By Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times
Aisha Taylor opened the doors to her first brick-and -mortar shop last month—a men’s boutique — Bridge + Root – which describes what she offers her customers.
“I’m bridging the guy from day to night,” Taylor said. “I want him to be able to wear some pieces during the day while working and be able to go out for his after-five or get a drink. I also want him to be rooted in his individuality and his authenticity.”
Bridge + Root is located at Mercantile on Morris, the new mixed-use development on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham. When Taylor first toured the space, construction crews were in the early stages of their work. She had to wear a hard hat, and the area was covered in dust, “but when I saw the space, I instantly knew this was for me,” she said.
The exposed brick was exactly what Taylor imagined when she first had the idea to open a boutique more than 10 years ago. Being located off First Avenue was a selling point, too.
“To me, First Avenue is the main street for Birmingham. It was a no-brainer,” said Taylor, who last week hosted U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, who stopped by Bridge + Root to celebrate National Black Business Month.
Bridge + Root is a sleek space offering men’s clothing, fragrance, and accessories, such as cuff links, hats, and ties. Blazers and denim are also available. If you have a thing for quirky socks, this place has you covered. If you need a weekender bag for an upcoming road trip, you can find that in the store, too.
Taylor is determined to offer the men of Birmingham something special. Along with clothing, cologne, beard-care products, and more, Bridge + Root is the only retailer in the United States that carries Tens sunglasses, which are designed in Scotland, developed in France, and inspired by photographers.
Though Taylor says that Bridge + Root is for men of all ages, she curated the shop’s inventory with a certain type of guy in mind.
“He’s that guy that doesn’t like to be put in a box,” she said of her ideal customer. “He likes to do his own thing. He’s not a follower. He’s a leader. He’s edgy. He’s fun. He’s confident.”
Taylor, 45, who has 25 years of retail experience, spent about five years of her career working as a personal shopper. It was during this time she got the idea to open a men’s boutique in Birmingham.
“I shopped for both women and men, but I was having a hard time finding really cool pieces for my male customers,” she said.
When shopping for clients, Taylor would seek pieces that were both true to the client’s style and unique.
“I had a hard time finding somewhere that I could go for the guys, so I decided to create my own,” she said.
Taylor was born and bred in Birmingham and spent most of her childhood in the Kingston community. When Taylor was growing up, her mother, a postal worker, couldn’t afford to buy her a lot of new outfits, but that didn’t stop Taylor from admiring fashion and honing her sense of style.
With her mother’s encouragement, Taylor landed a part-time job at the women’s clothing store The Limited while she was student at Woodlawn High School.
“I was horrible at it,” Taylor confessed, adding that, despite being a people person, she struggled to make small talk with customers.
She didn’t give up, though.
While she was a student at the University of Alabama (UA), Taylor started working at County Seat, a clothing retailer at McFarland Mall in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she hit her stride.
“I gave it another shot, and my retail career just took off,” she said.
Taylor was so good at her job that other County Seat locations would request her help with boosting sales.
“I knew then that I was on the right track,” said Taylor.
After completing her studies at UA in 1999, Taylor went on to work for high-end retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue, BCBG Max Azria, and Ralph Lauren. She traveled the country—to cities like Buffalo, New York; San Francisco, California; and Austin, Texas—to do merchandising and train managers.
In 2016, Taylor launched her own company, Element and Vibe, where she sells graphic T-shirts celebrating Black culture and promoting social activism. In 2018, Taylor started setting up shop at the Woodlawn Street Market to sell her inspirational tees. This also began a relationship with REV Birmingham, the economic development nonprofit that partners with the Woodlawn Business Association to put on the market.
To get the doors of Bridge + Root open, Taylor worked closely with the business development team at REV Birmingham.
“It’s been incredible to watch [Taylor’s] growth,” said Taylor Clark, REV Birmingham’s director of recruitment and growth, who first met Taylor years ago at one of REV’s business workshops. “What was clear in that moment was her passion, her vision for growth, and her commitment to achieve her entrepreneurial dreams.”
Clark added that she’s confident in Taylor’s success because Taylor is an entrepreneur who is open to listening to feedback and willing to use all the resources available to help her thrive.
“She’s worked hard over the years to refine her vision and to assemble the steppingstones along the way to get her from street market to her storefront,” Clark said. “I believe in [Taylor]. She and I are already talking about what success looks like beyond this location, and I’m very much looking forward to supporting her along the way.”
Taylor’s family believes in her, too. Her husband, Kenneth, who works in sales at a local auto parts retailer, spends much of his free time helping out at Bridge + Root, sometimes assembling furniture and always offering moral support.
“She’s always expressed that she really wanted to open a boutique, and I felt like it’s my job to support her,” Kenneth said. “I’m all in.”
The Taylors have been together for seven years and have two sons, ages 6 and 17.
“One thing I can say about my husband is my dreams are his dreams,” Taylor said. “He’s my partner for sure.”
Even Taylor’s siblings are doing their part. Her brother Terry, 41, handles her company’s information technology, and her brother Julius, 36, an electrician, helped install the eye-catching light fixtures. Taylor also has a younger sister, Portia, a 33-year-old mom of two who recently decided to go to law school, so both sisters are pursuing big dreams together.
Despite the risk involved with launching a brick-and-mortar business, Taylor is unafraid.
“I had a talk with God and felt super-assured, so that’s what helped me propel forward,” she said. “I didn’t go into this with fear at all.”
With candles burning and music playing, Taylor hopes to create a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere for customers. If you have fashion questions, she’s ready to answer them, whether you need help tying a bow tie or need guidance on how to style an item you already have in your closet.
“This is more than a store,” Taylor said. “This is an experience.”
Bridge + Root is located in the Mercantile on Morris development at 221 Morris Avenue, Suite 200, off First Avenue North. To learn more about the shop, visit bridgeandroot.com; follow on Facebook (@BridgeandRoot) and Instagram (@bridge_and_root); or call 659-599-5542.