KAI AVENT-DELEON

OWNER, SINCERELY TOMMY

Similar to thrift stores, boutiques give consumers the opportunity to snag a one-of-a-kind item, but instead of the piece already having a history, the customer is afforded the luxury of creating their own brand spanking new style story.  

26-year-old Kai Avent-deLeon is taking the specialized way of shopping to new heights with Sincerely, Tommy—An aesthetically-themed shop that concentrates on women's wear and lifestyle brands from emerging creatives in fashion and art. 

I took a trip to the covetable retail space and as I walked through Bed-stuy—consumed by NYC's summer humidity—I didn't quite know what to expect. However, when I stepped foot into Sincerely, Tommy (named after the Brookyln street it's nestled on, Tompkins Ave) I automatically felt a sense of community. This is fitting because that very feeling is not only what deLeon loves about her neighborhood, but, also something she has duplicated with her burgeoning business. The shop boasts clean but striking decor, with otherworldly garments hung neatly on each side. Scattered about is art, accessories and furniture all of which are enthralling—on their own and collectively. In addition, the space doubles as an expresso bar. Why sip wine when you can stock up on caffeine for more shopping energy? I ordered a ginger plum tea on the rocks, yum.

At first glance deLeon strikes you as a fashion and style heavyweight who (strictly) means business, however as soon as you engage her in conversation, you feel a sense of calmness. With her soft glow, signature curls, fitted black knit top, oversized button up shirt worn as a skirt and a pair of eye catching tan mules, she oozed coolness. She is by nature; a graceful but zealous creative who is dedicated to uplifting her generation. As I began to interview her, deLeon stood behind her computer, still slightly focused on her tasks for the afternoon. At that very moment, I could see why Sincerely, Tommy has been so successful.

deLeon gave Musings of Krav the run-down on how she's worked to shake-up the common concept of the boutique, her professional journey and style. She also gave us a lesson on the art of boutique shopping a.k.a 'boutiquing.' Yes, that is a thing.  

 

Krav: When you were 16, you knew that you’d be here one day and one of the things you said helped you get to this point, is your passion. So, how important is passion when it comes to following your dreams?

Kai: I think it’s really important. It’s what I use to drive me. I think it’s what a lot of people use as their fuel to accomplish their dreams or whatever their goals are in life. I’m a very passionate person, so I usually know that if there’s something that stimulates me, then I should follow it, embrace it and try to develop it more. So yes, since I was 16, knowing that this is something I was really passionate about helped me to mold the vision of what Sincerely, Tommy would eventually come to be. 

Growing up here in Brooklyn means that you’ve seen it transition continuously and through all of that, what is it about Brooklyn that will always symbolize home to you?

Brooklyn to me, more specifically Bed-Stuy, has such a strong sense of community. There always seems to be a good balance even with the changes going on. I still see the same people I grew up with, on the block that I grew up on, and that’s very refreshing. There’s this new generation coming in that’s a mixture of families and also young people who are more attracted to what the neighborhood represents. Whether it’s the architecture or the energy; versus coming here because the rent is just cheaper.

I’ve read a little bit about it, but what made you open your business in Brooklyn opposed to in another state or another part of New York?

I would say that besides growing up here, I really just have a strong connection to Brooklyn. I think that there are so many gems here. I wanted to add another gem to this already magical place that I call home.

Since you’ve opened up Sincerely, Tommy it hit the ground running. It’s been getting so much recognition everywhere and that goes to show that you really revolutionized the boutique business as a whole. Were you initially looking to bring this type of change?

Honestly, no and yes. I knew that I wanted to do something different from any other retail space in New York, in the sense that I was really looking to spotlight emerging designers that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. I obviously knew opening it in this neighborhood was somewhat of a risk, but, I at no point thought that it would get as much recognition so early on. I think that goes to show how people are eager to see something refreshing and new. I think people are especially looking for something that’s a little more accessible, that they can understand. I think that’s what this store is.

Aside from everything else, people seem to be really intrigued by the fact that you have a coffee counter. Why a coffee counter opposed to the regular wine and champagne every retail space provides?

That’s funny because we’re getting ready to add wine and beer. We’re going to do it after hours when the coffee counter closes.

*We both laugh* Krav: That’s still pretty different.

We really wanted to create an interactive space, especially with this sort of store in Bed-Stuy, you know it can be intimidating in the sense that people aren’t used to seeing something like this. So we really wanted another component to encourage people to sit, hang out, drink coffee, ask questions about the product, or just do work on their laptops. So that’s really why it’s there.

Decor wise, your store is very specific and “aesthetically pleasing” as most people would say. What did your mood board look like when you were thinking of how to create this type of space? 

I’m definitely influenced by my travel. I travel quite a bit. Whenever I go somewhere I’m usually inspired by the textures and materials that I’m seeing. A lot of natural materials. I like neutrals and soft palates. But more than anything, something that will allow me to be creative, change things up and not be limited to what I can do. I wanted to add textures that would let the product stand out. The space is a canvas and then the clothing, furniture, jewelry and accessories are the paint, if you will.

What are the key things you look for when deciding what emerging designers and artists to carry in Sincerely, Tommy?

I often look at strong pieces throughout a collection versus the entire collection being strong. I think when an artist can really pay attention to every detail that goes into each piece versus making sure that everything just looks very similar, there’s something to be said about that. I do capsule buys, which is just smaller collections opposed to buying a piece from each. I like the clothing to tell a story and some of these brands are so vastly different from the next, that in other stores they probably wouldn’t even be on the same rack. But, in this case, I just find pieces that I think work well—even if they’re not from the same brand—to tell a story.

I read that you previously worked at Chanel. How did working at such a prestigious fashion house translate into your everyday business practices?

Well, with Chanel more specifically I definitely picked up a lot of business practices that helped me in running the store and then before opening, helped me in the business planning stages. That was for most of my jobs actually. I’ve always took on operation roles or retail management jobs, just so I knew what running a staff was like, customer service and inventory. These are all of the things the average person when opening a store—that they don’t think about. It makes it a lot easier because I know how to deal with these things just having done it for 10 years.

In a time where young people expect microwave success and they don’t want to work as hard as they should or as hard as the people they aspire to be like, what’s your advice to interns?

Get as much experience as you can, do as much dirty work as you can. Any business position—whether you’re doing retail, a bar, a restaurant—whatever it is. As a business owner you literally have a hand in everything. There is nothing that you are not supposed to do and that shouldn’t be taken for granted. As an intern, you should be wanting to take out the garbage, you should be doing the things that you least want to do, the most. Creating a very strong work ethic is important, it helps develop you. It also helps you get outside of your box. If you continuously do what’s fun you don’t develop anything.

You’re 26. As a young entrepreneur, what is the most significant lesson you’ve learned running a business at this point in your life?

I would say staffing, especially being someone who’s 26. The average person who I interview or comes in looking for a job is usually between 24 and 26 years old. Finding that balance of having your employees take you seriously, while also being able to create an environment where they’re comfortable is still something I’m figuring out.  

How do you stay motivated? 

My family motivates me. My end goal motivates me, which is not really an end goal anymore. I see now how much of an impact this store has had and that it has potential to become even bigger then it is and that really motivates me. I want to see this through, I want to see how far Sincerely, Tommy can go. And I don’t mean that in just opening other stores but mentorship, motivating young girls to do things like this and community programs. All of these things motivate me.

 

Something that I’m really enamored by is your style. From your always unique shoe choices to the way you mix silhouettes. Tell me about how your style has developed over the years. 

I feel like I come from a line of really stylish women and they always surprised me growing up and even now, with their choices. My mom and grandmother, they stand out. They always choose things that are very unique so I think I had that from early on as an influence. I always go for comfort, more than anything. If I’m comfortable I feel good. Other than that, I love pieces that are different, that I’m not going to see someone else in. I love to mix and match, so I buy a lot of basics because I know that I’m going to piece it together with something a little crazier. My shoes are usually the eye catcher.

 And if could swap closets with anyone, who would it be and why?

Nina Simone. She has impeccable, impeccable taste.

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Lastly, what are some tips you have for shopping in retail spaces like this? How do you encourage people to try something new?

That definitely depends on the person, obviously. Because I’m such an advocate of risk, I’m constantly always like just do it! It’s really as simple as that. It helps to wear the pieces, so they can see it on, or, even encouraging something that’s a little off beat, that you wouldn’t normally wear. This is something special that you can have in your closet. That’s what we offer here, classic but still very unique.

To keep up with Kai, Follow her on Instagram @kaiaventdeleon and follow Sincerely, Tommy @SincerelyTommy_ | You can visit the retail sensation in person at: 343 Tompkins Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216 and if you can’t make it, shop online, here.

 

PHOTOGRAPHYAndre Gray