The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic created a series of problems for Spirit Corley and the small aromatic business she’s been pouring her passion into since 2016.
For starters, there was no reason to put on a special perfume. Corley, who lives and runs her business in her Aurora home, knew she’d likely have to pivot her craft simply because there was nowhere to go.
The self-described product junkie and self-care queen started blending her own scents when she moved to Colorado and needed better skin care products for a drier climate than she was used to. She was also battling the effects of an autoimmune disease that left it more difficult to see to make jewelry, which she was doing to pay her way through graduate school. Blending scents and making the products she loved to use was a creative outlet that sparked joy in a totally new way.
Those unique blends of oils became signature scents and people around Corley started asking how they could also smell like her. Gem Scents Aromatics was born. Each scent is carefully formulated, she said, to represent a story or feeling that’s important to her. “Rejoice” was created after Corley found her birth mother in 2018 and her newest scent “Queen” is to celebrate strong women.
“We’re just reemerging into the workplace and I was thinking about the sweetness of success,” she said. “When it dries down it’s beautiful.”
With few events happening for the better part of 2020, Corley knew selling a product most customers would wear in public, around other people, was not ideal. But self-care was becoming trendier than ever, so she leaned into that.
“I had to tap back into what I knew to be true for myself during the pandemic,” she said. “Self-care was of the utmost importance and I started creating these wellness boxes and self-care boxes.”
The only problem was that everybody else was pivoting too, and suddenly all of the plastic bottles, jars and packaging Corley needed for her body butters and oil were hard to find because soap and hand sanitizer became a go-to product for so many other makers.
As a result, Corley started making candles with her scents and upping her social media presence.
“Self-care is self love, how we love on ourselves. I know people were getting into radical self-care. And for me, it was the opportunity for a greater existence,” she said.
At every turn of the pandemic, there seemed to be some kind of challenge. On New Years Day she tested positive for COVID-19 and a few weeks later broke her back in a fall. Every new problem required a creative solution, but Corley describes those hardships as “blessings wrapped in disguise.”
She sought out groups and networking opportunities that could lift her and her products, especially when she needed it the most.
In March, she even earned a shoutout from Meta Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg for being a member of the company’s Elevate program, which supports Black, Latinx and Hispanic business owners with training and other resources. The pandemic has hit those small businesses especially hard over the past few years.
The Federal Reserve System’s 2021 Small Business Credit Survey reported that while most small business owners reported financial hardships in 2020, the highest rate was by Black business owners at 92%, followed by 89% of Asian American small business owners and 85% of Latinx-owned businesses.
Spaces for Black, Latinx and women business owners have become even more important, Corley said, noting that when she looks around it’s obvious that they’re underrepresented, particularly in Colorado.
“We don’t always have a platform to share our journey,” she said. “When you have creative ideas, behind that creativity needs to be funding and access, and that’s the point you realize there’s a cost associated with it.”
After a chapter of pandemic-themed uncertainty for business and a host of other challenges, Corley said she’s come out the other side feeling gratitude.
“There’s a certain level of tenacity and you have to have a lot of grit to keep going, and I have a lot of grit,” Corley said. “No matter what has happened to me, there are other things happening for me.”