Teen entrepreneur launches Summit store selling handicrafts

SUMMIT, NJ — When she was just 16, Tess Higgins decided to drop out of high school and pursue her dream of starting her own business.

Growing up, Higgins had many hobbies — from baking and knitting to making her own pottery and jewelry. She decided to combine all of these interests in her Summit boutique, By Tess, which recently opened downtown.

Higgins said she technically started her business when she was 14. At the time, she was enrolled in the Culinary Arts Academy at Morris County Vocational School in Denville, but decided to drop out to pursue her entrepreneurial path full-time.

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“I think I just had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do, and it wasn’t in school,” Higgins said. “I learn best by being hands-on, so I just jumped in and figured it out as I went.”

Higgins explained that she has always had a passion for making things, whether it’s crafts or baking. The reason she wanted to start By Tess in the first place was because she had so many hobbies and wanted to find a way to consolidate all of her interests into one business.

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“By Tess is not a jewelry store, bakery, ceramics shop or clothing brand,” the store explains. website States. “It’s more of an open opportunity to allow myself to share with the world whatever passion I have at this point in my life, without any preconceptions or labels of what I’m supposed to sell.”

Higgins has opened its first location in The Wine List of Summit – a large wine store that also houses other vendors selling coffee, flowers, cheese and more. After about a year there, Higgins received an offer to move to a larger location with its own kitchen.

By Tess now shares space with The Eatery, which is an American-style restaurant in Summit. Because The Eatery was struggling to stay open during the pandemic, the landlord suggested sharing the space with Higgins to share rent and utility costs.

The two stores operate as separate businesses, but Higgins said the arrangement worked well because The Eatery operates primarily out of the kitchen and it sells most of its products out the front of the store.

Originally, By Tess’ goal was for every product in the store to be made by Higgins herself. But she soon realized that was an unrealistic goal.

Instead, Higgins has partnered with five or six local vendors and offers many of their products in her store.

“Everything in my store is handmade, which is very close to my heart,” Higgins said.

The items she offers from local artists in her store include ceramics, soaps, cards, chocolates, paintings and homemade candles.

Higgins said she was drawn to starting her business in Summit because she currently lives in Morristown and wants to stay close to her family. Besides the convenient location, Higgins said she thinks Summit is booming.

“I think Summit is getting more alive,” Higgins said. “There are a lot of new businesses opening up and there are a lot of young families at Summit, which I thought was great.”

Throughout the process of developing his business, Higgins said his parents have been extremely supportive.

“My parents are fantastic,” Higgins said. “They’re amazing for just cheering me on and letting me do it. I know there aren’t many parents who would let their kid do their thing… They’re my biggest fans.”

Higgins recently had her store soft open on Monday, and she said it was “extremely exciting.” She spent a lot of time redecorating the store and even built a giant wall covered in broken pottery pieces. (See below)

Courtesy of Tess Higgins

His self-made business has also caught the eye of celebrities, including actress Sarah Drew – known for her role as Dr April Kepner in ‘Greys Anatomy’ – and actor David Henrie – who played Justin Russo in ‘Wizards of Waverly Place” from Disney – both posted photos with Higgins’ designs on social media.

Here is Henrie’s post on Instagram below:

And check out this photo of Drew and other stars with Higgins cookies:

Courtesy of Tess Higgins

You can find out what By Tess has to offer on its website or in store at 447 Springfield Avenue. You can also follow the store’s Instagram @bytess.co.

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Laura J. Boyer