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."
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