Born and raised in Bed-Stuy, boutique owner Kai Avent-deLeon hoped to cultivate a community of young creatives and thought leaders in her neighborhood. Hence, Sincerely, Tommy and St. Coffee — a curated womenswear and lifestyle boutique and coffee shop — were introduced.
We talked to Kai about her visions for the store and its integration into the Bed-Stuy community.
What was the inspiration behind Sincerely, Tommy and the name?
The name came from Tompkins Avenue, where the store is, and also the cross streets that I grew up on, so it’s an homage to that street. The inspiration came from an accumulation of things. I worked in a clothing store in Fort Greene, and I loved the curation there. The owners did a really good job of creating this community through art and connecting young creatives in the neighborhood, so I wanted to create something like that when I was figuring out what ST would be.
How did you decide to set up shop in Bed-Stuy? What’s something about Bed-Stuy that makes it different from any other Brooklyn neighborhood?
For one, it’s definitely a residential neighborhood, which is very community-centered. Because of this, we have a different definition of what being a store is. A lot of the space is dependent on the customers and the kind of energy they bring, and the events that we do are also more community-focused, whether it’s a panel or a pop-up of a local artist. I like to think of us as a collective committee because we carry so many different things and have all this programming that goes on. It makes it a very special place to be.
Speaking of programs, what has been your favorite event so far?
I’d say, most recently, my favorite program has been Sanctuary, which was a safe-space we created for women to come and share their experiences with other women. It was a judgment-free atmosphere where women could connect and realize that we share common experiences and that we don’t do each other justice when we choose to not share.
I’m currently working on a new installment of events called ST Sessions, and the first one is going to be a panel for mothers who are creatives. I’m really excited about this as I am a new mom myself, still figuring out what’s happening or how to navigate it all. There are so many women in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood who are on a similar journey, where they don’t want to lose their identities just because they’re mothers. Motherhood is so different than what it was 10, 20 years ago, so for me, it’s important to create this community.
We LOVE your apartment from the feature on Architectural Digest. In your opinion, what makes a place a home, to you? Any moving or design advice?
For me, it’s all about comfort. That may not be the easiest thing to detect with the eyes since a lot of what’s in my space can be artsy or even delicate, but I tend to go toward things that I know I can rearrange easily and can go with anything.
Another thing is, I buy separate pieces that I really love, not matching sets, and rarely anything from a furniture store. I like things that are one-of-a-kind, so I get a lot of pieces made. I’m a huge chair-person, for example, so I have a guy that I go to who can create pretty much anything from a sketch. A lot of my objects are from traveling too, so they have some kind of nostalgic feeling behind it. I try to play around with things that I buy and have fun with it.
How has your background influenced your work and your entrepreneurial spirit?
Definitely, from my mom and my grandmother, who have both been entrepreneurs over 30 years, I got that drive early on. I never saw myself doing anything else other than working for myself. At one point, when I was younger, I wanted to be an actress, but for the most part, I was always pretty set on owning my own space and being able to do with it as I please. I truly believe in being able to create the life that you want, and that’s always possible when you recognize the options that are available to you.
What do you hope Sincerely, Tommy brings to the Bed-Stuy community, and how do you hope the community utilizes the shop?
I hoped, with opening the store, there would be filled curiosity regarding keeping things within the community versus thinking outside the box. I think, specifically within the Black community, sometimes we are limited in what we think we can do or should be doing. I was well aware that Sincerely, Tommy may not be accepted and welcomed by 100% of the community. But my mantra was, this is what I created, which is a derivative of my experience and the lifestyle that I cultivated and want to share. My experience may not be as common as something the community is used to seeing, but why should we limit ourselves to what is seen as “normal” or “common.”
Are there other local businesses around the area that you visit often? Which ones?
We’re actually getting ready to open up a new space in November, so that’s exciting and will be one of my favorites! But I would say as of right now, my favorite spot to go to for a quick bite is Chicky’s, right by Tompkins Ave and Hancock Street. My favorite Black-owned restaurant and business to go to is Cheri’s, off of Jefferson Ave and Malcolm X Blvd, for their amazing soul food. My all-time favorite place, however, is takeout at Ali’s Trinidadian Roti Shop, which has been around probably even before I was born.
I also love Life Wellness Center, which is a massage, acupuncture, wellness space that’s amazing. The owner, Khadija, is just incredible and greets you with a hug, and the energy in there is wonderful.
Visit Sincerely, Tommy in Bed-Stuy from 11 am to 7 p.m. on weekends (6 p.m. on Sunday) and from noon to 7 p.m. on weekdays on Tompkins Ave. In the meantime, follow them on Instagram, and visit them online.