Michelle Simpson is a New Jersey native, but has called Knoxville, Tennessee home for the past three and a half years. She is a wife, a mother of one (soon-to-be-two in July of 2011), as well as owner of clothing boutique Black Market Square. Here she guest blogs for Modern Ink about the cities that have defined her, and why she is where she is today:
Union City, New Jersey:
I grew up in Union City, New Jersey. It’s the first city outside of the Lincoln Tunnel, taking you directly into Manhattan. I learned much about real life growing up there, watching the people around me struggle to make ends meet.
The biggest lesson I learned in Union City is how to be “street smart,” and it’s the lesson I’ve used in every city since…I can go anywhere.
Union City is mostly Hispanic, as am I, and it’s low income with poor educational opportunities. It’s polluted and overpopulated, but it has incredible culture. The mixture of all Hispanic heritages take the food options to an out-of-this-world level. I could walk to the corner and buy Colombian bread, cross the street and buy bocaditos from Puerto Rico, then on the next corner get a Cuban sandwich. Everything was inexpensive and written in Spanish…the perfect place for me to grow up. There was a bus that went into New York City called the “Wawita,” and a dollar-fifty and fifteen minutes later, I was directly in the city.
Because of my proximity to New York, I spent most of my teenage years and early adulthood inside the city. It was there that I was exposed to diverse art, music, food, and the fashion world.
New York City, New York:
I took my first job out of college in New York. It was in radio, so instantly I was into media, but more importantly to me, fashion! There were always events or dinners to attend, not to mention “happy hour” with posh clients.
I was hooked…but four short years later, I was burnt out with life in the city. All I did was work. It became my life, began to define me, and I became unhappy.
I wanted something more…mostly love. I dated the brokers, lawyers, doctors and models. No one wanted anything more than casual sex, and I wasn’t into it. Ironically, I met my husband, Sterling, on a blind date. He was a compassionate doctor finishing up his pediatric residency. When he finished, we decided a change of pace was needed, and looking for an escape from freezing winters and insane work hours, we landed in California.
Los Angeles, California:
California was beautiful and clean…the sunsets, beaches, and mountains. Relocating to another large, world-class city, I was exposed to more art, music, and of course, the famed west coast fashion…quite a departure from east coast fashion. It was less clean cut, and it highlighted colors other than black, blue and gray. It was less sophisticated, and everyone wore wildly expensive jeans and carried purses worth more than the cars they drove.
Unlike the New Yorkers, no one appeared to actually work in California. Everyone was trying to make it in the “industry.” People I was around seemed pretentious and cookie-cutter, different from the people I was surrounded by in New York and New Jersey. We lived in a studio apartment that cost over two grand for just six hundred square feet of living space. The bed pulled out of the wall and into the kitchen, but I loved the novelty of it–Gwen Stefani jogging in front of my building and Jessica Simpson at Pier 1 picking out picture frames.
Being around celebrities became my life for a year in Los Angeles. Working as a manager and assistant publicist for a film company, I organized huge parties and made sure Paris Hilton got to the private plane on time. Incidentally, I began dressing models for a film. The stylist ditched out last minute, which was common in Los Angeles.
Because I was praised for my excellent work, I decided to dress models for red carpet events out of my apartment. They rented clothes from me or straight-up bought them…it was a blast! I took trips downtown and to Santee Alley for trendy, yet super inexpensive looks. I cut and sewed pieces together to make them my own. Models loved the looks, and I ended up doing this my first two years in Los Angeles.
After being overexposed to celebrities, and becoming a stuck up and pretentious bitch myself, I realized that another change was needed. My environment had defined me again, just as it had in New York. I lost my identity and became unruly, thinking I could act however and do whatever I wanted because I “knew” people. It was lame, and my husband let me know it. He brought me back to reality, and I decided to take a secretarial job, away from celebrities and the glamour during the last year we lived there.
It was during that time I realized how incredibly creative I was, that I had a great eye for fashion, and I loved making people feel good about themselves–maybe I was not so selfish, after all! Los Angeles brought out my creative side in the way that New York City and New Jersey developed my street smarts and work ethic. I was slowly morphing into who I needed to become.
After three years of living in Los Angeles, Sterling and I decided we wanted to be closer to family, who were all back on the East Coast. We decided that the small city of Knoxville, Tennessee would be the perfect place to start a family of our own, and so began our next great adventure.
Ahhh, Knoxville. We arrived here just two weeks before I gave birth to our first child. We decided to live in a downtown loft, which constitutes “city-living” in Knoxville. It was a move I desperately needed. The people are incredibly kind and take literal pride in “southern hospitality.” Before living here, I thought it was just a saying! At first I found it confusing and annoying that people told me their life stories, when all I wanted was a coffee, but little did I know I would become the same way. People actually wanted to know me! Our neighbors brought us cookies–I never knew my neighbors in New York and Los Angeles. People say “hello” and help me with the door; they are patient. The folks here go to church and take pride in their communities. I have made more friends here in a small amount of time, than I did in all my years in New Jersey, New York City and Los Angeles combined.
When we moved here, just over three years ago, I knew that Knoxville was a place of great opportunity for us as a family, but I had no idea where to start personally. I took a year away from working outside the home to take care of our daughter, Sierra. When she turned one, I began seeking a job that wouldn’t take too much time away from my family–not being ready to get back into that daily grind again. I wrote a fashion article in Knoxville Magazine for about eight months but felt I needed more. A bizarre detour in my career found me back in school studying to become a Physician’s Assistant.
While in school, I continued styling, renovating women’s wardrobes and cleaning out closets. I have dressed and seen more Knoxville boobs than the plastic surgeons here…okay, maybe not quite, but definitely a lot! During a chemistry exam, I had an epiphany and realized I didn’t want to solve math problems–in fact, I hated school. I grabbed my books, ran out the door to my friend’s house, and I never looked back in that direction. She sat me down and gave it to me. Michelle, you need to open a store…work in fashion. It’s who you are and always have been, don’t you see it? It’s your passion! She basically slapped me in the face with my own dream.
Seven months, a bank loan, inventory and employees later, I opened a boutique called Black Market Square in downtown Knoxville’s Market Square District. I fight everyday to be taken seriously as a small business owner. I work long days but have the opportunity to style beautiful women. I have grown; I have learned; I have conquered my life, for just today…I am still growing, learning, and shaping myself into the person I am supposed to be tomorrow. I’ve let my environment influence me once again, but in a very different way. I know who I am…so far Knoxville-living has taught me patience, love, to smile authentically, but most importantly not to be selfish.
In the near future, our boutique plans to give 100% of profits to charity. People ask “why?” It’s simple: we have the opportunity to do so. We have been blessed with a gift, and all I want to do is share it with as many people as I can. Owning a boutique is not very glamorous and is really hard at times, but I finally know where I am supposed to be right now–providing people with inexpensive, unique looks, and keeping women far away from “mom-jeans!”
Visit Michelle at her store’s site: www.blackmarketsquare.com