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Fashion Curator Jei Monroe Uses Thrifting To Teach Women How To “Slay In Their Lane”

BOSS UP

It's a winter Saturday and the wind chill could cause most to cancel their plans and stay in bed but Jei Monroe and I are conversing like girlfriends who've known each other for years. We're at a bar of The Andaz on Wall Street and she's just ordered hot chocolate while I'm sipping cranberry juice. Our conversation naturally swings toward labels and fads, given the current pop cultural obsession with showing off brand names as a testament to personal style.


"When people compliment me on what I'm wearing, I have no problem oversharing and telling them, 'Thanks! I got this for $10!' It could be a designer label but at the end of the day, does it really matter?" she muses.

Jei Monroe is not just a stylist; she is a fashion curator utilizing her natural eye for confidence-enhancing, aesthetically-pleasing fashion looks to dress clients from all walks of life. Early on, she recognized the fashion industry's tendency to leave the everyday woman out of styling conversations and offer little to no tools and resources. She decided, in no uncertain terms, to be a solution to the problem.

And what a solution she is. With a newly launched pop-up thrifting workshop in Brooklyn, NY, she is teaching everyday women how to "slay in their lane," dressing to impress and doing it all without breaking the bank.

Finding Your Own Lane

You can sense a freedom that boasts confidence and courage, vulnerability and verve. Her posture and tone invite you to nestle into your own magic long before any mention of fashion. As we discuss her path to New York and her status as a thrift fashion guru, I can't help but notice her look: a blush fur coat draping her lean frame, a bold matte burgundy lip color, a bright bronze natural haircut and beautiful large rings reminiscent of Victorian brooches. Nothing looks out of place. Her vibe fits her perfectly and she fits it. "My boyfriend makes fun of me all the time like, 'You gotta be dressed up going to the bodega.'"

We both laugh. Men rarely get it. "I don't have to be dressed up," she laughs, "But I like to dress up; this is who I am. A lot of people think 'Why are you always dressed?' I think, 'Well why are you not dressed up?' I mind my business and I do what I love!"

While perusing her Instagram and Twitter feeds, it's easy to be captivated. Her photos, while well-curated, are also honest and effortless. In a culture desperate for validation, you can tell she's got nothing to prove but a diamond mine of knowledge to share.

"I joke around with people and say that I could slay a trash bag. No lie. And y'all would be like 'That trash bag is fire, girl!' But that's because of the confidence I have. That's gonna be the most poppin' trash bag you've ever seen in your life. Belt it. Put a little bow on it. Something!"

When it comes to getting dressed, the dilemma for many of us is battling the projections of who we should be, how we should dress, and who we should try to emulate to find ourselves beneath it all. So how do we find our style when we're presented with so many opinions and ready-made options?

Jei's take? It's quite simple. When you know yourself and love what you know about you, that makes it much easier to see what works best for your closet.

"[First], go through your wardrobe and see if there is a common theme between pieces. For me, I love sheer shirts. So there's a good portion of sheer shirts in my wardrobe. [And] I love prints. Finding the common denominator of things you love that are already in your wardrobe and then [building off of that]." She's both pensive and passionate as she describes the process.

Next, she says to add pieces that you wouldn't normally try. And thirdly, you should be inspired by others but never copy them.

"There's nothing wrong with trying what's trendy but try it because you love it. Try it because it's something that you like, not because it looks good on somebody else."

She asserts that there is a difference between liking a specific look on someone else and liking the attention they get. "It's like 'Oh this person gets a lot of attention when they wear this or everybody's commenting on that.' And so, you go and buy it and nobody says nothing to you and you're mad like, 'Ok, where are the compliments?' You have to just do what works for you."

We both crack up at how relevant that statement is today.

Moving By Faith

After visiting two years ago, Jei was sold on New York City. She made plans to leave sunny California for the East Coast. "I told my friend, 'I'm moving to New York!' I felt like God was leading me here. And it makes so much sense because New York matches my personality so much."

It's true. Her energy is that of a lifelong New Yorker.

Only three months after visiting the city, Jei took God up on his directive. With living arrangements made through a Facebook group for NYC housing, all that was left to do was to arrange travel. She sold her car the day before she was set to fly for her one-way ticket to The Big Apple. Moving by faith is a hallmark of being Jei Monroe.

Her work as a freelance wardrobe stylist caught the eye of fashion retailer BCBG Max Azria and she became a stylist for the brand in 2012. While working with both Max and Lubov Azria, celebrity clients and everyday women - Jei began creating not only fashion looks but tools and resources for the everyday woman.

Looking to pursue something more fulfilling than the monotony of corporate America, Jei decided it was all or nothing. Following God's plan was an easy decision to make and stemmed from a confidence that she has had since childhood.

"[Self-confidence] was a gift. I feel like I've always had confidence from the time I was two or three years old," she reminisces.

It was that confidence that led her toward fashion. Though her early fashion journey was not without its bumps, it has evolved because of her self-assurance and commitment to trying new things. "Around high school, I feel like my style was raggedy. Not trying to be funny but once I was able to really just start experimenting and trying new things and just stepping outside of the box, [that] helped me to find my style and what I love."

She adds, "[It's really just about] trying what I love and not doing something because it looked good on someone else. And at the end of the day, I just mind my business. And when you do that, there's no looking to the left or looking to the right."

"When you slay in your lane, there is no competition."

"It's Thrift!"

Falling in love with the idea of teaching while shopping, Jei wanted to introduce everyday women to the art and practice of thrifting in a way that wasn't intimidating and allowed for one-on-one attention. So, in January 2019, she created and launched "It's Thrift!" her own pop-up thrifting workshop - and it only took her one month to put it all together.

The idea first came to Jei as a collaboration with a local thrift store. But as she prepared to pitch the store she had in mind, something happened. "God dropped it in my spirit, 'You can do this on your own' and I said, 'You are absolutely right!'"

Having already created an in-depth thrifting guide to help conceptualize the steps and best practices of thrifting, producing a hands-on workshop for those who may not necessarily know how to get started was the natural next step.

"I really just want to show people that this is teachable."

While many within the fashion industry aspire to become celebrity stylists, Jei Monroe's got a different idea that centers the rest of us. She offers her thrifting workshop as a viable way to look great, spend very little and never be beholden to fashion trends. With what can be found at thrift stores, one can always find a way around looking just like everyone else. It just takes a little practice.

"I do what I do because no one caters to the everyday woman. Nobody's showing people how to put these looks together that influencers are posting. People are liking their pictures but nobody's teaching them. I show you how to do it versus just showing you what it looks like."

What's Next For Jei?

With the success of "It's Thrift!", Jei is interested in taking her pop-up workshops on the road to major cities across the country. And eventually, setting up her own New York-based brick-and-mortar consulting boutique.

"I don't think I've heard of anything like that in particular. A lot of places will help you put a look together but [only] because they're trying to sell you the entire look, accessories included," she explains. "I want to be able to do that to where you can come in and say, 'Hey I have a wedding to go to' or 'I want to revamp my wardrobe.'"

Combining thrifting workshops, confidence sessions and styling consultations in one location without the department store sales hassle? Sounds like a dream for us everyday women.

And with Jei's track record of moving quickly and efficiently, I can't wait to see it become a reality.

Follow Jei on Instagram and Twitter at @jeimonroe. And to learn from the best how to slay in your lane, check out the link below to get more information and register for the next "It's Thrift!" next pop-up in NYC set for March 30th: JeiMonroe.com/itsthrift.

Photos courtesy of Jei Monroe

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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