I was in retail for about 10 years, working for all kinds of companies: Aritzia, Chanel, The Kooples. Pretty much anything you can think of, I’ve done it. But I knew I wanted to open my own store since I was 16.
I actually dropped out of college. I was going to FIT and LIM—both of the major fashion schools here—but it wasn’t for me. I thrive off of real world experience. I felt the best way to learn how to open a store was to just work in them. That was really my goal.
I wanted a space that I felt represented the little Black girl from New York who loves everything—whether it’s fashion, art, film, or travel.
I opened Sincerely, Tommy nine years ago. In short, it’s a lifestyle concept store. It’s in Bed-Stuy, which is the neighborhood that I grew up in. People of color tend to get put in boxes of what we’re expected to do and what we can offer. I wanted a space that I felt represented the little Black girl from New York who loves everything—whether it’s fashion, art, film, or travel. I wanted to show that we don’t have to stay inside those boxes. I also wanted to bring in independent designers that hadn’t been carried in any New York stores. There really was no other space like ST in the neighborhood. We were the first business like ours on Tompkins Avenue, which is now a major shopping corridor. I guess we pioneered that street in a way.
But we have also served the community in several ways. Building Black Bed-Stuy was an idea I had back in 2020 at the height of COVID. So far, ST is its home. We do a marketplace on summer weekends that allows other Black creatives to sell their pieces and have exposure to our audience and the community. ST is really like a community space at this point. We also have a cafe in the store which allows people to work there and experience the space in a way that isn’t just necessarily about fashion.
I am the third generation to live in this neighborhood. Bed-Stuy just has so much rich history. It has always been a Black neighborhood—well, after it was Italian. But it was known as an African-American mecca where people owned their homes and took a lot of pride in maintaining that legacy. Not every part of the neighborhood was like that. It was also known for a lot of crime, but overall, it just has this sense of community. With the changes that have been happening here, I felt like it was really important to continue building on that narrative and on that legacy.
Over the years, Sincerely, Tommy has continued to evolve as I evolve. It’s served as kind of a canvas for me to express any creative passion that I have. Mostly community work, but also Raini Home, which is my furniture line. We’ve done so much stuff. I think at this point ST is just like its own thing. It has its own little cult following.
Raini Home started with chairs. I wanted a chair that felt child-friendly, but was still fun and modern. I asked this guy who works with my grandmother and makes furniture if he could make what I had sketched out, and he did. I got so many DMs from people asking if they could buy them when I posted them on Instagram. I stayed away from it, but eventually, someone approached me and was like, “I’ll be your business partner and take that over so you don’t have to think about it.” It’s still in its baby stages in terms of what I want to do. Now, I’m working on a more personal project that connects Raini Home with Sincerely, Tommy and Sanctuary, which are the retreats I’ve been doing in the property that I bought upstate.
During COVID, I was going to my friend’s home upstate a lot. We were in lockdown and needed to escape Brooklyn. I really loved what it felt like being up there but after a while I was like, Okay, we can’t just keep coming here, so I decided I wanted to buy something of my own. I didn’t have any money at the time. Certainly not enough to buy a house. And as a small business owner with not the best credit, I also wasn’t able to get a loan. I had no idea how I was gonna do it because I was determined not to ask for support from my family. I wanted this to be my own thing.
So I literally wrote it down. I don’t wanna be too esoteric, but I really believe in the power of manifesting. I drew a picture of what I wanted the house to look like. I think I drew a river in front. I got really specific. Maybe a month after that happened, I started reaching out to real estate agents to look at houses. In my mind, I was like, Why am I even doing this? I don’t wanna waste these people’s time. I don’t have any money right now. But I found a real estate agent who literally had just started, hadn’t sold any houses yet, and was amazing. After that, all of these brand partnerships just started coming to me, more than ever.
Going through my own transition, I’ve found that my healing journey serves me best when I’m serving others.
I ended up saving a good amount. Enough to buy the house with money left over to do a gut renovation, add on an extension, and have it finished within six months, which was my goal. I found the most amazing contractor who is now one of my good friends, which is also unheard of. It was like the universe aligned everything to make this happen. I think because everything happened in that way, I knew that this space was much more than just a home for us to go to on the weekends. That’s certainly the energy you feel when you go up there. It’s like your nervous system automatically feels at peace. There’s this very intuitive instinct to want to walk around and explore it. It’s so peaceful.
So I knew that I had to use the space to serve my community in some way. Going through my own transition, I’ve found that my healing journey serves me best when I’m serving others. I gathered some girlfriends who work in the wellness space and we came up with different itineraries and topics we wanted to target and decided to turn this into a retreat. And similarly to Raini Home, I posted it on my Instagram and people signed up.
The first one was 10 women. It’s very affordable compared to other retreats, like $500. They started off as two days and then extended to three days. They’re always really special. I’ve made family with most of the women that end up coming—we still hang out and stay in touch.
I always get really intimidated when I hear people talk about purchasing a home, how they started their business, or trying to find investors or capital. I’m like, I don’t speak that language. I don’t even know what you’re saying or where to begin. So I think it’s nice when you can hear stories that are more approachable.
My parents both grew up in Brooklyn, but my mom’s originally from Grenada. I spent most of my early childhood in Brooklyn and then moved upstate—like, way, way upstate—when I was in kindergarten. My mom started working at her alma mater, Colgate University. We stayed up there for about eight years. We lived in so many different random towns like Sleepy Hollow and Pleasantville. We moved around a lot.
My dad has always done community work. He is way more grassroots. That’s been his life’s work, honestly. He lives in Maryland now, but he was working at the Girls Club in the South Bronx with underprivileged and low-income youth. He was so incredible at coming up with activities and programs for these teenagers who were in unfortunate situations and circumstances and wouldn’t have had access to a lot had it not been for these opportunities. It was always for Black children—that’s his priority, that’s his focus. Now he does work with Black single fathers, providing mentorship.
Growing up in these small towns and being one of the only Black families, I didn’t feel super accepted because I didn’t see many people who looked like me.
I moved back to Bed-Stuy when I was in the fourth grade. I went from being one of two Black kids in all these white schools to being one of many Black and Latino kids. Coming back to Brooklyn, I think I presented really differently. The way I talked was very different from other kids. I definitely struggled with feeling like I needed to fit in. I found myself trying to conform, changing the way I speak. At the time, I didn’t realize why I was doing it. I just wanted to feel comfortable and accepted. But also growing up in these small towns and being one of the only Black families, I didn’t feel super accepted because I didn’t see many people who looked like me. There was definitely a sense of wanting some consistency and belonging.
New York has changed so much from what I loved. It feels more commercial and busy. Brooklyn used to feel tucked away. You go to the city to hang out, to party, and then you come to Brooklyn and it’s quiet. You know your neighbors, you’ve seen them for years. When I used to tell people I lived in Bed-Stuy, they’d be like, “Ew, Bed-Stuy.” They refused to come. Now those same people live here. So the energy has changed so much. But it’s not the place, it’s the people.
Now, I come from a place of acceptance. These changes are cyclical and they’re inevitable.
It used to make me angrier and more frustrated. Now, I come from a place of acceptance. These changes are cyclical and they’re inevitable. Before Bed-Stuy was a Black neighborhood, it was an Italian neighborhood. But it’s frustrating to see people be displaced, to see a lot of Black families not understand or have the information on the importance of home ownership. That part still makes me sad. But I’m trying to be more solution focused. If this change is going to happen, what does it look like to facilitate conversations where we bridge the gap between who’s been here and who’s coming in?
With Building Black Bed-Stuy, we landed on raising money for local businesses whose missions we felt aligned with maintaining the Black neighborhood that has been here. The first round of businesses each received $25,000. We did a second round and they received the same amount. We actually just closed out the third round where we did smaller amounts so that we could donate to five businesses this time. We did $10K to three of them and $25K to two more. That’s the main initiative. I definitely didn’t expect for BBB to go beyond that first round of funding. But I think when there is a need and something also resonates with the community, it just happens, you know?
If I’m being honest, I haven’t smoked in maybe six months. I used to smoke more often. I’m a research nerd, so I’ve been reading a lot about the difference between buying from dispensaries and growing it. I’m really curious about possibly growing it myself and seeing what that experience is. My neighbors grow in their yard and they make these zucchini weed cakes that are so good. But just what I’ve read about some of the dispensaries has kind of turned me off. I want to know how they’re growing it, if it’s being sprayed with anything, and stuff like that. But when I used to smoke more, oh yeah, it was a party. It was fun.
Mushrooms are my favorite. I love mushrooms. But I only do them in nature. I don’t do them recreationally. I consider all of these things to be plant medicines, so I’m not like, “Let’s do mushrooms and go party.” I like to sit with them, and allow the experience to happen and see what comes up. Sometimes it’ll be super light and I’m like, I feel good. I can sit here and be present. Other times I’m talking to a guide or an angel or maybe a lizard in the sky, you know. That’s what I love about mushrooms: you really have to surrender and release, you can’t control what happens. I think whatever you’re meant to experience just happens.
That’s what I love about mushrooms: you really have to surrender and release, you can’t control what happens.
I’ve always been open to anything. The first time I bought mushrooms, I decided I was gonna go on a road trip to Death Valley. I flew into Vegas and drove there. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I was with my partner at the time and we had this little cabin in the middle of the desert. The mushrooms kept me up all night. I was talking to a vision of an elder. Her face was planted in the mountains in front of me, and she was giving me all of these directions and telling me what to do. She told me to walk over to this plant. When I tried to touch it, the energy between my hand and the plant was so intense that I ended up falling back on the floor.
I even got messages about the person I was with at the time, telling me how to navigate it. I think we were a week into dating and the woman told me exactly what to do, what not to do, and literally all of those things ended up happening. It was very detailed, so that kind of freaked me out. But yeah, I think from there I was like, This is my medicine. I can trust sitting with mushrooms. I’ve always been attracted to it after that.
Growing up, we didn’t talk about drugs. My parents are funny in that way. I don’t know if they realize it, but I think they have this unspoken thing that they think I’m just supposed to know certain things. We never had the sex talk, we never had the weed talk, but when they found out I was doing it, my dad was so chill and cool. My mom, she’s a bit more rigid. She was like, “Why would you do that? Why would you wanna be smoking?” She gets really dramatic. “You’re gonna kill your brain cells and then you won’t be able to have babies,” you know, just the most. So I never listened to that, obviously. And I have a son, so we know that didn’t happen.
Back when I was doing edibles more, a friend of mine was making these weed brownies that were so strong that they knocked everyone out. There was a summer where I ate those all the time. That could have also been one of the reasons why I slowed down a bit on the weed front. Because I’d literally leave my job, like, two hours early and just walk around the city high on these weed brownies. I remember thinking, I should probably be a little more productive. Looking back on it now, though, I’m like, fuck, I miss that New York.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Kai Avent-deLeon photographed by Meredith Jenks in Bed-Stuy. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies. Subscribe to our newsletter here.