Inside a certain glass storefront on Clinton Street in Downtown Newark, you will find a variety of luxury streetwear, including culturally inspired, statement t-shirts and hoodies in bold colors and designs, embellished army jackets with custom patchwork, timeless vintage denim finds, trendy athleisure wear, uniquely designed kimonos, and long vibrant dresses for those modest in taste. This is Modest Tea Boutique, a jewel box of a shop that not only boasts racks of great clothes and accessories for any occasion but also offers customized direct-to-garment printing and an organic tea/smoothie bar on site. When we say there's something for every type of fashion head that you won’t find anywhere else, we mean it.
The shop/showroom is immaculate inside with plush chairs, crystal accents, draping flowers and luxe natural surfaces. The space has an eclectic and hospitable vibe. The shop also has a tea and smoothie bar for customers to enjoy organic beverages. Imagine having a fresh cup of hot ginger tea while being fitted for a new look.
Bibi Stewart, the owner of the shop, started the business in 2016 out of her townhome in East Orange, New Jersey. On August 27, 2020, during the thick of the pandemic, she signed a lease on her storefront in Newark’s Central Ward business district. On November 1st of that same year, she hosted a soft opening for her space. Family members, friends, supporters and longtime customers came out to the event. The following year on November 14, 2021, after many exciting new ventures, she held an anniversary party in celebration of successfully making it past her first year.
Not only does her shop offer upcycling, consignment and retail services, she also designs and styles as a creative director for artists and brands. She creates, manages and produces looks for photo and video shoots.
We talked to her about how and why she started her business.
How and why did you start Modest Tea Boutique?
I’ve always been into fashion. When I initially started, I was just playing around with altering my own clothes. If I needed something more jazzed up, fitted or distressed, I would get out my Bedazzler or a tray of tools and transform my look. I used self-taught techniques, explored working with new materials, and invested more and more into high quality equipment. In 2014, after constructing many handmade masterpieces, I decided to take my hobby more seriously. I went from toying around with clothes to bringing detailed visions to life and then to finally telling myself, “Hey, I can do this as a serious business.”
Modest Tea really came about from my search to gain financial independence and luckily for me, I found that through tapping into my creativity. I never wanted to work for anyone. And by creating statement pieces that would fit my vibrant personality, cultural interests and busy lifestyle, I stumbled into manifesting my dream. Being a Muslim woman of African decent living in the city, the need for urban representation within the Islamic culture as it relates to fashion drove me to do more. I envisioned a business plan conducive with my belief system, executed it, and transcended any limitations set by my previous reality.
Where did you start your business?
I didn't have a physical location at first. I worked out of my front room and then transformed my living spaces little by little, adding more advanced equipment as I went. I purchased one industrial sewing machine which quickly grew into 5, all serving different functions. After several months, I acquired even more commercial devices, such as for printing on clothing, that then led to the mass manufacturing of my own designs. It's a pretty big space but I eventually grew out of it and ended up renting out the ground floor of my residence and turning it into a showroom.
How did you grow your business?
I did my research on e-commerce and established an online presence by teaching myself how to take product shots as well as editing and other marketing techniques. Then I added a Shoppable website and social media accounts. I advertised through social media and started getting more clients that way. This took place before I rented out the showroom space.
Once the business started picking up, I realized that I needed somewhere for people to be able to come pick up their orders, try things on, or get fitted or get styled for an event. That’s when the additional showroom space came into play in 2018.
What kind of clients do you have?
Most of my clients are entrepreneurs, public officials, or in high-ranking positions in society. They range from small business owners, to influencers, to artists and creatives. They are all kinds of people, both men and women. They come from all walks of life. The commonality shared is that they all desire for their choices to mirror a specific statement, brand or personality type.
Can you please explain the tea component of your business?
I always envisioned having a space that is not only known for catering to the creativity of today's culture, but which is also known for having a warm and hospitable vibe. My ultimate goal was to leave a lasting impression on my clients so they always leave feeling as special as they are. The component of indulging in organic hot or cold organic beverages while browsing or waiting was simply a welcoming gesture.
Modest "Tea" Boutique
11 Clinton Street, Newark, New Jersey