Kai Avent-deLeon

APIECE APART WOMAN
At her Bed-Stuy boutique Sincerely, Tommy, Brooklyn native Kai Avent-deLeon combines a passion for her community with a concept-driven love for independent design. Bringing a very new type of shop and customer to Bed-Stuy, Kai’s inclination to do things differently is an inspiring reminder of the value in going out on your own. We visited her at home in Bed-Stuy (where she lives in a home originally bought decades ago by her grandmother) to discuss the challenges and joys that come with running your own business; how daily observations influence her perception of style; and how she’s built a career by carefully combining her passions.

Kai wears TEWA SQUARE NECK DRESS in cream
from our Resort '16 collection - available to purchase next week. 
 
Can you share more about your upbringing — where you are from, what your childhood was like?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and lived with my mom for most of my life. I always had a passion for the arts: I studied acting for eight years and then went to an art high school, and I think it was there that I found my passion for clothing. I started taking weekend classes at FIT, and eventually spent two years there, and went on to work in my first job at a small clothing store. After going on to work for various brands as a buyer and consultant, I came to a place where I just couldn’t do it anymore and wanted to do my own thing. A little over a year ago, I opened my shop.
 
Sincerely, Tommy has gotten a lot of attention for bringing a different source of style and shopping to the neighborhood, while still feeling very rooted in the existing community. Can you explain more about what led you to start it? What are your intentions with the space?
I wanted my shop to be here because first — it’s where I’m from. I have such a deep connection with the neighborhood. But I also know a lot of creative people who live here now, and we’ve spoken widely about how we wanted a place where we could go, connect, and feel at home. I wanted to be a pioneer in that sense; I wanted something for us, and for the people moving here. I envisioned it as a place that would be heavily involved in the community, supporting local artists, and focusing on smaller brands.
 
"I wanted to be a pioneer in that sense; I wanted something for us, and for the people moving here. I envisioned it as a place that would be heavily involved in the community, supporting local artists, and focusing on smaller brands."
 

Kai wears SHIRRED AGATA in cream and TAIYANA WABI WIDE LEG PANT in cream
from our Resort '16 collection - available to purchase next week. 
 
You’ve mentioned the shop is designed to be a place that stimulates thought — can you cite some recent examples of pieces in the shop, or conversations you’ve been a part of, that have left you inspired (or just made you think twice)?
We get so many interesting people who come in — Lucy, one of my customers, has amazing style. Sometimes when I see the pieces she buys from us, I am blown away because I would never think to style it the way she does. I sometimes find myself buying pieces because I see it on her, and through her filter it has almost a new life.
 
I love the mood board focus you share on Instagram/Pinterest. Can you share some recent visual inspirations — either people, striking photos, odd arrangements, or a combination thereof?
I have recently become really interested in vintage slips. I went to Hudson a couple months ago and came across this vintage store where the owner had all these beautiful slips, and to me it was just something so feminine about them. They have the most simple silhouette — just two straps. But I love when when they are done in a specific color, like a nude or a gold. So I’m going on a frenzy with that.
 
What are you passionate about?
Change. My personal growth. My family. My friends. The store, and seeing it grow to develop a community of people who appreciate what it represents. Traveling.
 

 
What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
- Always have a vision, because it will help everything else fall into place.
- There’s a difference between working a lot and working smartly — this is one I’m struggling with right now.
- Consistency is so important. 
- You can’t half-ass anything in this business.
- And the value of finding a good team, finding people who are hard working and passionate and see value in what you’re doing. 
 
As a shop owner, part of your role is the continual search for new things, or for things that feel different. How do you strike the balance between maintaining relevance while staying away from things that are obvious “trends”?
In maintaining the brand’s — and my personal — integrity, I try to stick to a very specific vision, so that it becomes really easy to identify the difference between admiring things and knowing what’s right for the store. If something doesn’t fall in line with that I can put it to the side or just compartmentalize it in a “box,” so to speak. It makes it easier to navigate; I can’t bite the bullet as much as I want to.
 
Can you share more about your home?
My grandmother actually owns the building — she’s in real estate, and it was one of the first buildings she purchased when she moved to the US. I’ve lived in it for about five years. All the woodwork and fixtures are original, but about a year and a half ago we did a pretty full renovation. My mom is also in real estate and we’re similar in that she finds projects — renovations, interior design — and immerses herself in making it her art project. I feel similarly about my space…I’m always trying to recreate what’s there, like a canvas that I rework. I am loyal to some materials and textures: marble, concrete, and wood are three favorites.
 

Kai wears ELISA SLEEVELESS TOP in midnight stripe and ASSISI TEA-LENGTH SKIRT in onionskin
from our Resort '16 collection - available to purchase next week. 
 
 
What are some other favorite spots in Bed Stuy? What are your neighborhood haunts?
As far as a daily routine, there aren’t a whole lot of resources in the neighborhood, so sadly I have to leave pretty often. But there are some restaurants that I go to frequently here: I like Ali’s, which is this old school Trinidadian restaurant that’s been around probably longer than I’ve been alive. Calaca is a really great small Mexican restaurant owned by a daughter and her mom who moved here from Mexico City. Saraghina has a little gourmet grocery and bakery that I stop by to get homemade pasta.
 
Have you had mentors or anyone you’ve looked up to throughout your career?
My mom and my grandmother have played a huge role in my passion for being an entrepreneur and paving my own way. There are also a lot of actresses I look up to for their confidence, their way of living life, and how they embrace being a woman…I think that it came from acting for so long—like Jessica Lange or Diane Keaton. I watched a lot of Woody Allen movies growing up, so a lot of the women portrayed in his films I tend to associate with their characters.
 
What are some cultural touchstones you consider a part of who you are today — i.e.: what films, books, artists, places, etc., have been most influential in shaping you?

I would say film is my biggest influence. My knowledge of films I’ve seen and directors in general is pretty broad, so I’m always referencing something from a film, whether it’s the way I arrange the store or in my buys. A lot of older French films, like those by Godard or Eric Rohmer, have women wearing the most beautiful clothing in such specific ways. And again Woody Allen — Annie Hall is my all-time favorite movie, and I always think about that scene where Diane Keaton and Woody Allen are walking on the beach. She’s wearing high-waisted trousers, this very masculine blazer, and a T-shirt. Those pants are my staple pants…I’m always wearing a pair of high-waisted pants. It really shows how timeless those pieces are. You see them being recreated season after season, and it’s so rooted in these past eras and how they are reinterpreted now.
 

 
 
Photography by BRIAN W. FERRY | Styling by ALEXA HOTZ | Interview by LEIGH PATTERSON