Needless to say (but we’ll say it anyway), the last few years have been a rollercoaster. As we look back at the time that was and set our sights toward what will be, we wanted to take a moment to recognize some of the women in the Montclair area who are blazing trails and creating opportunities despite the tumulous landscape the last few years have presented. As we begin a new year, keep an eye on these local women — business owners, industry experts, leaders, and mentors — inspiring us to get up and go for it! You won’t want to miss what they’ll be up to. Read on for our 23 women to watch in 2023.
Adenah Bayou | Restaurateur-de-force
Before owning several restaurants in the area, Adenah Bayoh came to the US from Liberia as a teenager and landed in Newark. She graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and she says that business has always been in her blood. “I was raised by my grandmother in a small village,” she told The Montclair Girl. “Through my grandmother, I was able to see that a powerful woman with no education was able to build something for herself.”
Adriana Carrig | Little Words, Big Impact
(Photo credit: Little Words Project)
Adriana Carrig is the Founder + CEO of the Little Words Project and the co-host of the Glow Through It Podcast. If you don’t already follow, the Little Words Project was started by Adriana as a way to give yourself a little love and then pass it on. Her whole mission is based around kindness — both toward yourself and others. Through her Little Words Project, you can create a custom word bracelet and then register it with the site, wear your bracelet for daily inspiration, and then pass it on to someone who may be in need of a beaded reminder. By registering it, you can track your message as it makes it way from one person to the next.
Alexa Caruso + Maria Hubbard | Advocates for Teens
^ Alexa Caruso
^ Maria Hubbard
The mission statement of Out Monclair describes the organization as, “a nonprofit organization created to raise awareness and provide support and solidarity for the LGBTQIA+ community of Montclair. We offer educational and charitable activities and events to promote inclusivity and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, non-binary, and gender-fluid youth and adults.” Alexa Caruso + Maria Hubbard are just two of the volunteers making a huge impact in the community. They lead the Out Teen program within the organization, which is “focused on helping young people find and develop positive relationships with peers, facilitate self-expression, and build feelings of community and belonging” as per the Out Montclair site.
Angelique Mills | All Hail
(Photo credit: Queen of Montclair)
Known as the Queen of Montclair, Angelique Mills is a local interior designer with fun but chic taste. Angelique started her career in accounting and still has a job in the field, but was really able to focus on her business during the pandemic. In her own words, “We encourage people to showcase their authentic selves, through their design aesthetic. I think especially as African-Americans, we’ve often been afraid to express our culture in our personal space, for fear of offending others or making them uncomfortable. I believe it’s time to display images in our home, reflective of our own likeness, through art and design expression.”
Aniela Stair | Baking Babe
(Photo credit: Aniela Stair)
Belleville-based baker Aniela Stair wants each treat that comes from her kitchen to be a gift. Her business’ slogan is “Sweet Aniela’s is where the sweetest gifts are made.” Sweet Aniela’s offers specialty cakes + cupcakes for weddings and big events. Aniela got her home-baking permit in April 2022, and it has changed how she runs her business. “Being able to broadcast my business has been huge,” she said. In addition to word-of-mouth clients, Aniela gets most of her customers through her Instagram page. Still working full-time at the Boston Consulting Group, she bakes on nights and weekends and the occasional vacation day off. In addition to the delicious and beautiful cakes, Aniela’s focus is on the customer experience. “I want to make it a fun experience for the customer,” she says. “I want them to talk with me through their inspiration, about the event, and make it collaborative.” Aniela feels that since the dessert is a part of a special event, it should be special too.
Chanta Blue + Chesney Blue | Supportive Sisters
(Photo credits: @bluewellnessctrnj)
Chanta Blue, LCSW, CST and Chesney Blue, MPH, RDN are sisters and co-owners of Blue Counseling and Wellness Center located at 1 Upper Mountain Avenue in Montclair. The sisters opened Blue Counseling and Wellness Center, also known as BCWC, with a mission to “empower, educate, support, and guide individuals, couples, and families who are looking to transform their lives,” according to the website. “Growing up, our parents showed us good examples of being of service to each other and to people in the community. I started volunteering at an early age by working with my church’s food pantry,” Chesney Blue told MG. “I think our [mutual interest in helping people] comes from just watching our parents be of service to the community.”
Christina, Erika, + Rebecca | Au Natural Women
(Photo credit: @liveaunatural)
Christina, Erika, and Rebecca, three Glen Ridge-raised sisters, are the owners of women’s active underwear brand, Au Natural. The products are not only fashionable but made from Merino wool, a material referred to as “nature’s performance fiber.” Christina has over a decade of luxury fashion experience, Erika has over six years of strategy and premium marketing experience, and Rebecca has more than five years of buying experience, most recently at Saks Fifth Avenue. After two years of strategic planning, research, and development, the sisters launched Au Natural in the spring of 2021.
Danielle Kimmel | Your GF BFF
Danielle Kimmel of Pure Bakes began her foray into baking over five years ago when she overhauled her diet to make some health-based changes. “I decided to go gluten- and dairy-free,” she said. “But many of the food products available had too many ingredients or ingredients I didn’t want.” Danielle also keeps Kosher, which added another layer to what would be suitable. She taught herself how to make diet-compliant products but with fresh, known ingredients.
Daysi Dedios | Candles + Crystals
Daysi Dedios is the owner of Houss Freya, an apothecary shop located at 547 Valley Road in Upper Montclair, and is exactly what anyone would need to start making space for new intentions. This is the shop for all things energy healing. It sells a variety of crystals, balms, candles, oils, stones, and so much more. “The response has been huge. A lot of people are in the same boat that I was and still am at times, where you’re just looking for that little bit of extra help. I tell people, use [my candles and oils] as a reminder to keep your thoughts focused on what it is that you’re looking for as a priority in life.” Helping people achieve a mental space to help themselves is her goal.
Elana Livneh | Loafs of Love
Liv Breads was founded by Elana and Yaniv Livneh — Yaniv is originally from Israel. The husband and wife duo worked in the tech world for many years before coming up with the idea to open their own bakery. “This started as an experiment. We wanted to see what retail is about and we identified there is a need for good bread. Also, bread has started evolving in the US – a new generation of bread in the last 10 years. And so, we said people want this kind of product, and we don’t see many in the suburbs so maybe it’s an opportunity,” Yaniv told The Montclair Girl. Elana added that wanting a career change was “definitely part” of the inspiration, but so was wanting to be more hands-on in something.
Erin Cammerota | Baker + Move-Maker
(Photo credit: clubhousedb.com)
Verona baker Erin Cammerota of Bake Me If you Camm has always baked, even during her 17-year career in fashion. She was the go-to person among friends and family to bake for celebrations like baby showers and birthday parties. She was baking so much and perfecting her skills when the Cottage Permit was passed. In June 2022, Erin left her job in the fashion industry to pursue baking full-time. A year from now, she would like to be able to offer more macarons more consistently, and have more special flavors around holidays.
Jaleesa Mason | Food Network Phenom
Bloomfield resident and pastry chef Jaleesa Mason has won Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship and the $25,000 prize that comes with it. Jaleesa’s win, which was the culmination of a 10-week competition and aired on May 2nd, was secured with her creation of a spring wedding cake. Locals know Jaleesa as the co-owner and pastry chef of Mo + Jay Pastry at 44 Main Street in Little Falls, which she runs with her husband, Mohamad.
Jaslyn Bridges | (Air) Force to be Reckoned With
(Photo credit: McGuire Air Force Base Photo Lab)
One local Veteran, Jaslyn Bridges, is in her last year at Montclair State University, but she isn’t a typical undergraduate student. Instead, she entered Montclair State at age 32 after serving as a Security Forces Staff Sergeant (E5), “police officer” in civilian terms, with The United States Air Force (USAF) for five years. Currently, she is in the reserves at McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, NJ, and dedicates one weekend per month to training at the base to keep up her skills. Jaslyn has served her country in total for 8 ½ years.
Jodie Dawson + Kristine Petrik | Java Masters
(Photo credit: @doyoujavalove)
Before opening Java Love, Jodie Dawson and Kristine Petrik were living life in the Catskills. Dawson was a clinical psychologist and Petrik worked in journalism for CNN. The duo created Java Love due to the lack of good coffee in Upstate New York, and soon enough, they opened a small shop in 2011. With tons of passion, hard work, and much-needed caffeine, they were able to make Java Love what it is today. Now, Java Love is a certified local favorite, with two locations in Montclair serving “coffee with integrity.”
Karen Schloss | Local Media Mogul
Karen Schloss is a longtime Montclair resident with decades of experience in media relations. She’s the founder of hospitality PR firm diaz*schloss, which, over the past 15 years has represented, consulted for, and helped shape the reputations of beloved Montclair restaurants like Samba Montclair, Fascino, Amanti Vino, Java Love, De Novo, Pharmacie Bar + Kitchen, Plum GF Bakery, Miss Nicky’s Gourmet Toffee, Montclair Social Club, and dozens more. We can’t wait to see how Karen and diaz*schloss continue shaping the Montclair food scene — which as we all know, is one of our city’s biggest bragging rights.
Kesha Franklin | Inspiring by Design
(Photo credit: @haldeninteriors)
Kesha Franklin is the principal designer and owner of Halden Interiors (and a total badass). Kesha, who is a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses alumna, has been named a “Rising Design Star” by NYC’s Decoration + Design Building, a “Designer to Watch” by the Black Interior Designer’s Network, and she was recognized by Phaidon Publication as one of “The World’s Best Contemporary Interior Designers” just to name a few. Though she has a number of high-profile celebrities and athletes as her clientele, Kesha’s business calls Montclair home. For some inspirational design and inspirational quotes, be sure to follow their insta @haldeninteriors.
Kimberly DeTerlizzi | Girl With the Glow
Up until 2020, Kimberly DeTerlizzi spent 11 years designing dresses for brands like Nicole Miller and Laundry by Shelli Segal. Like many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic presented Kimberly with unprecedented amounts of free time — and, also like many of us, this free time was quickly bought up by an untapped passion project. Two years later, Kimberly officially launched KIM CIG™, a limited edition collection of handbags with light-up technology. We were absolutely glown away (sorry, had to) by these bags — and we can’t wait to see where the brand goes next.
Melyssa Murray | The Crafty Queen
Originally from Philadephia, PA, Melyssa Murray is a Princeton resident who recently expanded her company, WithoutTheRoots. With a background in geriatric care, she found herself unable to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which created a high-risk environment for her patients. That’s how WithoutTheRoots came to be — and within a few years, Melyssa was able to make her company her full-time job. The woman-owned, moss art-based company was started in 2020 and recently expanded into selling candles, which has a variety of unique, handmade designs to choose from. We’re excited to see what she comes up with next.
Molli Dowd | Gingerbread Gal
(Photo Credit: Edible Estates)
After years of gingerbread making and studying architecture in college, Molli Dowd stepped into the gingerbread business to turn a classic holiday activity on its head. Her luxury gingerbread company, Edible Estates, draws on her love of baking and designing to create realistic, detailed, and edible gingerbread structures. Molli and her brand have an impressive roster of structures: she’s created gingerbread renditions of The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, and a BVLGARI building, to name a few. She also made an appearance on Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, an experience she describes as “gleefully exhausting.” Now, Molli and Edible Estates plan to open the first retail location that will double as a bakery studio and cafe.
Neffi Walker | Bold + Balanced
(Photo credit: The Black Home)
Neffi Walker, the principal designer of The Black Home in Newark, believes “life should be designed beautifully and a beautiful life is one designed with intention” as per her website. She is a mother of five and has combined family, creativity, and business in ways that are enviable. Her designs reflect her approach to life, which is to highlight the overlooked or undervalued beauties of the world. As the website states, “Often considered daring, Neffi uses dark tones as the focal point in many of her designs. Known for accentuating black walls with pops of color and opulent gold mirrors, Neffi’s adaptation of minimalism is something marveled at by Essence, Blavity, Domino, Apartment Therapy, and her profoundly engaging following alike.”
Amy + Nicci | Spirited Sisters
(Photo credit: DollyMoo)
Amy + Nicci are the sisters behind the handmade bath and body company DollyMoo. The name comes from their grandmother, Yiayia, who used the term of endearment “my doll” often. She is described on their site as “a remarkable woman with endless love to give” and with love is exactly how Amy and Nicci make their products. After a few years of selling their products at farmer’s markets and festivals, the sisters opened their shop in Montclair and have been providing great products (and great vibes) every since. Aside from bath and body products, DollyMoo also sells items such as sage bundles, deliciously scented candles, and relaxing incense. As stated on their site, they are “inspiring people of all walks of life to spread love, make magick, and take baths”. HG Pro Tip: The shower steamers might actually be magical.
Ozi Okaro | The Dame of Dolls
Montclair business owner and resident Ozi Okaro was tired of seeing her children play with dolls. The dolls themselves were the problem: the dolls who were readily available in stores did not look like her children. Ozi set out to solve the problem herself, by creating a line of dolls called Ikuzi Dolls that would represent her children and other children of color in 2014. Her children have inspired Ozi to not only get into the doll-making industry but also become a children’s book illustrator and fashion designer.
Tiffany Montesino | Fabrics + Fashion
Owner Tiffany Montesino has always been interested in fashion and fabrics since she was a child. She went on to study fashion design at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and has always been drawn to the fashion world. She finally took the leap to open her own clothing boutique in 2018 when she realized it would give her the ability to be creative and provide her the flexibility to take care of her family. She now owns several shops in North Jersey. In addition to being a place to shop for the perfect outfit or complementary accessories, Velvet Lush is also a space for collaboration and creativity. Tiffany doesn’t only see Velvet Lush as a boutique clothing store but also as a “creative hub” where members of the community can gather and learn a new creative skill or explore a new style.