Sterling McDavid

There are many brands that demonstrate that you can sell an amazing product while giving back to the community. The Starling Project is one of them. The charitable candle line was started by 28-year-old entrepreneur Sterling McDavid. Sterling left a career in finance to to focus on the project. The Starling Project was founded in 2015 with the idea that users can light their homes while lighting the world. The line of luxurious candles has the goal of  providing impoverished communities around the world with solar energy. And the company is already helping to make a difference with communities in Chad. We spoke with Sterling about the charitable project. Read on to find out more.

(Related: 12 Candles That Will Make Your Place Smell Amazing)

The Gloss: Did you always have an idea to do something like The Starling Project?

Sterling McDavid: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. My parents are both entrepreneurs, which has forever instilled in me a desire to have a strong work ethic and build something of my very own. Their passion and drive for what they do is something I have admired all my life and I’m thrilled to be following in their footsteps.

TG: Was there a specific motivation or moment of inspiration for the company?

SM: I have always had a passion for philanthropy. I serve as National Development Chair of the UNICEF Next Generation Steering Committee and I am also a member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Junior Board. While I was working as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, I had an opportunity to travel with UNICEF for a field visit to Vietnam. The trip was so incredibly eye-opening as I viewed the problems of an under-resourced community and the impact that a solar panel could make to it. Solar energy provides so much more than light—it can provide clean running water, electricity and more to improve a community’s quality of life. After this trip, I left my career in finance to focus on creating a product that could help people like those who I encountered on that powerful trip.

Juniper + Saffron With Packaging

Juniper and Saffron Candle ($55, The Starling Project)

TG: How was the transition from working in finance to starting The Starling Project?

SM: I believe by starting my career at Goldman Sachs, I developed an intense work ethic and thick skin that truly prepared me for being an entrepreneur. That being said, it was quite intimidating leaving a job in finance to take the risk to pursue my dreams of becoming a social entrepreneur, but it was also one of the most exciting leaps I have ever taken in my life! Starting The Starling Project was such a whirlwind with such a high learning curve since there are so many hurdles when starting a business. Ultimately, it was a combination of my mentors, many who are from my previous career in finance, and support from family and friends that made me confident that I really had a great idea and that I could make it happen.

TG: How did you come up with candles for the Starling Project? Was it something you were also interested in?

SM: After leaving Goldman Sachs, I went to the Parsons School of Design to refine my eye for architecture, interior design and product design. While studying at Parsons, I spent one summer in Paris working at the architecture/design firm Projectiles on a spa resort and ultimately was exposed to the world of fragrance while trying to nail down a scent for the lobby of the spa. During this enriching learning experience, I had a moment of inspiration when encountering an array of beautiful candles in a top Parisian retailer. A candle is such an indulgent and wonderful purchase, but women often feel guilty paying a premium price to buy a candle for themselves. With a philanthropic component, candles become much more accessible and enjoyable to have within the home. The Starling Project allows users to both light their homes while lighting the world. I love the idea of communities locally helping other communities around the world. To come together for a greater cause while simultaneously enjoying a product is such a beautiful thing!

Vanilla Hemlock & Juniper Saffron

Vanilla and Hemlock Candle ($55, The Starling Project)

TG: What is it like sourcing ethical supplies and crafters, and how important is that to the business?

SM: Sourcing ethical supplies and crafters is incredibly important to my business given the brand’s commitment to protecting human rights. It was so important to me to keep my products U.S. made to support U.S. businesses. The glass is hand-blown in the United States, the soy wax and cotton wick are sourced in the U.S. and the candles are hand-poured in Brooklyn. The essential oils found within the Starling Project candles are sourced globally based on where each exists in its natural environment providing users with an elevated sensory experience to fill their homes.

TG: How has the project helped people so far? And what is your ultimate goal with it?

SM: Thus far, we have raised over $100K for UNICEF, which has provided solar energy to communities in Chad. Having executed several more trips with UNICEF after my initial trip to Vietnam (such as Rwanda and Jamaica), my goal is to continue providing the wonderful families I’ve encountered in under-resourced communities with their innate right to safety and happiness. An addition of just a single solar panel in many of these areas can greatly improve the quality of life.

Currant + Rosewood & Orange Flower & Amber

Currant and Rosewood Candle ($55, The Starling Project)

TG: What are your plans for the brand? 

SM: Right now, we are focusing on the candles, but there have been requests for additional household items like hand soaps as Starling Project fans have fallen in love with some of the existing candles scents. Like our candles, we want to ensure any future products are perfectly formulated to offer the most luscious experience for users and that each product in our line benefits the most appropriate cause.

Check out The Starling Project to find out more.

(Photos: The Starling Project)