By Lajeune Hollis
Fashion has always been Brittany Rae’s first passion. So much so that in 2021, she made it her full-time career and opened Richual Boutique—pronounced "ritual"—in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a curated thrift, vintage clothing and accessories shop.
Before opening the doors of this new chapter in her life, Rae was invested in the mental health field, having managed group homes and worked as a case worker and social worker in New York, where she was born and raised.
After losing loved ones to COVID-19, Rae did some soul-searching and decided to focus her energy on what she loved most: fashion.
“The pandemic definitely gave me the courage to say life is short and I should just go for it,” she shared.
And go for it she did. After visiting a friend in Bridgeport, Rae decided to relocate, noting that she liked “the diversity and culture” that downtown had. She was also inspired by the “art world” the city offered.
Rae opened her business and noted lower rents and grant opportunities as some of the silver lining to the pandemic for entrepreneurs. Since she started her business with her own capital, she was able to negotiate more with landlords.
"I love helping people, so owning my own boutique came very naturally. It went from a hobby to my full-time career."
But, it was a challenging time to open a business in the height of the pandemic, because shoppers were not coming out to stores like they previously did.
Rae’s solution was to offer private shopping at her boutique based on the shopper’s availability. She also offered online shopping on her website so that anyone across the country could purchase her products.
Richual Boutique features a mix of new, thrift and vintage styles. It offers trendy, fashionable, affordable clothing for both men and women, including furs, coats, shoes, handbags, accessories, jewelry and more.
For those looking for a special twist, Richual offers The Curated Thrift Box, a collection of 20 pieces of clothing or accessories valued at $200-$300, but at a cost of only $50. Shoppers are asked to indicate their sizes, preferred colors and tone, style and other key factors before Rae chooses what is added to their box. Because of her great fashion sense, the results have gotten rave reviews.
Rae hand-picks the pre-loved clothing available at Richual Boutique, using her keen eye for fashion and her knowledge of all the latest trends. She only selects fashion-forward, unique and on-trend items for her shop. Rae also works with designers who specialize in upcycling clothing and jewelry.
“I was kind of born into fashion,” said Rae. “Raised by very fashionable women, I have always been a shopper, have always thrifted, and I have all of these clothes that I collected. I love helping people, so owning my own boutique came very naturally. It went from a hobby to my full-time career.”
A shopper at heart, Rae admits that she thrifts almost every other day. She loves to travel too, which she says is “tied into thrifting” as she looks for unique pieces domestically or overseas.
Richual Boutique’s mission is to provide high-fashion designs and great material for little to no cost and to save the Earth by buying second-hand. Rae also believes in giving back by donating clothing to people who are experiencing homelessness.
As for what’s next for Richual Boutique, Rae hopes to expand and open additional locations throughout Connecticut. Her ultimate goal? To build a nationwide brand.
Richual Boutique is located in the Arcade Mall, 1001 Main Street, Suite 12, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Find Richual Boutique online on Facebook, Instagram or at their online shop at shoprichual.com.
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By Lajeune Hollis
It’s often said that there’s no love like a mother’s love. After Val McCray, owner of Heavenly Hair Growth Oil, underwent back surgery in 2019 and soon after suffered a heart attack, her mother was so worried about her daughter’s health that she began to suffer from hair loss. Eventually, she lost all of her hair until she was completely bald.
As soon as McCray recovered from her heart attack, she knew she needed to help her mother with her hair growth but didn’t know where to begin. She had always combed and styled her mother’s hair, and hated to see her in pain. So, she searched and found a local dermatologist who administered monthly scalp injections for her mother for three months. Sadly, the painful injections yielded no results.
"I truly want women to feel good about themselves. It makes me happy to see my product work."
Frustrated and heartbroken, McCray was determined to do some research to discover what could be done to help her mother’s hair grow back. She began experimenting on her mother’s scalp with organic herbs, oils and rice water, which contained the protein that was needed for her to strengthen her hair follicles. Her tender loving care paid off and her mother’s hair grew back, along with her confidence.
Since the mixture McCray created worked for her elderly mother, she thought it could work for other family members who suffered from hair loss. Each time she applied her mixture to their hair on a regular basis, it worked! She was onto something.
Her hair growth oil was, in her eyes, truly made with love.
Because McCray and her husband own McCray Realty in Bridgeport, her time is flexible enough for her to operate her online business, which she officially opened in 2020 on a full-time basis and began operating out of her living room, then dining room, then kitchen. When she ran out of room she took all of the products and created her own “laboratory” in their basement, where she now has plenty of privacy and room to work. She hopes to one day be able to operate her business out of a free-standing building so she can hire more employees and help quickly get her products into the hands of those who need it most.
McCray’s best friend, Sarah Brooks, was her “tester” because she too was losing hair on her temples from wearing her braids too tight. The Heavenly Hair Growth Oil worked so well for Brooks that she took a leap of faith and quit her job in customer service to partner with McCray.
She says she never went into the hair growth business to make money. She simply wanted to bring joy back into her mother’s life. And now, her primary focus is seeing her customers gain the results they want from her product line.
“I’m not looking to be a millionaire,” she explained. “I truly want women to feel good about themselves. It makes me happy to see my product work. I know it works, as it is helping women (and some men) grow their hair back.”
Heavenly Hair Growth Oil is ideal for women who are losing their hair due to advanced age, poor health, Alopecia or even long-term chronic illnesses like cancer. But, her product line also includes Heavenly Hair Beard Oil, which, according to McCray, brings together alma and vitamin E to create a glorious oil that lends a rich, voluminous look to beards.
Learn more about Heavenly Hair Products on their website, which includes descriptions and information on everything they offer:
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By Alexandra Frisbie
“If you want change, make the change. Put yourself in the game.”
Like many other institutions in America, the real estate system is built on and steeped in white supremacy and racism. Home ownership builds generational wealth and equity, which in turn can pay for things like student loans and other educational and lifetime investments. There is a big disparity between the size and location of real estate available to white people and Black people, which perpetuates a vicious cycle in which it is extremely difficult for Black people to build generational wealth.
Kim Vendryes learned this from the time she was a child, when her mother used to drive around Greenwich, Westport and Black Rock, Connecticut to expose her to other nice neighborhoods and let her know that anything was attainable. As Kim recalls, her mother used to buy houses in Bridgeport for two or three thousand dollars and work on them to sell at a profit. This sparked her interest in real estate at a young age.
Kim became interested in investments and wanted to be her own broker. She originally shied away from real estate because she didn’t like sales. Instead, Kim worked for a large healthcare organization, doing nothing related to real estate, but her interest and passion for real estate never waned. In 2018, Kim “woke up”, in her own words, and decided to register for classes to obtain her real estate license. She took the required sales classes and passed the state test on her first try.
Kim has been in business now for just about three years. Her business is almost 100% referral based. She views real estate ownership as more than a transaction; it is a life experience that should be equally available to everyone. Her strength is helping people who may be afraid of commitment to real estate to understand that it can facilitate them to get what they want. Kim has primarily mentored first-time home buyers and says it is incredibly gratifying to see them learn firsthand that home ownership is achievable.
One experience Kim shared was of a long time friend of hers who was raised by her grandparents and never knew her own mother. She never thought she could be a homeowner. Then, one day, her uncle was selling his house. Her friend was interested, but needed help through the process. She was very nervous, but Kim walked her through it and when she bought the house, it changed her confidence--not only about homeownership but also in so many other aspects of her life.
Kim has conducted several workshops over the past few years to assist with minority homeownership. She is planning to launch a “Main Street Initiative” to teach prospective homeowners about credit and wealth, provide educational empowerment and possibly partner with mortgage companies to provide a product to assist with down payments and closing costs.
Kim wants people to know she is very approachable and happy to answer any questions about homeownership. She can be contacted at (203) 816-1764 or on Facebook. When you call her, mention you read about Kim Vendryes on ShopBlackCT.com!
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By Kerry Kincy
Yolanda Hart, owner of Carrot Top’s Sweet Potato Treat, and I grew up in the same town and shared many of the same larger circles of community—a sort of “my people know your people” epiphany. And yet, I’m not sure we had ever had a real conversation outside of me ordering one of her sweet potato Bundt cakes just shy of a year ago.
Just as the reality of the global pandemic was about to sink in, folks were lining up for toilet paper rolls and cleaning supplies. Me? I was looking for all the comforts that a sweet potato Bundt cake could bring and came across beautiful pictures of Hart’s mini pies and mini cakes.
Hey, we all cope differently, right?
Hart bakes mostly to keep a balance between her teaching job and love for baking.
In fact, she’s been teaching English, biology and math to high-school students in Middletown for more than 20 years and holds two Masters of Education in Urban Leadership and in Special Education and Teaching. She’s held many leadership roles in education, including Coordinator of the Minority Student Coalition at Middletown High School. Most recently, she transitioned from teaching high-school students to differently abled junior high students in the Intensive Case Management Program. Hart works tirelessly to uplift and empower her students and absolutely loves her work.
For many years, Hart’s mother, Carolyn, owned a sweet little café in Middletown called 3 Sister’s Place. I don't think there is a soul that walked through those doors that didn’t feel welcome and at home upon entering. Having had their bellies filled just right made their visits even more incredible. In retrospect, I remember the restaurant being an unassuming experience in all things feminine, an experience of sisterhood, of food and in Black family culture. Of course, back then, I didn’t have the awareness of that concept nor the language to articulate of all that. However, the palpability of it was enough to keep returning for a dose of that which only can be felt: home.
This sense of home is what you taste in every one of Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats. The name “Carrot Top” was given to Hart’s Mom, Carolyn, from her grandfather. In the summer months, Carolyn’s hair would beam a beautiful orange and her father gave her the sweet nickname. Like most Black families, these terms of endearments stick to you forever. It’s special for sure and even more special when looking back in the totality of someone's lifetime. My grandmother called me “Peanut Butter,” and, like peanut butter, it has stuck to me and my memories of her. These seemingly simple things about Black culture keep my own ideas of Blackness appreciated and adored. Nicknames, in a sense, feel like “ours.”
In November of 2014, Hart’s mother, Carolyn, passed away. A few years later, Hart decided she would try to make one of her mom’s sweet potato pies. Her first attempt rendered the most perfect sweet potato mixture and crust. She wasn’t sure if she just wanted to believe so badly that it tasted just like her mom’s, so she brought the pie to her dad and older brothers to taste. With their collective confirmation, it felt as if they were all back together, and a sense of all the love Hart’s mother had for her family enveloped them. It was home again.
“My dad and I talked about even contacting the Oprah Winfrey show to share,” she beamed. Uncles, aunties and folks who had never tasted her mother’s sweet potato treats were equally in awe at this sort of magic that could only have been sent to Hart from the heavens above.
Then, one of Hart’s uncles found a recipe for sweet potato cake from her great grandmother and was eager to share it with her. She followed the recipe and that too came out equally as beautiful and delicious as the pies. After only a few practice cakes, she added them to her repertoire and Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats offerings. Initially, her treats were enjoyed most often by family and friends, but then, she began sharing with her larger community.
“I don't know why I was the chosen one,” laughed Hart, having only ever sat across the table and watched as her mom made her sweet potato pies and cakes, with no recipe and few measuring cups and spoons.
Hart crafts heartfelt, meaningful and thoughtful sweet treats for everyone to experience.
“It was mostly just spending time [together],” she shared. “The importance of that time became even more real after my Mom’s passing.” All too often, we both agreed, you find more reasons that you love someone when they are no longer here in their physical body. We shared how heart wrenching it is to want to tell them that one more reason, and, why you love them and cannot. Agreeably bittersweet.
Living in disbelief of many of the inequalities we live as a people, no one could ever take from us the sweet nuances that make up a visit to mom’s, watching her prepare traditional Black meals and desserts. You always know who made the potato salad and you always know, within a bite, who didn’t make it. Black culture, like Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats, is rich, colorful, royal and it carries a degree of “ours” within every bite.
Hart is now busy crafting heartfelt, meaningful and thoughtful sweet treats for everyone to experience. Her business partners include Josiah, her 21-year-old son, who helps with deliveries. Her 5-year-old son Jeremiah has become an invaluable team member, helping his mom with baking and packaging.
Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats are heaven in your mouth and provide some of the best of what Black culture offers: a sweet taste that carries the collective spirits of our great grandmothers, grandmothers, aunties and our own mothers to our kitchen tables long after they have left this physical world. Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats taste like home.
Hart has been successfully experimenting with a new Sweet Potato cookie recipe to add to her offerings and graciously shared it with ShopBlackCT.com fans.
Deacon Hart’s Delights
2 1/4 cups of flour
1 tsp baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg
1 cup of softened butter (room temperature)
3/4cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup mashed purée sweet potato (I use the batter for my pie!)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup crushed walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut
1 container of cream cheese frosting, melted
Preheat the oven to 375°. Mix dry ingredients together in a small bowl. All except for the sugars.
Cream both sugars and butter together until smooth, and fluffy. Add the vanilla, egg and sweet potato. Beat well. Add the ingredients from the small bowl and mix until combined. Add 1 cup of walnuts. Save the other 1/2 cup for the topping.
Scoop small balls onto baking sheets and bake for about 5 minutes. Add the coconut and bake for another 8 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. Lightly drizzle with melted cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.
Carrot’s Top’s Sweet Treats is located in Middletown, Connecticut. Visit their Facebook page to learn more.
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