'I grew up in Bed-Stuy. Born and raised. Actually, I grew up in the building next door because my grandmother moved here and got into real estate, so her first purchase was this building. My dad is from Bed-Stuy, too, so we’re all born and raised Brooklynites. I think that’s what's so cool about [living here]. It’s so black and white in terms of, ‘Oh Bed-Stuy. Isn’t that, like, really dangerous?’ And then there are people who are like, ‘Oh Bed-Stuy! It’s, like, really cool there. That’s where Biggie is from.’
When I was in high school, I started taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I was doing textile design and patternmaking. I just started to fall in love with fashion design. I was like, ‘Oh I’m going to be a fashion designer’ or ‘Oh I’m going to be a buyer,’ so I did that. My first job was at this boutique in Fort Greene when I was 17—I just walked in because my mom was like, 'Time to get a job!' I had never worked, so I just went walking down Fulton Street, and there was this really cute boutique that had just opened. It was sort of like what my store is like now. I walked in and was like, ‘Hey this is my résumé. I really like this store, and I’d really like to work here.’ They had just opened like a week ago and weren’t even trying to hire anyone. I started off as an intern and left three years later doing all of the men’s buying, and I loved it.
My first real job once I left school was at Chanel as an operations manager overseeing back-of-the-house stuff. Then I was at Aritzia managing their first store in Soho. After that I was like, ‘I’m ready to do my own thing,’ but those experiences were so valuable. I learned what women want to buy, what they’ll spend money on. Women specifically will remain loyal to a brand if they really like what it represents. The money is an afterthought if they know they are investing in something. The purpose of Sincerely, Tommy is to continue to highlight these emerging brands because that’s what New York is. People who come here— who really come here—want to be part of a community that’s creative and different and innovative. There's a lifestyle component—the girl who shops at my store is more unique all-around in her furniture, her home, her beauty routine, her clothing...so the question at one point was what beauty products could we introduce that could allow for that? Initially it was definitely organic, small-batch kind of mom-and-pop brands, and it was really cool just to see people playing, buying, and touching these products because they were not things you could get Sephora or Bloomingdale's.
I wake up at 7am. The store opens at noon, so I have time to work out in the morning. I have a trainer— Shane Augustus—and we go to the park and do a lot of boot camp on the stairs and pull-up bars. I don’t feel healthy when I’m skinny. It happens when I don’t take care of myself, but Shane is intense. I’ve seen results from him within a few weeks. He’s really good.
SKINCARE & BODY
I started playing around with beauty in college. I never had problem skin. It's just oily, so the buildup sometimes gets annoying. But I’m like, OK, if it means no wrinkles, I’ll keep the oil. I got into facials heavy when I was younger. I just love the way they feel, and I love how refreshed I feel afterward. The city is so dirty. Your skin just gets so clogged and filthy. There was just something very purifying about knowing that it was cleaned. Growing up, I always used the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay because of my mom. You know that one? She would always use it. She is really strict with diet overall and taking care of herself. I think that’s probably why I didn’t wear a lot of makeup other than the fact that I was just not a girly girl. It just wasn’t something I saw from her a whole lot. But definitely getting older, I was very aware of what I was eating and drinking—and the facials became a big part, the masks became a huge part.
Last year, I got my first chemical peel. I was so nervous—petrified—even though I'd researched it for a while. My aesthetician recommended it, and I was like, ‘Really?’ She said, ‘You’re going to notice a difference. It’s not dangerous at all.’ I made an appointment the next day, and I ended up finding this guy in the city who specializes in darker skin because that was my other concern. After the first one, I was like, ‘This is amazing.’ Some people peel afterward depending on their skin or the level of the peel, but I don’t peel at all. I get an enzyme and salicylic acid one, so it’s very light. You just feel a tingling sensation when it’s on. It's only on for about five minutes and then you wash it off. It gives you a refreshed feel, but the process really controls breakouts and evens out skin tone if you have dark spots from acne or just being in the sun. I get dark spots, and it’s so annoying. They definitely go away—it just takes forever. I use Desert Essence 100% Organic Tea Tree Oil a lot to tone my skin at night, too.
I shower when I wake up. I have to—it’s like a pet peeve, waking up and wanting to feel refreshed. I just have some basic Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soaps. I just got the Frank Body Original Body Scrub with coffee in a care package. I use it on my face in the morning to exfoliate maybe twice a week. I’m not that intense. I also have the Alba Botanica Natural Acnedote Face and Body Scrub. It gets all the dirt off. My mom uses it, too. Then there’s my moisturizer, which is just regular Vitamin E Oil from Nature’s Gate. It’s really thick, so I would recommend maybe just doing a little bit on your hand and then rubbing it in. It’s good for getting rid of scars, too, but I like the way it feels on my face and it absorbs nicely once it’s in there. Sometimes I’ll use the Clarins Beauty Flash Balm, which is just kind of a light refresher.
Foundation doesn’t look good on me, so I use the Cover FX Cream Concealer in N Deep to cover up all my spots instead. Putting on anything more just doesn’t feel natural. Then there’s some people I see that just look amazing with makeup, and I start to wonder maybe I just haven’t really tried the proper way. I do have my little kit that I use sometimes. I have this little guy—the Sephora Collection Long Lasting Eyeliner High Precision Brush—that I’ll just do a cat eye with every now and then when I’m feeling fancy. The felt tip is definitely easier. When I have a tan, I like to use MAC Pearlglide Intense Eye Liner in Periwinkle Grey. My mascara is They’re Real! by Benefit. I went to Sephora and was like, ‘I need a good mascara because all the ones I always get dry out really quickly.’ The sales person recommend this one, and I love it. I only wear it when I go out, though, and I always forget that I have makeup on.
On my lips, I use something that is super nude every now and again. This taupe-nude color is a good summer look. I know people are scared of nude lipstick because it can wash them out, but I’m a big fan. Some of my favorites are Kat Von D's Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Lolita, Yves Saint Laurent's Rouge Volupté Silky Sensual Radiant Lipstick SPF 15 in 3 Beige Ultimate, and Temptu's Color True Lipstick in Blushed Suede. They're all very simple, classic nudes. I always ask my boyfriend before I wear a lipstick. 'Does this look good to you?' He doesn’t really like makeup, so I know he’ll be honest. If I don’t wear a color, I'll put on Glossier's Balm Dotcom. I like the consistency. I like my balms to be a little thicker.
Every now and then, I’m like, 'OK, I can wear makeup. I can change my look.' It’s definitely a process because like, I’m not used to being photographed. I’m always in a comfort zone. Now, I want to change it up. I want to play with different things. I think beauty and fashion are so similar, so they have to factor into one another.”
—as told to ITG
Kai Avent-deLeon photographed by Tom Newton on May 1, 2015. For even more nude lipsticks, check out the best of the best for every skin tone. For more on New York boutiques, check out Claire Distenfeld of Fivestory's Top Shelf After Dark, and get lost in all our Top Shelves right here.