Tunya Humphrey’s Clothing Brand Helps Women Embrace Their Femininity
By Haley Wilson
Birmingham store owner Tunya Humphrey has one goal: “to make women beautiful.” “
âMost of my life has been devoted to beauty and giving women the space and the opportunity to embrace all their femininity,â she said.
Growing up, Humphrey saw his mother, Mary, operate a beauty salon. Little did she know her mother was making her way to opening Sweetie Couture, a lifestyle clothing brand at Mercantile on Morris, a mixed-use business and residential development on Morris Avenue in Birmingham.
The boutique offers ethical and eco-friendly items – clothing, housewares, beauty and wellness products – which Humphrey selects from local and global independent brands and women-owned businesses.
âSweetie Couture was designed for modern women who love to incorporate unconventional elements into every facet of their life – the way they dress, the way they decorate their home, even down to their beauty and beauty routines. well-being, âsaid the store owner and operator. âI believe clients can create their own ideal versions of themselves. “
Humphrey, 39, grew up in Mulga, Alabama, a small unincorporated Jefferson County mining town.
âLife at home was absolutely wonderful,â she said. âIt’s a very nostalgic place where everyone knows each other. Most of the people in the community are family. Even my church [Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church] is in Mulga, right next to my house. [The city] just scream the family.
Humphrey is the youngest of three sisters (Anquintta and Carmanita are her older siblings), and the townspeople have come to know the trio as “The Humphrey Girls.”
âThat name has kind of stuck with us,â she said. “We’ve always been together, so people naturally gave us that name.”
Humphrey loved to dress up when she was younger.
âI got in trouble sometimes because I changed my clothes so many times during the day,â she said. âMy mom was like, ‘Wait a second.â¦ How many times are you going to change?’
“I always said [my mother] I was interested in learning to sew, and he was someone who always pushed my [sisters and I] do what interested us. â¦ She would do whatever she could to make sure that we had a formal training that would put us on the path to what we ultimately wanted to do.
In the mid-1980s, Humphrey’s mother opened the Hair Dashery beauty salon, where Humphrey helped while attending Minor High School.
âI feel like my mom was one of the first African American salon owners in Homewood. I don’t really know if it’s true, but that’s how I felt, âHumphrey said. âI grew up in the living room. [It was] a good atmosphere centered on beauty. There are people I met when I was young who still remember me. â¦ To this day, my mom still serves the clients she had when she first opened.
An eye for design
After graduating from high school in 2000, Humphrey enrolled at the University of Alabama (UA), where she studied fashion retail.
âI always knew what I wanted to do,â she says. âI started in clothing design, then I changed my major to fashion retail the next semester. [My time at UA] was absolutely wonderful. I have learned so many facets of the fashion industry and fashion history. â¦ I have learned that you can incorporate so many different styles into one to create something truly unique. I’ve always loved every part of it.
In 2004, his final year, Humphrey interned at Banana Republic in Atlanta, Georgia.
âI worked alongside the visual design team,â she said. âMoving to a new town, a bigger town outside of Mulga, was definitely an experience. â¦ Moving alone as a senior at university, without mom, without dad, staying true to what I was taught in terms of morals and work ethics allowed me to have a very successful internship . â¦ I really felt like I had transformed into a real adult at that point.
After graduating, Humphrey moved to Birmingham in 2005.
âYou know how when you come out of college you think, ‘Oh my God! I have this diploma. I’m really going to do exactly what I want to do. â¦ Sometimes that’s really not the case, âshe said. âAt that time, I had a series of jobs in the hotel and hospitality industry and [felt that] I had to do something in my field. I’m a workaholic and love to do a variety of things,â¦ so being tied to a 9 to 5 job just wasn’t my thing.
Research and development
In 2007, Humphrey opened his own eyelash business: Lash N Dash. âIt’s kind of a Hair Dashery spin-off,â she said of the Homewood-based store. âI actually started serving clients in my mom’s salon when I was doing an apprenticeship in cosmetology, so it kind of became her own thing.
The following year, Humphrey decides to go back to school. She enrolled at Strayer University, where she obtained a Masters of Business Administration.
âAfter taking this leap of faith by starting my own eyelash business, I started to imagine what I really wanted to do, which was to create my own clothing line. So I decided that going to business school would plant a seed that could become that vision, âshe said.
The original idea for Humphrey’s lifestyle brand, Sweetie Couture, was formed in 2007.
âIt started when I was just designing a clothing line,â she said. âI felt I would fit more into a creative director role, so I started to design and determine what I wanted the collection to look like. “
At the time, the mother of two was pregnant with her first child, Zakiyah.
âI was really in the process of becoming a mother at that point, so the idea was put on the back burner.â¦ I would pick it up, put it down, pick it up, put it down, and things like that. never really had the chance to have [the business] take off as I wanted.
Humphrey spent “a few years dabbling” as a freelance showroom designer, field coordinator for a merchandising company, and graphic designer.
âMy sister works as a graphic designer, and that’s kind of where I learned everything there is to know about graphic design,â she said. âFinally, I learned to use [graphic design software] from a creative standpoint and thought I could make my own visual look out of anything, be it designing a store or designing a t-shirt. â¦ This is one of the things that has helped me to surpass myself in this arena.
âI started doing research on my own and I was like, ‘What should I do? I started to make a plan on how to fit all of this into the perfect career for me.
In November, Humphrey opened his store at Mercantile on Morris. âWhen you think of Sweetie Couture, it’s about moments,â she said. âWe love to create moments, whether it’s what we wore that day and how that impacts the way you decorate your home and even your health, beauty and well-being. â¦ I really want women to look pretty every day.
Sweetie Couture is located at 2212 Morris Ave. Suite 107, Birmingham, AL 35203. For more information visit www.instagram.com/thesweetiecouture/ and www.thesweetiecouture.com.