KAI AVENT-DELEON IN NEW YORK, JANUARY 2017. MAKEUP: NARS SOFT MATTE COMPLETE CONCEALER IN CAFE.
As the owner of the Brooklyn-based concept store Sincerely, Tommy, Kai Avent-DeLeon leverages creative leadership to forge connections within her community. “Personally, I never really take it on as much as ‘I’m the boss’ as opposed to ‘What am I trying to create here that I want people to receive when they come into the store?” she explains. Her store is a fully realized vision of creative space: a showcase of chic, stand-out womenswear designers with an inviting ambiance, complete with a full-service coffee bar. She features pieces from emerging designers and takes inspiration from the collaborative, uniquely Brooklyn spirit she found in her early years in retail—the store as a center of exchange for energy and ideas, not just transactions. As a face of Interview x NARS Cosmetics’ “The Art of Throwing Shade,” Avent-DeLeon reflects on these early inspirations, the women she designs for, and using business as a platform to inspire.
STARTING OUT: I technically started at 16 when I began interning for a local store in Brooklyn, in Fort Greene. It’s no longer open, but the name was Addy and Ferro. They basically did something similar to what I’m doing in terms of carrying emerging brands. I really fell in love with the concept of the space and the customers who would come in. It was kind of at the forefront of when Fort Greene was this creative hub, so you’d have anyone from Erykah Badu and Mos Def coming in the store and just hanging out, talking with the owners. I learned a lot from that experience and stayed there for a few years. I left doing the men’s buying. That experience inspired me to open my own store within the community somehow.
ON SEXISM: As a female, I don’t think that I’ve faced those sort of challenges. I do, however, feel more of a desire to work harder because I think that women—and especially women of color—are always underrepresented. So I feel that it’s necessary to inspire my peers and do what I can to provide a platform for a woman who may want to do something similar to what I’m doing, or who needs that push to feel like they are capable of doing their own thing. One challenge is thinking of new and innovative ways to connect with my group and people within my community. Things are constantly changing, and I think that the way we communicate and take in information is constantly changing. For me, it’s about staying true to myself, what I believe in, and what I set out to put out there. At the same time, it’s about being able to translate that message in a way that’s relevant.
FEELING EMPOWERED: Being a woman! I think that’s very empowering. We’re just capable of so much. We’re in touch with life and spirituality, so many things on a different level than a man would be. It’s just innately in us. I naturally always feel like I can do anything and I’ve always felt that I’m very caring with what I want; I don’t really question that much. It’s more of a spiritual thing.
BEAUTY AND CONFIDENCE: With all of the buying that I do for the store, it’s always about knowing the customer and who I’m trying to appeal to. The majority of the women who shop at the store I feel are very confident because the pieces are so unique. You have to have a sense of your own style already to wear these types of clothes. That’s our target market–someone who’s very confident looking for something that stands out, that is really quality, and will be in your wardrobe forever. Even with the home goods and the jewelry, it’s a very specific person that I know will be attracted to [it]. I often take whatever I’m going through personally and try to put that in the store. When it comes to my personal style I’m always about comfort. When I’m comfortable, I feel most confident. So it’s not about having a lot of things, having the right things, the right name, but just about really good pieces that make me feel comfortable and that reflect where I am right now. It could be a basic Hanes T-shirt with some 501 Levi’s and some sneakers. If I feel good, then everything else falls in line with that. Every now and then I may wear things from the store, but I think that when I feel most confident is when I’m really in tune with myself.