragrances are not 100 percent body-safe. They love all of the scents and the fragrances, and they were using them on their skin and I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ It gave me the idea of creating something that is meant to be used on your skin with a great smelling fragrance but not only is it okay to use on your skin, it has benefits. You have shea butter, coconut oil, vitamin E and it’s hydrating and moisturizing. So, that whole thing kind of sparked my desire to launch the Body Candle.
Do you make all of this product by hand?
I do. Everything is handmade, hand poured and hand blended. The majority of the candles are done by myself [and a great in house staff]. I do have a manufacturer on tap so that if I get to the point where I can’t make them or if I don’t have enough time to do a large order, I have a manufacturer that has the same kind of principles, as far as following the artisan technique of hand blending and hand pouring each candle. So his team does it the same way that I do it and it is not machine poured.
Yes, it’s really smooth to the touch and it keeps the body moisturized. I wore it to the Afropunk festival in New York. Is that the shea you use?
Yes, it’s the shea butter and the coconut oil. I have a great wax manufacturer, who blends the coconut oil, vitamin E, and shea butter for me. Then, I get it and I do my own special blending adding more coconut oil, soy, etc. That’s the only one that I don’t output. Every Body Candle is made in my candle studio in Windsor Hills, California because I haven’t necessarily given out my blend. I never have and probably won’t. It’s also therapeutic for me.
How do you balance your everyday life—raising children, being a wife and working a full-time job—with entrepreneurship?
It’s crazy because it takes a lot of balance to have a family, work and then be an entrepreneur… It’s difficult. It gets overwhelming but love what I do. My ultimate long-term goal is to help the children and the women of Ethiopia. I really want to open up a candle plant there just try to do something to affect change. This year, I partnered with an organization called Adopt Together, which helps families to raise money to cover their adoption expenses. I’m really committed and passionate about this.
Is that families all over or in a specific region?
All over. It’s a crowd funding platform for families who want to adopt. They can sign up but they have to already actually be in the process of adopting, as in already have their home study approved by the state that they live in. It’s so expensive. Domestic can be anywhere from $15-20,000 and international can be as high as $35,000 in fees and everything is a process. It’s crazy because I think as African-Americans, we don’t look at adoption or at least I did not encounter many African-American families who were going through the process when I did. I think culturally we take in family members or relatives to help our family but rarely do I see us going through the adoption process. I think the costs are overwhelming and families don’t know about the organizations or even grants that are available to assist. So, I’m kind of passionate about spreading that word. There’s another option, and here are the companies that can help you. Now, I’m a company that’s committed to building families, in general. It’s been an amazing ride and a very long journey because it took three and a half years for our adoption to be complete. We started the process way before Sitota was even born. It was incredibly long and frustrating.
I had no idea that it took that long to adopt.
You know, a lot of families turned their eyes to Africa, turned their eyes toward Ethiopia as an option so when I first started researching to adopt from there the wait time was very short. I met some families that went through the process with my agency and it took them only four, five or six months. I spent like, six months getting my home study, state approvals and completing my Dossier to send to Ethiopia. Then when that time came, it was like, ‘Oh my Goodness!’ There were so many people adopting and the list now was extraordinarily long… It’s kind of like, you apply, you get approved and you get on a list. The list moves up by the agency matching children with families. You may be on the list for a short time if there weren’t a lot of people before you. There were probably hundreds in front of me before I got on the list in that six months time, and the wait was… It took us three years to get matched with her and then, another six months to bring her home. We were matched with her when she was about six months old but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. She’s the perfect individual for our family. She and my son are so close. They are like twins, joined at the hip. It’s been really really amazing. I always say we are the lucky ones and God has blessed us all.
What’s the age gap between your daughter Sitota and your son?
Four years. Sitota just turned five and Mekhi just turned nine. They fight like any regular siblings do. But she is so protective of him and he is so protective of her. I don’t think I could have asked for a tighter bond between the two, and he felt like that she was his child. ‘My sister is coming from Africa. Oh my goodness, when is she coming?’ He used to tell strangers, ‘You know my sister is coming from Africa!’ He, too, was waiting those three long years so by the time she got here, it was like, ‘She’s mine!’ ‘She has to sleep in my room.’ ‘I don’t want to go outside to play without her.’ It’s amazing.
You’ve mentioned all of the things that you’re doing, and the things that you want to do. How do you find the balance?
Yeah, I don’t know how… I don’t think I find balance. I’m struggling to still find balance, and somehow, I just get it all done. I don’t know how. I sleep very little. That’s probably how, and I try to prioritize and I try to carve up my day to give everybody what they need. My team is global. My social media team is in South Africa. My packaging and creative director is in Hungary, so I look at us as a global family. My husband works in Africa. He works in Kenya and South Africa, and you know, I always say that we’re global citizens and now, I want to have this global company. Hopefully, a little later this year or in early 2016, I plan to launch my products in Kenya. It’s all very exciting. It’s very rewarding. This started out as a hobby for me, making candles for families and friends and my little entrepreneur of a son was like, ‘No, we need to do this! We need to sell these candles in every country.’