Downtown Q&A: Jeanine Hays

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JEANINE HAYS Founder of Aphrochic with husband Byran, a Brooklyn-based interiors and lifestyle brand focused on African-American life at home.

Jeanine Hays

1. Name three women that inspire you, and tell us why.

My mother, Debra Hays. She has sacrificed everything for me and my sister. She has been my greatest teacher regarding love, compassion, and finding joy in the little things. She’s always let me know that I’ll do well in life as long as I try my best. And she was the person that allowed me to design my first interior—my ultra-pink Strawberry Shortcake-inspired bedroom at age 6.

My great-grandmother, Mary Solomon. She was a domestic worker. She cleaned homes so that she could send all three of her daughters to college, including my grandmother. She taught me about the value of education. How important it was to never stop learning and reaching for something bigger. In her 70s she went back to school to get her college degree and traveled to Africa. She taught me that it’s never too late to do what you love. 

My high school teacher, Louisa Abney-Babcock. In high school, she was such an inspiration. She’s a white woman from the South whose family had owned slaves at one point. She has dedicated her life to righting that wrong by being a leader in cultural awareness in education in the Pennsylvania school system. She helped me find my voice as a leader and encouraged me to become president of my high school’s cultural awareness club. Even now, some twenty years later, she is still teaching me. 

2. What has been the secret to your success?

Probably not feeling successful just yet. I’m still pushing myself. There is so much that I still want to achieve in my career. I have a constant hunger to create and to develop projects that are not only beautiful but that are deeply reflective of my cultural experience as an African American woman. It’s that hunger that has led me on this incredible journey, and I’m just getting started. 

3. If you were going to pass on one piece of advice to a young woman, what would it be?

“Know thyself.” I’ve had the privilege of mentoring many young women through my company’s internship program, and I’ve talked with all of them about the journey of getting to know yourself as an individual. There is a power in knowing who you are; in being uncompromising with who you are; and in telling the world exactly who you are and what you want to accomplish. I want young women to find their voice and to find it earlier than my generation did. Many of my friends didn’t truly find it until their mid to late 30s. But I’m excited when I see young women in their early twenties voicing what they want in this world. You can do that when you know who you are and that you can’t be bought, bullied or sold on someone else’s vision of what your life should be. 

4. In the fight for women’s equality what area do you think needs the most attention?

Equal pay is critical to equality. African-American women are the most educated group in America, yet we make 63 cents to every dollar earned by a white man. The wage gap makes it harder to buy a home, finance higher education, build a savings, or invest in a dream like having your own business. With fair wages, I truly believe there’s nothing a Black woman can’t achieve in this country.

5. What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m proud to have built a brand in partnership with my husband, where we’ve done so many firsts—the first African-American brand to have a concept house on the West Coast and the first to have a paint line. To know that I’ve been part of breaking barriers in this creative field for the next generation is something that makes me proud each and every day. 

6. Where do you get your confidence?

I was just born with it! I have never lacked confidence. I’ve always been louder than everyone else; always been focused on my goals in an unshakable way. And I have a resilient character. It likely comes from growing up around so many strong women—aunties, grandmothers, cousins, and my mom. I’ve always felt strongly that I have something to say in this world. Even from the time I was small I felt that. And growing up around strong women who had raised families on their own, put children through college, found ways when there was no way, they showed me that I could be whoever I wanted to be in this world. 

7. What makes a woman beautiful?

When a woman is confident, that is truly beautiful. When you can see a woman with undeniable swag, that is beautiful. When a woman truly knows who she is, that is beautiful. 

8. What gives you joy?

My husband is the greatest joy in my life. We’ve been together for twenty-three years, having met when we were in high school. We’ve built an incredible life together over the past two decades, supporting each other’s dreams, and finally landing on developing AphroChic together. There is so much joy in being able to create with the person who you love most in the world. He makes me laugh, makes me know that I can achieve anything, and let’s me know a thousand times a day that I am loved. Spending every day with my best friend is the greatest joy in my life.