An entrepreneur that is focused on social good, Sterling McDavid is the CEO and Founder of The Starling Project, a charitable home product line that helps provide solar energy to rural communities in need around the world. She is also the Chair of National Development on UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee and an active member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Junior Board. And as if those activities were not enough, the former Goldman Sachs staffer is also the CEO and Founder of the real estate development firm Sterling McDavid LLC and one of the owners of the New York restaurants Hunt & Fish Club and Rogue & Canon.
In support of the release of The Starling Project’s recent Candle Collection — the non-profit has already raised over $100,000 for UNICEF since forming in December 2015 — Downtown caught up with Sterling for some Q&A. More info on The Starling Project can be found at www.StarlingProject.org, while Sterling herself is on Instagram as @SterlingMcDavid.
Your name is Sterling, yet your company is The Starling Project. Why the difference in naming? Do people ever get confused?
Sterling McDavid: It’s funny because we definitely knew we would get this question when we named the company “Starling” rather than “Sterling.” The truth is we wanted to get asked this question! We loved that “Starling” was a play on my name, but most importantly, we loved the meaning bigger behind Starling.
A Starling is a bird that is absolutely stunning, but Starlings have a unique pulsating dance they do when they come together. Thousands of them will gather, rise and spin in the sky, and together they are even more beautiful than they are individually. The name “Starling” represents the transformative power and energy each of us has when we come together. Each person that purchases a candle is contributing to a community that is making an impact on another community, and although we are all powerful on our own, we are much more powerful when we come together to give back.
Where did the idea for The Starling Project come from?
SM: After going to Vietnam with UNICEF in June 2013, I knew from what I had seen in poverty stricken areas of Vietnam that I needed to change my career. Immediately upon returning to New York, I informed my team at Goldman Sachs that I would be leaving. At the time, I did not knew exactly what I would do, but I knew I wanted to start a social good company that gives back.
Given that I am originally from Texas, where energy is a topic of conversation constantly, and that I had been exposed to some energy-efficient solutions to problems in Vietnam, I thought that it was likely I would focus my efforts on clean energy solutions, but I didn’t know in what way. When I left Goldman, I ultimately decided to go back to school to study interior architecture and design at Parsons School of Design. I ended up taking a job in Paris with the wonderful architecture firm Projectiles where my focus was building a spa resort. We thought of every detail imaginable for the resort including what fragrance would fill it.
It was during the research for this project that I came up with the idea to do a candle line. It was perfect! Candles give off light and light goes hand in hand with solar energy. When I shared the news with the UNICEF team, they loved it. From there I spent time narrowing down UNICEF projects to give to, and then The Starling Project was officially born.
What makes these candles different from other candles? For example, are the contents sourced from fair trade providers etc.?
SM: Starling candles are unique because we source the glass, wax and cotton wick from U.S. businesses. It was really important to me to source from the United States to support American business. We also make sure that the natural essential oils we source are free from human trafficking. Additionally, the candles are unique because of the combinations of fragrances. We purposely try to combine scents that aren’t typically thought of together to create something that is not only original, but that also really is a new experience for ones sense of smell.
How did you decide to partner with UNICEF?
SM: UNICEF is my passion so the decision was easy for me. I am Chair of National Development on UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee. I have been a junior board member for over five years now, and after visiting Vietnam with UNICEF for the first time, it became clear to me that it is one of the most amazing organizations in the world. UNICEF is saving children’s lives every day and they are innovative and thoughtful about how they do it and that really impressed me. I knew after my first field visit to Vietnam that I would have a life-long relationship with the organization.
What’s ahead for The Starling Project besides the new fall candle scents?
SM: We are working on various surprise collaborations for the holidays that we are excited about and we are also focusing on creating even more candle scents to add to our collection. It seems like we are mixing new combinations every day, but not every scent is a winner, so we definitely take our time to create the perfect combinations.
Aside from your charity work, you are known to be a co-owner of Hunt & Fish Club. What’s coming up for that establishment?
SM: Hunt & Fish Club has been such a wonderful project! There really is not a more beautiful and well-run restaurant in New York City, in my opinion. We are constantly working to keep things exciting and we have an incredible staff that really takes it all to a whole other level. At this point, we are really striving every day to make it better than the day before and I am proud to say the restaurant is always filled with guests like Demi Levato and the Kardashians.
Do you have other projects that you are involved with besides The Starling Project and Hunt & Fish Club?
SM: I do! I am an interior architect and designer. Currently, I am working on building a house in Aspen, Colorado. I have been working on it for 2.5 years, but am thrilled to say it will be complete this December!
What do you like to do in your free time when not working?
SM: I practice yoga nearly every day and am often caught hiking or in a Barry’s Bootcamp class. I also love art and architecture, so you may catch me at a museum or art show!
Having lived all over the world, what is it that keeps you a New Yorker?
SM: It’s funny because I was born and raised in Texas, but I truly have always been a New Yorker! I spent my childhood hopping between New York and Texas, and told my parents from the time I was eight years old that I was going to move to New York as soon as I could. I did exactly that! It is the fast pace, diversity, innovation and excitement that keep me a New Yorker. And, of course, the food! I truly couldn’t live without the variety of options at this point!
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
SM: Other than Hunt & Fish Club, I would have to say it is a tie between Locanda Verde and Osteria Morini! I am a big fan of Italian food and I think there are few chefs who can do it better than Andrew Carmellini and Michael White.
Finally, Sterling, any last words for the kids?
SM: Go out everyday with the goal to be kind and loving to anyone you cross paths with! People always ask me how they can make an impact without having to contribute a large amount financially. I really believe every kind act is crucial to making this world a better place for everyone. Of course, you can also buy a Starling candle to give back as well. (laughs)