Karen Leano was born and raised in New Jersey. She is a fashion influencer and co-founder of a successful jewelry line, Cayetano Legacy Collection. Karen is a Jersey girl who moved to Minnesota and moved back to New Jersey. Here is Karen Leano’s Life in Sparta, NJ.
Tell me about your move from Minnesota to East Hanover, NJ then to Sparta, NJ.
I was born and raised in East Hanover so I’m a Jersey girl at heart. I met my boyfriend (now husband) who’s from Minnesota, got married and somehow MN won over NJ and I moved out there. We lived there for 10 years before we moved back here to NJ. I was missing my family and friends in Jersey. I was missing the energy from NYC and I felt like there were a lot more opportunities for us here. Fortunately, my husband was able to find his same exact position for another company here. I’m in fashion and with NYC being one of the fashion hubs it was the right step.
When we moved here to NJ my kids were 7 and 4 so we’re still a fairly young family. We did try to stay in the East Hanover area because my family is there and we’re familiar with the area. But coming from Minnesota where the cost of living was a bit lower, it was hard to find houses within our budget. We started looking more west – mainly because you got more square footage and more land for your money but also because it felt “familiar” for our family. Life farther out west in NJ is a little slower – I feel like we’re outside of the hustle and bustle of the city. Also, having a lot of lakes out west made the area picturesque and also familiar for the kids. MN is known as the land of 10,000 lakes so the kids definitely appreciate the lake life. When we saw the setting in Sparta, NJ we fell in love.
How do you compare living in East Hanover vs. Sparta?
The two towns do feel vastly different despite both being suburbs. East Hanover is more commercialized which is nice because everything is very accessible, Target, the grocery store, the gym, everything. The neighbors are close by. On the other hand, things in Sparta take a little more time to get to and our neighbors are a little further away. But that’s the beauty of living here too, privacy and land. You almost have time to appreciate life a little more since there aren’t as many retail and commercialized options out here. Both places have their pros and cons of course. Sparta is definitely beautiful with the mountains and the lakes nearby.
How old are your kids? What do you like to do with them in Sparta or in the area?
My son, Gabriel, is 8 and my daughter, Alessandra, is 5. We’re still figuring our way around and exploring but we love going to a local park nearby that overlooks a gorgeous lake. Their favorite place to get ice cream is Alpine Creamery right on Lake Mohawk. We like going on trails nearby at the Kittatinny Valley State Park. We try to support local so we love going to Sparta Books, a cute bookstore with a great selection for the kids. Our area is gorgeous in the fall and well known for its plethora of farms and pumpkin patches so every week in the fall we try to visit a new farm for fresh apples and apple pies. We plan to go boating and fishing next summer.
What are the best playgrounds and parks in Sparta, NJ?
There’s so much for us to explore still but we love the playground near Lake Aeroflex. It’s clean, feels safe and has age appropriate swings and slides for the kids. We have a lot of beautiful trails at state parks right in our area. We love Kittatiny Valley State Park and Allamuchy Mountain State Park.
What are your favorite restaurants in Sparta, NJ or in the area? Date night? Kid Friendly?
Haha – All the restaurants we know are kid friendly. Again since we don’t know many people yet in the area the kids are always with us. We don’t get to do date nights much but we do get to have lunch dates while the kids are in school. Our favorite restaurants in the area are Mohawk House, Savour Café (best beet and goat cheese salad), 4 Chicks Café (best chicken and waffles), Mi Rancho Mexican Grill to get our Mexican fix and our kids love chicken and broccoli from our local Asian restaurant, Fu’s.
When you moved to Sparta, did you know anyone? Any tips/advice you can give to newcomers on how to meet people?
We only knew one family coming into Sparta. So that was tough. Not only did you worry about your children making friends but you worry if you’ll fit in yourself. The same fears you have as a child still carry forth as an adult. You wonder if people will like you, if you’ll mesh with anyone, if you’ll fit in. My biggest advice is to get involved and say yes to as many invitations as you can. If you truly want to make a place a home you have to immerse yourself in that community.
Can you describe your social life?
I’d say I’m pretty social. But I think that comes with the territory of a local blogger. I go to a lot of events but most of it is networking and work related.
How would you describe residents of Sparta?
Everyone in this area is very, very nice. Not to say that people in other towns aren’t nice. I just think, again, that because life is a little slower paced here, people take the time to talk to you, to hold the door for you, or to ask about your day.
What are some things you don’t like about Sparta?
I love this area. My only qualm is that I just wish it was closer to NYC. A lot of my work is there or more out east in NJ so I just wish it wasn’t so far away. I also wish there were sidewalks here.
What has your experience been so far with schools in Sparta?
My kids go to a private school here so I don’t have much experience with the public schools. We chose a private school for a few reasons. 1) Our family friend that lives in the area puts their kids in that school 2) We loved the idea of a small community for us and the kids. With the kids moving we really wanted to make sure they didn’t get lost in the transition. 3) It’s a catholic school and we felt it was important to incorporate those teachings into the kids’ daily activities 4) The school we chose is a Blue Ribbon School and has a great reputation. We’re really happy with the school we chose. The admission process was relatively easy. We toured the school with the assistant principal. He was very informative and you could see that all of the kids respected him yet weren’t scared to come up to him and give him a high five. We filled out the paperwork and were contacted about admissions within the next week or two. Our kids did take a test more so to see if they needed any help before the school year started to get them on track with everyone in their grade level. This makes sense since every state and every district is a bit different.
Do you or your spouse commute to the city? What has your experience been with the commute?
We don’t work in the city but I do go in quite a bit for meetings, shoots and events. With little ones still in school I just don’t think it would fit in our lifestyle to have a full time job in the city. Maybe when they are older but for now, I feel better being on this side of the river more often than not. I haven’t commuted from this area specifically yet but I heard on a good day it takes about an hour and 20 minutes. We are closest to the Dover train station but I’m not familiar with the parking situation since I take the bus into the city. I usually drive east to Parsippany, NJ to catch the bus. I think I save some time by going there directly and also the buses there are more frequent so I have more bus time options and flexibility.
Any tips/advice you can give to someone who is looking to move to the area?
Really think about why you want to be in the area. I’m still having difficulty getting used to it, again, because a lot of my meetings are farther east, closer to NYC and because most of my family live more east. Figure out why this area is for you. If your job is out here or your family is out here then go for it!! Figure out what’s important to you – do you want lake front property? Do you want a lot of land? If so, are you ok with your next door neighbor being farther away? Do you want a young neighborhood with lots of kids?Do you have an all-wheel drive car? Then its ok to look at some of the neighborhoods nestled amongst the hills. But if you don’t like getting stuck on an icy morning then look at neighborhoods that have a more flat landscape. Also keep in mind how far off the highway you are.
You have a jewelry line- Cayetano Legacy Collection. Tell me more about it? How did you get started?
I started Cayetano Legacy Collection 7 years ago with my 2 sisters. It’s a statement jewelry line where everything is hand beaded and made of genuine gemstones. They truly are conversation starters and are all handmade in the Philippines where our family is from. It started off as a pet project that we wanted to focus on and share since we were all living apart. I was in Minnesota at the time, my youngest sister was in NJ and the middle sister was in California. We worked with women artisans in the Philippines to use their creative techniques, we incorporated some trends we saw here in the US and designed unique pieces. We also worked at creating training programs there in the Philippines to not only teach people how to make the jewelry but to give them business knowledge that they could carry forth in their future endeavors. This was very important to us because we wanted to pay homage and give back to the beautiful country where our parents and family were from. We were very lucky and got a lot of press. We did a small press tour around the country on morning shows. We were featured in prominent magazines and even had our pieces on Wendy Williams and from there our business grew. We sell our pieces online at www.cayetanolegacy.com and at Bloomingdale’s.
You are also a social media influencer. How did you get started? What do you like best about it? Any tips/advice for aspiring social media influencers?
Instagram has always been my love. I travel quite a bit so I started off using Instagram to showcase pictures from my travels. Paris is one of my favorite destinations so naturally that would be part of my Instagram name and Latte – well – I joke, don’t talk to me in the morning until I have my morning cup of coffee, but it’s probably more so true than not! Then I started incorporating pictures of my OOTD’s to show off how I would style my Cayetano Legacy pieces and people started asking more and more questions about my outfits where I got them, etc. I definitely think my biggest break was getting cast on Yahoo Lifestyle’s digital shows. There I got a lot of traction as a style expert and showing how I would dress for certain occasions. From then on, I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing brands. I have been able to meet some of the most amazing people through all of this as well. My biggest advice for aspiring social media influencers is to just start putting content out there. Show people what you are about. Give them advice, share tips and slowly but surely you will gain a following. I also believe in the power of networking so really get out there and meet people. It’s so interesting meeting people from different walks of life sharing their experiences and journey. They add a different perspective to your work and they also may be able to help you out with a project, promoting you, introducing you to other movers and shakers. The sky’s the limit.
About Karen Leano
Karen Leano is a fashion influencer and co-founder of jewelry line, Cayetano Legacy Collection. Her fashion experience started at age 16 working at the retail store for Macy’s and Express then moving up as a visual merchandiser for Dolce and Gabbana. Then post college, she continued her passion and worked at The Children’s Place and Tommy Hilfiger in Production Management and the Accessories Division. She co-founded Cayetano Legacy Collection with her sisters. In 2015, she started her blog Paris and a Latte. Karen graduated Magna Cum Laude from Seton Hall University with a business degree in Management Information Science. She lives in Sparta, NJ with her husband and two children.
Facebook: Paris and a Latte