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22 Local Women to Watch in 2022

by Victoria Marie Moyeno
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2021 has been packed with uncertainty, challenges, joy, sadness, new opportunities, and more. It forced us to reflect on what we really want out of life both professionally and personally. The world transitioned out of quarantine and back to in-person living (for the most part) this year, which presented opportunities for many – including many of the women on this list. This year in Montclair alone, over 50 businesses were launched, an amazing achievement for the community as a whole! As we look towards 2022 and set our goals and expectations, we wanted to highlight some of the women within this community that have made waves this year that will undoubtedly ripple into next year with bigger ones to come. These women come from all backgrounds, education, industries, levels of experience – and yet at this very moment, they have all achieved amazing things in their careers. From industry moguls to women just discovering entrepreneurship and everything in between – this list of 22 local women inspire us and those in the Montclair community with their professional careers.

Bobbi Brown

Beauty Industry Moguel – Author, Founder/Owner of Jones Road, EVOLUTION_18, and The George 

Bobbi Brown

Bobbi Brown is a beauty industry titan, world-renowned makeup artist, best-selling author, sought-after speaker, and serial entrepreneur. As a professional makeup artist, Bobbi created the ten simple lipsticks that launched her billion-dollar brand, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. Bobbi left her namesake brand in 2016 to return to her roots as an entrepreneur, launching her venture Beauty Evolution LLC with three innovative brands. EVOLUTION_18 is a line of wellness and beauty ingestibles inspired by Bobbi’s certification as a health coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. justBOBBI.com is an editorial content platform that offers a look into the world of Bobbi. And with her husband, Steven Plofker, Bobbi reimagined The George, a design-minded boutique hotel in Montclair. She is the author of nine best-selling books and host of iHeart Radio’s Beyond the Beauty podcast. Bobbi’s newest venture, Jones Road, launched in October 2020 and marks Bobbi’s triumphant and long-anticipated return to the makeup and cosmetics industry. The brand is a collection of clean and indispensable skincare and makeup products for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Learn from everyone and everything. Be the one that says yes. Do it without asking what you can do. But ask and accept feedback on the completion of the task.

Celestina Ando

Owner + Photographer of Celestina Ando Photography

Celestina Ando

Before becoming an award-winning photographer, Celestina Ando was an accountant working in corporate finance for 20 years. She took a leap of faith to follow her passion and now has a photography studio in Montclair, NJ. Going into its fifth year of business, Celestina’s studio has won Gold for Best Photographer for Best of Essex 2019-2021, and also placed sixth with a portrait in the International Portrait Masters competition in 2021. Whether for headshots, maternity, boudoir, or contemporary glam, she loves working with clients who feel they aren’t photogenic and creating legacy portraits and empowering experiences for them. Celestina’s upcoming exhibit, 40 Over 40, is a passion project celebrating women over 40. The exhibit will be at Hillside Square in Montclair during Women’s History month with the opening event on Saturday, March 12th, at 6PM.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

One word – grit. Opening a studio at the age of 40 was not easy, but you truly can pursue anything you want at any time if you truly desire it and are willing to put in the work. Some additional tips – network, find the right mentors, and always treat anyone you meet with kindness and positive energy. I try to live by Maya Angelou’s quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So focus on creating positive experiences with anyone you meet as you never know who might become part of your network of clients, mentors, referral partners, etc.

Jeanine Downie

Owner + Director of Image Dermatology

Jeanine Downie

Jeanine B. Downie, M.D. is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology and holds medical licenses in the states of New Jersey, New York, and California. Dr. Downie is the director of her own practice, image Dermatology P.C. in Montclair, N.J. She has extensive training and experience in all aspects of dermatology, cosmetic dermatology, laser, and dermatologic surgery. Dr. Downie provides both adult and pediatric patients with competent, compassionate care and all patients are treated using the most medically advanced techniques.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

My best advice to someone just starting out in their career is to bring your energy, your enthusiasm, and your A-game to work every single day. Be professional, be appropriate, ask questions, listen and learn. Understand what the priorities are of the company you are working for. If you do not share those priorities, do not work there. Make sure you write out a list of goals and update it every six months so that your work aligns with your priorities so you can work towards the best future for you.

Dr. Jodie Thorz Dawson

C0-Owner of Java Love + Clinical Psychologist/Certified Life Coach

Jodie Thorz Dawson

Dr. Dawson is trained as a clinical psychologist and is a certified life coach. Her unique background in education, mental and health services, and entrepreneurship informs her work—both as a sole proprietor, speaker, and coach—with a creative, strategic, and analytical mindset. Dr. Dawson has a passion for helping people find their own success and for working on her own practice of “Radical Acceptance” in her work and life. Because of her experiences, she often gets asked for advice, mentoring, and coaching from women who want to transition in their careers or to entrepreneurship. She has recently relaunched her coaching practice to help women start or grow their businesses or change careers with less fear and more flexibility while creating a life of purpose that is aligned with their values.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Approach your career as a journey. Back in the day, we were taught that your career was a linear path. You worked at an entry-level job and worked your way up the ladder, usually in the same field or company, or you pursued higher education to become an expert in a given field. And that was it. Now, your career is expected to take a lot of twists and turns. Remember that each experience builds upon the next and that you gain skills in every role and company you work for. Be open to learning and growing as a professional and as a person, to receiving feedback on your performance, taking risks, and walking through open doors to the next opportunity. There is no formula – you are creating your life’s path with each choice you make. There are no wrong choices; just lessons to be learned.

Kristine-Ellis Petrik

C0-Owner of Java Love

Kristine-Ellis Petrik

Driven by an almost complete lack of rational thought and following their hearts, Kristine-Ellis Petrik and her partner Jodie Dawson started the Java Love Coffee Roasting Company ten years ago when they acquired a tiny coffee roasting company with a few wholesale accounts. Since 2011, Jodie and Kristine have created a highly successful company with four thriving brick-and-mortar cafés, over 50 wholesale clients, and a booming online business. These accidental entrepreneurs, as they refer to themselves, found success by first creating a premium product based on sustainability, community, and quality followed up with continuing education and empowerment of the company’s growing team of roasters and baristas.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

My advice to someone just starting out in their career is the same advice I tell people giving their first speech or presentation: prepare best you can, know what you want to accomplish, and be willing to let go of everything once you start down your path. You may end up doing a job or being part of a team you could have never planned for or imagined, and if you hold too tight to your initial plan, you may miss some amazing opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Denise Ford Sawadogo

Co-Owner of Montclair Brewery

Denise Ford Sawadogo

Denise Ford Sawadogo has more than 30 years of corporate marketing and business experience in packaged goods, including categories such as fashion, auto aftermarket parts, healthcare, and life science. Her global branding, marketing communications, campaign development, and product launch background have been put to good use managing her and her husband’s New Jersey-based microbrewery and tasting room – Montclair Brewery, now in its 4th year of business. She is also a 15-year resident of Montclair, a mom to a teenage son, and an active community volunteer.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Listen and learn as much as possible and contribute as much as possible as well. Let everyone see that you can be trainable and at the same time contribute great ideas and skills so that the value you bring is not questionable.

Rachel Wyman

Owner + Head Pastry Chef of Montclair Bread Co.

Rachel Wyman

Rachel grew up in Maryland and as a child watched her grandmother make wedding cakes. After graduating from the University of Florida with a French degree, she studied baking and pastry at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, where she discovered a passion for baking bread. She felt, “There was a soulfulness about it that wasn’t found in fancy cakes.”

In 2012, Rachel opened Montclair Bread Company in Montclair, and she recently launched Gunkin’ Doughnuts in New Paltz, NY. She splits her time between the two locations along with her three children, Josie, Mac & Keegan, her partner Brad, his daughter Olive, a giant bunny named Prim, and their dog Dottie. When she’s not baking, Rachel can be found running, biking, or climbing in the Gunks.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Don’t be afraid to fail. If you never take risks, you’ll never know success.

Nicole Xu

Owner of theCoderSchool + Marketing Expert

Nicole Xu

Nicole spent eight years working as a marketing professional for tech companies and financial firms such as Lenovo, AllianceBernstein, and Deloitte. An entrepreneur at heart with a passion for music, she decided to start her own business in 2011 by opening a piano distributor and music academy. Her newest business adventure is opening an enrichment program in Montclair called theCoderSchool, which teaches children aged 6-18 how to code. The team at theCoderSchool aims to further coding for the youth by providing a 2:1 student to teacher ratio while providing a student customized learning curriculum.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

My biggest piece of advice would be: Don’t be afraid of stepping outside your comfort zone, you will learn about your strengths and weakness through trying out new things.

Nia West-Williams

Co-Owner of Mind Your Beads and Seeds

mind your beads and seeds montclair

Nia is one-half of the duo behind Mind Your Beads and Seeds, a Montclair newcomer. The store’s origin story is one of a pandemic pivot: Nia was let go from her previous job in April 2020, picked up beading as a hobby, and turned it into a business. The shop opened in April 2021. Nia is the creative mastermind behind all of the handmade jewelry at the store. Nia manages the store daily creating a welcoming and warm atmosphere. Nia has a BA in Marketing from the College of St Elizabeth and has attended both middle school and high school in Montclair. Her love of plants comes from growing up in homes and yards filled with plants and flowers, and her knowledge comes from her grandmother with whom she would garden as a child, getting her hands dirty and playing with words. Visitors to the shop can often catch Nia playing in dirt as she repots plants at the store. Her entrepreneurship skills come from generations of women who have owned their own businesses.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Keep the faith and stay persistent. Never give up!

Sonjii West

Co-Owner of Mind Your Beads and Seeds

mind your beads and seeds montclair

Nia’s mother Sonjii is the other half of the Beads and Seeds team. While Sonjii has a degree in Philosophy from William Paterson University and has been a Human Resources Professional for over 17 years, she has always worked in family-owned businesses for over three years. At Beads and Seeds, she stays mostly in the background and frequently delivers plants. Her main role is as Nia’s biggest supporter. Both Nia and Sonjii are advocates for the LGBTQIA community, and Autistic Children and Animals. You will often see the pets of their customers chilling at the store.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Be true to yourself. Never allow anyone to dim your light. Do what you enjoy and don’t stay stagnant. What you enjoy now, may not be what you enjoy in three years. Stay positive and never speak negativity over yourself.

Rachael H. Grochowski

Owner + Head Architect + Designer of RHG Architecture + Design

Rachael H. Grochowski

Rachael H. Grochowski is an award-winning architect and designer and a seeker of truth in all things – especially in herself. Since she founded her Montclair, NJ-based firm, RHG Architecture + Design in 2003, Rachael’s personal and professional mission has been to help people create spaces that are authentically theirs. For Rachael, design is a journey and a collaboration; she guides others towards environments that make them feel grounded in their histories and inspired to grow into their futures. Rachael’s diverse body of work spans residential, hospitality, and commercial projects throughout the US.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in their career?

Listen to learn, not to respond. In conversations, we often are thinking of what we want to say before the other person finishes speaking. Whether we’re talking with a client, a mentor, a collaborator, or someone in our own family, we learn more and can step forward with more clarity if we stop and listen. Ask questions for clarification. Even when we’re speaking the same language, we don’t always understand the nuances of what we’re saying to one another. When you’re not sure of what someone means, compassionately ask for clarification. Assuring that we understand the wants and needs of others is critical. Stay in your own lane: Stay focused on your own goals. Don’t get distracted by other people’s paths. Practice Equanimity: This means trying to always remain mentally calm, even in tough situations. This takes practice to master, but I wish I had learned it earlier in my career. Accept challenges as lessons and opportunities for growth versus roadblocks to your success.

Julia Choi-Rodriguez

Co-Owner + Head Pastry Chef of Vesta Chocolate

Julia Choi-Rodriguez

Advertising Executive turned Pastry Chef then Commercial Food and Beverage Stylist, and a current CEO and Co-Founder of Vesta Chocolate, Julia is always looking ahead. After having worked in some of the institutional pastry kitchens in NYC (such as Gramercy Tavern, Bouchon Bakery, and Jean-Georges), she still yearned for more – and that’s when she fell into the world of food styling: the perfect combination between her love of food and stylish things. Since then, she’s never looked back.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Love what you do, and do what you love. It will serve you back. Be passionate, be gutsy, and find ways to add value to the team. All of that is easier when you stay true to yourself, so that is the basis of it all.

Erin Mills

Founder + CEO of Strat House

Erin Mills

Erin Mills is the Founder & CEO of Strat House, an experiential marketing and events agency founded in Fall 2020. In her role, Erin oversees the creation and production of b2b campaigns, content, and experiences for a variety of clients in the tech, advertising, healthcare & lifestyle industries. Prior to founding Strat House, Erin served as Chief Operating Officer of MAG Experiential, overseeing business development & strategy for the agency’s large-scale events for clients including several Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Start. Don’t overthink. Find a job, take said job, try your best, provide value and seek value in return. Learn every day and when you stop learning, tell someone. Learn the lessons not only of your trade and an industry that interests you but more importantly of yourself. What do you enjoy? What are you good at? What are you passionate about? How can you create an impact? Only once you have those answers does your career truly begin. Oh, and one more thing… trust your path.

Jacqueline Apicella De Dios

Director of Marketing and Events

Jacqueline Apicella De Dios

Jackie is a marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience formulating multi-channel marketing initiatives and collateral to aid small businesses. She has a background in bringing educational awareness of the importance of social media marketing to local business owners by coordinating classes and workshops. Jackie has also secured several business partnerships including an online shopping platform. Jackie planned and executed downtown events with upwards of 20,000 spectators in Bloomfield and now Montclair. Jackie currently promotes Montclair Center as a downtown destination to visitors and consumers by providing engaging events and activities.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Teamwork skills are the qualities and abilities that allow you to work well with others during conversations, projects, or collaborations. You will be required to work alongside others in every industry at every level in your career. People surround themselves with those who lift their spirits, help them realize their potential, and make them feel good. Doing so in an empathetic manner can help you maintain your connections and accomplish your careers goals. The world is too small, too connected and the industry you work in will be even smaller. These people will support you in every stage of your career. In conclusion, I remain in contact with colleagues from more than 20 years ago. I’ve had numerous opportunities sent my way simply because I have stayed involved and connected with them.

Kelly Brown

Creator + Co-Founder of deVINE Plantery

Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is the Creator and Co-Founder of deVINE Plantery, a local black-woman-owned plant shop. After graduating from Temple University with her Bachelor’s in Bioengineering, Kelly pursued her engineering career while working for top medical device companies in New Jersey. While pursuing her career, her interest in plants grew, sparking the idea to make this passion more than a hobby. At the height of the pandemic, Kelly and her best friend, Maya Haynie, took their love for plants to the next level and began their business. Stepping into this business led Kelly to explore other skills such as website design, branding, and social media to help the company grow.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

For someone just starting out in their career or stepping into a new one, my advice would be to not step back from what drives you, no matter how scary or hard it may be. Pursuing what you are interested in and passionate about will take you far, so don’t let fear or uncertainty hold you back.

Maya Haynie

Co-Founder of deVINE Plantery

Maya Haynie

Maya Haynie is the Co-Founder of deVINE Plantery. After graduating from La Salle University with a degree in Marketing with a digital focus, Maya began working at an SEO agency in the greater Philadelphia area. It was during this time in her career that Maya became interested in plants and brought Kelly Brown, her business partner, in on the hobby which has now blossomed into a vibrant small business. Currently, Maya is continuing her career in digital marketing at a New York-based tech startup managing multiple digital marketing channels including email, SEO, and affiliate marketing. Maya leverages her marketing knowledge & experience on a day-to-day basis to help support the deVINE Plantery business.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

A piece of advice I would give to someone who is just starting in their career is to always try to be confident in your abilities and let that confidence shine through in your work and your presence. As a young black woman in tech, there were times when I felt invisible. I now make it a point to take up space, make sure my voice is heard, and put my knowledge and skills on whenever possible.

Lexi Borr

Founder + Co-Owner of Lexi’s Kitchen

Lexi Borr

Lexi is the Founder and Co-owner of Lexi’s Kitchen, Montclair’s new gluten-free and vegan bakery. Lexi, a former Division I college tennis player with a passion for real food, struggled to find healthier desserts that fueled her body and mind. She took it upon herself to learn how to make desserts with wholesome ingredients, without compromising taste. In 2019, she founded Lexi’s Kitchen with a mission to share her creations with her local community and beyond.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Surround yourself with other motivated people in your field. Ask questions and be a student of your craft. Immerse yourself in books, blogs, and other resources. Build a network of people with a shared interest to grow.

Shannon Compton

Co-Owner of Lexi’s Kitchen

Shannon Compton

Shannon’s interest in natural food and cooking came after the world of holistic medicine healed her own health issues when conventional medicine couldn’t. Shannon then discovered food is our medicine and has a huge role in our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Since then, she has studied sustainable food, gastronomy, and agriculture working in kitchens and on farms all over the world, from Italy to Turkey and beyond, including the three-Michelin-starred Inn at Little Washington in Virginia. Shannon received a Masters’s degree in Applied Gastronomy and Sustainable Culinary Arts at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy in 2019. Since early 2020 Shannon has been the proud co-owner and COO of Lexi’s Kitchen alongside Lexi Borr. Visitors can find her in the kitchen daily, baking and cooking away the next delicious dish, or in her garden tending to the edible flowers used to adorn a cake.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Every single day you are going to be faced with things you don’t know how to do and unexpected challenges. That is hard, but know you can absolutely do it and don’t give up because you can figure anything out if you care enough! That will be the most rewarding part of the process. Then you’ll look back and see you continue to do things you never dreamed you could!

Sally Monterrosa

Owner of Boho Hair Salon + Boho Cafe

Sally Monterrosa

Sally Monterrosa is the founder/owner of Boho Cafe located at 113 Watchung Avenue and Boho Hair Salon in Montclair, both easily recognizable by their stunning boho-chic esthetic. Sally and her family live in Matawan, but the charm of Montclair always drew them in to spend time there. It became clear that that’s where she wants to run her businesses. She’s been a hairstylist since she was 14 years old. Sally started the Boho Bridal company in 2003 and then opened her first Boho Hair Salon location in Asbury Park in 2016. The salon was created as a place for women to come to feel beautiful and inspired.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Take the dream you have regardless of the size, and go for it all the way. Be fearless-Live it, breathe it, and go forward with passion. Surround yourself with mentors that will guide you, people, that will help believe in you! My heart is to always believe in the impossible. When I share my idea or dream with others and they look at me like I am crazy, that’s when I know I am on to something. Those always turn out to be the BEST ideas. Be relentless! Your life is meant to be lived at its full potential.

Deanna Taylor-Heacock

Founder of Good Bottle

Deanna Taylor-Heacock

Deanna Taylor Heacock is the Founder of Good Bottle, New Jersey’s first refill shop. She combined her experience working in fashion for 16 years with her passion for low waste living to create a unique shopping experience where you can bring your own container and refill household products in order to reduce single-use plastic. There are two good bottle locations: one in Montclair, another in Maplewood, and through the online shop, the store can ship nationwide. “Stop buying your trash” is the store’s motto and it carries many zero waste items that are kind to the Earth and kind to your wallet.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Done is better than perfect. Don’t let perfectionism stunt your progress. You can always go back and figure things out and improve a process!

Sharron Miller

Founder + Director of Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts

sharron miller montclair

Raised in Montclair, Sharron Miller is committed to enriching the lives of children, teens, adults, and seniors through the arts. As well as being the Founder/Director of the nonprofit arts organization Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts (SMAPA), she is a former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater principal dancer and veteran of seven Broadway shows. She has appeared on television, in film, and in hundreds of radio and television commercials. Ms. Miller served on the faculty of The Renaissance School in Montclair, where SMAPA provided the dance and drama programs for 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students during the school day. She continues to develop her arts enrichment programs and community outreach in public schools in Paterson, East Orange, and Newark, as well as in her Montclair-based dance studio which offers inclusive developmental training in dance and related theater arts for children, teens, and adults.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

My only advice is to educate yourself about the requirement and be passionate about your product. If you believe in it, you can convince others to join you. It takes a village!

Deanna Critchley

Owner of Alchemy Scent Bar

Deanna Critchley

Deanna is a lifelong Essex County resident who now resides in Montclair around the corner from her new shop, Alchemy Scent Bar. Deanna had been a practicing attorney for 25 years but during the COVID lockdown, she decided to walk away from her career to pursue a true passion. After six months of planning and hard work, Alchemy Scent Bar was opened on July 1, 2021. It is an interactive custom scent experience where people make not only their own scents but also memories.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

Having had a 25-year career prior to opening my business, the best advice I can give you is to believe in yourself and don’t wait to pursue your true passion. Trust your gut and follow what it’s telling you! I wish I had done it sooner!

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