Name: Tenisha Light-Caba
Claim to Fame: A night out with friends at an LA comedy club led her to becoming one of the first faces of FUBU. She’s also the founder of luxury vintage retailer Brooklyn Bleu.
Before sponsored posts and signature hashtags ruled the world, models charmed retail buyers and editors the old fashioned way – face to face. Tenisha Light-Caba was one of the first faces of the game-changing fashion brand FUBU. During an exclusive interview with HelloBeautiful the runway siren turned CEO discussed how modeling prepared her to start a thriving jewelry and accessories brand. “I got discovered in LA. I was recruited, interviewed with FUBU and boom! Someone who worked in casting with them, they introduced me to Leslie Short. I’ll never forget because I was in school, went out with my friends and we went to comedy shows all the time. So that’s where I was. And I was like, ‘Oh my God. I was like, Hey, is this serious? Really?’ And I followed up and it was.”
Light-Caba explained just what Short meant to her career at that time serving a coach and mentor. “She would push us, we were young girls out there, try to young flying to Europe and stuff, like she would push us. We went to Europe and it was my first experience just getting on a plane with like a group of…it was women and Black people flying all over the world. You know, we were doing the magic trade shows. We were in Cologne, Germany. Like, I’m just going everywhere. And it was just, it was incredible. Doing the trade shows, I was like dancing. That’s back then you were dancing at the trade shows. So we were dancing and then strutting our stuff on a runway.”
She did not realize that she was learning skills that would later help her build her business. As a child she hustled her grandmother’s vintage furniture; today she offers some of the most exclusive vintage finds on the market.
“I did not know what a brand ambassador was. I was just out there doing my job and just happy to be with a group of people who are just incredible. We traveled together and worked together and it was just a small team that were really loyal and committed. We would just get booked all the time for these trade shows. And it was during the time that they were taking off and like it was just, it was incredible.”
Today when hiring her own models to represent her vintage jewelry business she relies on her own experiences to inform her choices. During the interview she paused several times as her eyes darted between the Gatsby style jade necklaces and rare gold Chanel pieces to ask her team to accomplish tasks in a calm but commanding voice, “We need you,” she quipped to the photographer before shooting him a commercial worthy smile.
She continues to live her life in front of the camera serving as one of the faces of her own Black-owned campaigns and encourages the models and sales associates she hires to make the most of their time in the spotlight the way she has.
Focus on the employees growing can be seen at the opening in their support of each other. When a sales associate spots a model glaring back from an ad on the screen in the store she perks up and grabs the young woman so she can see, “look that’s you!”
“I know how I would want to be treated if working with people,” she said. “I understand respect so I’ll always try to bring that to my team and people that I work with. I want them to feel valued. I think that’s big. You want to feel valued for your time and for your work. And so that’s what I try to bring a culture of. I’m trying to be supportive, a little nurturing. I guess inadvertently I’m kind of a mentor to a lot of people that I work with because I’m a young Black woman who’s running my own business and they get to see that, they get to work with me and they get to see the grind.” That grind has included securing a lucrative partnership with Topshop shortly before the UK retailer announced that it would be closing its stateside operations. “We were inside Topshop on Fifth Avenue and was just notified that they were closing their doors in the U.S. So my brand is within the store while I was being liquidated and everything’s going on sale.” A thirty day pop-up shop led to Topshop working with Light-Caba and she thought it would propel her brand to the next level. Instead she was left to expand on her own.
“We had already signed a contract to go and open up a second store with them. And everybody was excited for me. It happened very, very rapidly like within, it felt like it was like within three or four days, I had to pack my stuff up and leave. And then I’m also in the middle of, hearing that stores are closing and this towards downsizing and this stuff, I’m seeing it, but I’m like, that’ll never happen to me.”
Topshop’s closing presented an opportunity for Light-Caba to envision life beyond yearning to sit on someone else’s shelves. She immediately began to “elevate” the visual experience associated with BrooklynBleu. “It’s absolutely betting on myself, but it was still very scary because now I am shifting from being a vendor in an artists and market because, and seeing myself as a brand, not as a vendor, but as a brand. I get this whole experience where I start to visualize my branding.” Commitment to visual excellence required really placing herself in her customer’s mindset. Unfortunately that mindset wasn’t cheap. “I love Chanel. I love luxury pieces, my customers do.” Unlike Light-Caba whose style is consistently girl boss meets B-girl customers require a large amount of options. She tracked down every piece of inventory contracting dealers with discerning eyes. “I don’t have investors or people to finance me. I do this stuff on my own. So that’s what I did. And it just changed my business. It changed my business really to fully commit because you have options here. You have options for about 2030 different necklaces, 40 different bracelets. People like options. So if it’s curated nice enough that it’s not too overwhelming and we can get through and talk about collections and very quickly decide.”
A living breathing testament to fashion history, she understands why fashion has returned to the chunky double Cs that adorn the shelves of her boutique and is happy to provide a dose of gilded nostalgia to her clientele.
“It’s history. History and culture. That’s really cool.”
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