ESSENCE’s “Boutique Boss” highlights dynamic Black women entrepreneurs who are independent shop owners helping to create more opportunities to #BuyBlack and #ShopSmall. Meet Achuziam Maha-Sanchez, owner of peace & RIOT, a home decor and interior design shop located in Brooklyn, New York.
Born in Brooklyn to a West Indian mom and Nigerian father, Maha-Sanchez studied Business Merchandise Management at the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.). After graduation, she dabbled in fashion, working for the likes of legendary backstage management CEO Audrey Smaltz dressing models for fashion shows and then as wardrobe supervisor for Alvin Ailey Ensemble. She started working at Seborn Ragsdale Interiors and was mentored by founder, Seborn Ragsdale, who introduced her to the world of interior design. ‘He brought me to High Point, North Carolina to learn how furniture is made [and showed] me how to shop the Design and Decoration building which is only to the trade,” Maha-Sanchez told ESSENCE. “Next thing I knew I was his design assistant. Finally, he gave me wings when he assigned me a 2-bedroom apartment project on Central Park. The money from that job is what funded the build out of peace + RIOT.”
What made you decide to open up a physical storefront?
I previously owned Ibo Landing from 2003-2007. We closed the store when the housing bubble burst. My mom called me and asked, ‘How can you have a home store when people can’t hold on to their homes?’ Of course she was right. I felt very defeated when I closed that store. I went on to work more in interior design for Seborn Ragsdale Interiors and for myself. I also worked for Hudson Furniture in the meatpacking district. I was desperate to have my own space again — with my own voice and aesthetic. So in 2013, when a space became available around the corner from my house on Nostrand Avenue, I decided to try again.
What do you specialize in?
We carry gifts and home décor. I like to have elegant, contemporary staple items (peace) with accessories and gifts that are vibrant and fun (riot).
What’s the vibe in your shop?
The vibe in our shop is homey sometimes and lounge-y at others. We are a miniature department store on a neighborhood block. Our shop is where worlds collide; where neighbors find each other and every now and then we put out some cucumber lemonade and eat together. We also have a kid’s area where the children come to color and read.
What are your favorite pieces in the shop?
I love walking into the shop to see the glorious Turkana Valley Girl photo on canvas welcoming me with her quiet smile. This 6-foot-tall piece by South African photographer David Ballam is such a celebration of Black beauty, youth, and power. I’ll be sad when I sell this one.
Who is your customer?
Our customer has changed as the demographics of Bed-Stuy has changed. We used to have homeowners who ordered a dining set or a sofa. Now, our customers are mostly millennials who want to treat themselves with a nice candle or a quirky gift.
Is everything in your store your own brand or do you work with other designers?
I carry a number of brands because we have so many categories. We have two independent shops within our store: Mary’s Hands Jewelry and IndigoStyle Vintage. Mary makes all of her pieces while Sheryl (IndigoStyle Vintage) features beautifully curated vintage garments and accessories and some young designer exclusives.
How would you describe your store or brand’s design aesthetic?
Who or what is your biggest design inspiration?
I think Genevieve Gorder [host of HGTV’s Trading Spaces] might be my sister from another mother. Her designs speak to my love of texture and warmth with global modernism. I also love my girl Malene Barnett of Malene B Studio. When she designs her rugs, wall coverings and textiles, she leaves it all on the stage.
What are your favorite shops in the world?
I love ABC Market, Alt 4 Living and Stella… I love touching 1000 thread count sheets.
How do you think your shop services the community?
We try our best to source home and gift items that our shoppers may not know they need. The homes in the area are being cut up into small apartments. So I definitely try to have small space solutions. I wind up giving impromptu design consultations in the shop all the time.
As an independent businesswoman, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
I have learned that I must stay true to my taste and my vision. I fall off my path whenever I listen to the folks who say, “You know what you need to do?”
How much of that is informed by being a Black woman entrepreneur?
I think as a Black woman, I walk through life with a need for perfectionism. We have the task of lifting up our families as well as our community. How I present my business must make my family and all my people proud.
What’s your busiest time of year?
Fourth quarter is our busiest time of year. Sales start ramping up from Back to School shopping and don’t stop until just before New Year’s Day.
Being an entrepreneur can be exhausting; how do you make time for yourself to recharge?
I laugh at this question because I haven’t figured any of this out yet. The closest I have been to relaxation was getting acupuncture after I threw my back out lifting the store gates.