By Aida Toro
Valerie Duardo’s love for fashion, styling, and art blossomed at a very young age when she would pick and style her own outfits.
“It just was always in my blood,” said Duardo. “I was obsessed with suspenders since I was three years old, which was a strange thing to want to wear as a three year old.”
Duardo was born in North Bergen, a municipality in Hudson County, New Jersey. She was raised by her grandmother, and part of her childhood was spent at the embroidery factory her grandmother worked. Duardo learned a lot from her grandmother, all the way from sewing to utilizing textiles, to creating garments. In addition, her grandmother taught her about different types of fabrics, appliques, laces, and so forth. She resided in Hudson County till she finished her sophomore year of high school. She then moved to Miami, Florida with her father and sister.
“My dad basically forced us to move there,” said Duardo in regards to Miami. “I fell in love with Miami because I, myself, being Cuban felt that I fit in, and related to the culture much more.”
In Miami, Duardo attended Florida International University (FIU) where she pursued a degree in Mass Communications and a specialization in Advertising. She also graduated from the Miami International University of Art & Design with a degree in Fashion Merchandising. Duardo mentioned she actually learned more about fashion while living in Miami. She began thrifting, as well as selling the vintage clothes she thrifted via an online shop on Ebay called Indie Queen Vintage—A store she created.
“I ran that for about four years to pretty much pay my way through study abroad and my college,” she said. “I eventually graduated with a Fashion Merchandising degree. I ended up taking a job at Miu Miu, which then led me to work at Anthropologie as a Visual Merchandiser.”
Duardo, however, felt that working for a company like Anthropologie was unfulfilling. As a result, she moved back to Hudson County to pursue her dream to become a stylist. Ultimately, Duardo established her own vintage shop in Hoboken, New Jersey, named Mint Market. The shop has been open for six years now, and sells vintage and contemporary clothing and accessories.
“I was already selling vintage in the pop-up’s at Lincoln Road in Miami. That led me to basically open up the store I currently have on First Street here in Hoboken,” she said. “I really love this area and enjoy dressing and styling the girls in this area.”
Prior to opening up Mint Market, Duardo faced challenges, as every business owner does here and there. When she moved back to Hudson County from Miami, she was not employed. Job hunting was difficult as all the roles she was interested in were taken. This resulted in interning for Opening Ceremony. But she could not continue interning ,because she needed the money to open up her shop.
“I just took the little savings that I had and a credit card loan and I took a gamble on my storefront on First Street in Hoboken,” said Duardo. “I reached out to a couple of local bloggers and asked them what they thought. They were totally opened to it and said they'd be more than happy to have another clothing store in town.”
Duardo has been successful with her Mint Market shop in Hoboken, therefore, another location in Jersey City was opened. It would have been open for four years now, but she did encounter some trouble recently.
“We had an unfortunate accident due to a sewer pipe explosion and we don’t know if we are going to re-open,” said Duardo. “I’m the type of person that thrives in chaotic and stressful situations and I’ve learned to cope with it all. That’s where I perform the best.”
Duardo is currently solving this issue with her Mint Market shop in Jersey City. Aside from being a business owner, she is also a mother to a little boy. She juggles motherhood and her business very well, and brings her son to work with her. Plus, her grandmother gives her a hand.
“Being a mom is a very sensitive and the most important struggle I’ll ever go through,” she said. “When I first had him, I would bring him into my store in Hoboken and breastfeed him in the fitting room. He literally grew up with me in the store."
Duardo has major plans for her Mint Market shop. She wants to expand the Hoboken location, as well as usher in the concept she was trying to instill in the Jersey City shop. She plans on bringing more edge, style, and funk to the Hoboken location.
“We are going to take the old Mint Market location space in Hoboken and turn it into a smaller store called Willow Rose. We’ll sell fitness, athletic wear, sage sticks, dried lavender,essential oils, and provide a feel good vibe.”
In the future, Duardo also plans on collaborating with Muneca Mullins, a local Hudson County vintage stylist. Duardo's collaboration with Mullins will consist of a private label line that will be sold exclusively at Mint Market.
“We’ll always keep Hudson County very stylized and bring the hi fashion from New York to Jersey,” said Duardo.