Needless to say (but we’ll say it anyway), the last few years have been a rollercoaster. As we look back at the time that was and set our sights toward what will be, we wanted to take a moment to recognize some of the women in Hoboken + Jersey City who are blazing trails and creating opportunities despite the tumulous landscape the last few years have presented. As we begin a new year, keep an eye on these local women — business owners, industry experts, leaders, and mentors — inspiring us to get up and go for it! You won’t want to miss what they’ll be up to! Read on for our 23 women to watch in 2023.
Alexandra Lakhman | Resilience on the Runway
Hoboken resident Alexandra Lakhman participated in The Miss New Jersey USA 2022 pageant — and won. There were 120 accomplished women from all over NJ vying for the title – and our girl brought home the crown. She then went on to compete in Miss USA 2022. Alexandra, known to friends and family as Lexi, is a first-generation American with family roots in Ukraine and Latvia. What we love about her is her grit and determination. She competed for seven years before bringing home the title, bringing that Jersey-strong attitude all the way to the winners circle.
Read More: A List of Women-Owned Hoboken + Jersey City Businesses
Amber Rao | Cashew Fudge Phenom
Amber is a Hoboken resident who makes and sells gluten-free Kaju Katli and delivers it to the Hoboken and Jersey City area. Also known as cashew fudge, this sweet is very popular within the Indian community. What’s different about Amber’s fudge is that it is homemade — as most Kaju Katli comes frozen from India. When asked what makes her business and treats different, she answered, “It’s fresh. It’s a labor of love so most people prefer to buy than make. While you can certainly buy a box from an Indian grocery store, it’s most likely frozen from India. There’s no comparison.”
Athena Toledo | Art Therapist
Athena Toledo, is part of a growing movement to increase the reach of art therapy — believing it to be a powerful tool for mental wellness. She describes the media she uses in therapy sessions as differently suited for different tasks. Working clay, she explains, can offer relief. Paint colors, she finds, evoke emotional responses, though often the interpretations of which emotions connect to what colors differs from person to person. Athena is a 2020 New Jersey City University graduate, currently obtaining her Masters degree in art therapy from the School of Visual Arts New York City.
Cariana Fasciano | Cocoa Connoisseur
The woman behind Merry Hot Cocoa, a pop-up hot cocoa bar that made its debut just in time for the holidays, is Cariana Fasciano. A self-proclaimed sweet tooth, Cariana states, “When I take a sip of hot chocolate, I take myself back to being 5 years old on the couch watching a Christmas movie in front of the tree. I want to give everyone that vibe in one sip.” The shiny black trailer decorated with greenery can be found at Church Square Park in Hoboken and popping up throughout Hudson County. While Cariana and her family currently live in Secaucus, her family has roots in Hoboken and she lived in Hoboken for several years. She is also the owner and baker behind Why So Jelly doughnuts, a custom doughnut bakery.
Chelsea Duffy | Women’s Issues Warrior
(Photo Credits: Loca Modiv)
One of eleven women appointed to Mayor Fulop’s Women’s Advisory Board, Chelsea Duffy is helping Jersey City address “the critical issues and concerns that women within the city face” said City Council president Joyce Watterman, such as equal pay, child care, and health benefits. Chelsea is also the social media and event manager for DVORA Life, a property management firm in Jersey City, and she co-founded Local Modiv, a Jersey City-based cannabis firm and president of business development for CSD Ventures LLC, of Jersey City, per Jersey City Times.
Cindy Rau + Natalia Ocampo | Local Allies
Cindy Rau and Natalia Ocampo are the two Jersey City women behind Allies 4 All, a pop-up shop that strives to be eco-friendly. The business has Jersey City roots through and through, as the couple met, married, and now live in Jersey City. They are in love with Hudson County and enjoy participating in local pop-ups throughout the community. In their own words, “Allies 4 All was inspired by our community. Realizing that each person in this world is essential to create our beautiful diversity drove us to find a way to support others. What better way to start than supporting our local community? Each of us represents something greater.”
Constance Zappella | Fiery Female
(Photo credit: City of Jersey City Official Government Page)
Constance Zappella is the first female Deputy Fire Chief in Jersey City. She became JC’s first female battalion chief in 2017 and now, according to NJ.com, she currently holds the highest rank of any woman in the department’s 193-year history. As reported by NJ.com, she stated, “It’s the highest honor, I am humbled,” said Zappella. “There’s really not much more to try to achieve at this point.”
Courtney Roselle | Fitness Aficionado
Courtney Roselle, the mastermind behind Iron Grace Fitness, is a coach, competitor, motivational speaker, and so much more. She’s helping Hudson County and beyond with a larger mission to empower women and men to embrace their bodies and the strength that lies within. She also competed in season 2 of NBC’s Titan Games. What a total badass.
Hannah Valente | Pro Sports Superstar
(Photo credit: Rob Brown/Elon University)
Hannah Valente, a fifth-generation Hobokenite, became one of the youngest NBA agents in the U.S. earlier this year. And what’s more, she’s taking the male-dominated industry by storm and did it in the midst of earning her college degree from Providence. Later this year, she’ll be sitting for the bar exam to be a licensed attorney in the state of NJ in hopes of helping college athletes reach their goals of becoming professional basketball players.
Jalisa Williams | Rising Up + Giving Back
Jalisa Williams is a case manager at the York Street Project, whose family once found a home at the same center in Jersey City. Years later, Jalisa recalls her time at the center with fondness — so much so, that she has now returned to the shelter to serve her community and help others experiencing the same traumas she once did. What’s more, she’s working to fight the stigmas surrounding homelessness — which, she says, is more than a housing issue.
Jess Nisler | Serving Coffee + Community
Jess Nisler is the owner of MOJO Coffee, now with two locations here in Hoboken. With a passion for coffee + community, Jess created Moja as a place for neighbors and friends to connect. As she told HG, “People are at the core of MOJO and I wanted MOJO to feel like an extension of our neighborhood, which you see through our brownstone branding. We see a lot of the same people (and their pups!) every day, and watching a community develop through MOJO has been really rewarding.”
Kristin DeAngelis | All About Art
(Photo credit: Kristin’s website)
One of the leaders of Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, Kristen DeAngelis is no stranger to the local art scene. As an art curator, art dealer, art teacher, and art exhibitionist, Kristin has been bringing her experience to up-and-coming artists as well as more established creators for over 10 years. As her website states, “she knows that while artists are the rock stars, she is the roadie working to get them to their next gig.”
Lexi Pellegrini | Young + Stylish
(Photo credit: LinkedIn)
A true Hobokenite, Lexi Pellegrini has lived in Hoboken almost all her life, until heading south to the nation’s capital to study public relations + communications at George Washington University. Now, graduated and back in her hometown, Lexi is using her degree to open an upscale boutique in Hoboken. The shop will house trendy clothing items, accessories, and chic gifts like Chanel and Gucci candles. Oh, and did we mention she’s 22 years old?
Linda Vollkommer-Lynch | Fencing + Firsts
(Photo credit: Stevens Institute of Technology)
Linda Vollkommer-Lynch, is a third-generation Hobokenite whose love of sports and Hoboken led her to become the first tenured female faculty member and first female athletics coach at Stevens Institute of Technology. As a child, she would sneak onto Stevens’s campus to practice basketball, but would often get kicked out and reported to her father — who was a local police officer. She is a pioneer for female educators and coaches, swimming upstream at a time when women were not expected to hold the positions that she did. Today, she continues to serve on the Stevens faculty as the fencing coach.
Mariel Acevedo | Roots with Roots
Another woman with dedication and vision, Mariel Acevedo gave up a whole other career in higher education to pursue Leila’s Plants. Mariel has lived in Jersey City since emigrating to the US with her family from the Dominican Republic at age 5 and her plant shop is not far from where she lives in the Greenville section of Jersey City. “To be able to contribute to the neighborhood’s growth by having my business here is very important to me,” she told HG. “During the pandemic, the online plant community was really growing. I had already been a part of it for a while, and growing plants on my own, but I saw that there was something else there.” Mariel would informally sell or trade plant cuttings and it made her realize that she could do more and think bigger. “I wanted to provide accessibility and quality,” she said.
Matilda Lawler | From the PATH Station to Station 11
(Photo credit: Joe Epstein/JoeEpsteinPhotography.com)
Local Hoboken resident Matilda Lawler, who by the way is only 14 years old, has graced our televisions this year in some seriously binge-worthy shows. However, her debut role happened right here in Mile Square Theatre’s The Net Will Appear. Since then, she’s been on Broadway in the 2018 Tony Award Winner for “Best Play”, The Ferryman, and in the HBO Max hit series Station 11, where she gave a heart-touching performance well beyond her years as Young Kirsten. Most recently, she played the bossy elf Betty in the limited streaming series, The Santa Clauses on Disney+ (which if you haven’t seen is endearingly adorable). It’s safe to say her career is just beginning.
Mellissa Diaz | Boss of Bouquets
(Photo credit: @mela_fleurs)
Melissa Diaz, who is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, went from being a corporate girl at Vox Media in NYC to opening up her own small business during COVID. La Tiendita de Mela Fleurs, or Mela Fleurs for short, is a sustainable flower shop that specializes in chic dried flower arrangements. The assortment available includes hand-tied bouquets, small to large arrangements with or without a vase, wreaths, floral hoops, and more. Mellissa also offers custom work for weddings and events.
Olivia Bernardo LaCaruba + Samantha Green | The Drip Duo
(Photo credit: The Drip Fitness)
Co-founders of The DRIP Olivia Bernardo LaCaruba and Samantha Green, Hoboken residents and long-time fitness instructors, started the fitness studio amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Ask any of your friends who go there, and they’ll most likely tell you it might just be their new fav. The DRIP offers a variety of different classes to choose from such as cycling, boxing, DRIIP (which is HIIT cardio and strength), barre, flow (power yoga), choreo sculpt, dance cardio, pilates, and more.
Robinson Holloway | Eclectic + Eccentric
(Photo credit: Art Fair 14C’s Website)
What doesn’t she do? Robinson Holloway is the Director of Art Fair 14c, Interim Board President of Art House Productions, and the founder of two non-profit galleries, and she serves on the Board of Directors of the London-based Association of Women Art Dealers, and is a member of ArtTable and the International Women’s Forum. She was also given the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation’s Eugene award for Women of the Year. Oh, and she’s also a Jeopardy champion.
Sabrina Browne | Period Pioneer
(Photo credit: The Flow Initiative’s Website)
Sabrina Browne is an award-winning PR Executive, menstrual equity advocate, and DEI champion. Currently, she is a partner at The Flow Initiative, raising awareness of period poverty nationwide. It’s no surprise that Sabrina was recognized as a “Top 100 Women Leader of New Jersey” by Women We Admire. For the past several years, we have partnered with The Flow Initiative to collect period supplies and help fight period poverty in Hudson County. This year, together we collected over 30,000 products.
Sophie Nguyen | Nail Art Extraordinaire
Sophie Nguyen started doing nails when she came to the US from Vietnam. It was the family business, and her aunt and uncle helped her get started. While she owned her own salon in Florida, she met her husband, Trong, who lived in Jersey City, she moved and started over, working in a friend’s salon. “I always knew I wanted to have my own space,” she said. “This salon is for me. I picked out everything, the colors, everything.” Be sure to peep their Insta, because this nail art is incredible.
Theda Sandiford | Art With Heart
(Photo credit: @misstheda)
Theda Sandiford is a force for good. She is a rare but vital part of our regional community. Referring to her artwork as part of social practice, she creates artwork, art interventions, and art events for the purpose of bettering this world we find ourselves living in. She sources her materials from found objects, reusing and recycling. Check out more of her work here.
See More: A List of Women-Owned Businesses in Montclair
The Women of the Bibi Collective | New Beginnings in New Jersey
(Photo credit: The Bibi Collective)
The Bibi Collective is made up of women who fled Afghanistan in 2021, leaving their homes, possessions, and most of their extended family members behind. Now, these women have started new lives with their families here in New Jersey. In Afghan culture, Bibi means a woman, full of life, and these highly skilled women have started their own businesses, creating stunning items including hand-embroidered clothing, tote bags, crochet, ornaments, and accessories. Visit their site for how to buy + support.