Jeanine Hays pictured with the Dreamland Pillow Collection

AphroChic, the blog of “modern, soulful, style,” was a Washington Post “Blog to Watch” of 2008, and I’ve been following Designer Jeanine Hays, the blogger behind the brilliance that is AphroChic, and developing my design eye ever since. What started out as a creative outlet catapulted into a fully viable brand that has quickly become nationally recognized. In addition to the blog, Jeanine launched the AphroChic Shop, which houses her new line of stylish and sustainable pillows, in late 2009. Her collection has been featured in a recent issue of Lucky magazine, and is currently featured on the cover of Nesting Newbies magazine. Next up for this blogger turned designer? Only a guest judging spot on HGTV’s ‘Design Star.’

CLUTCH caught up with Jeanine to find out everything about her journey, and where she’s headed next!

Clutch: You’re a lawyer by trade, how did you grow a love for interior design?
Jeanine: I have always loved interior design and creating beautiful spaces. However, my passion grew while I was in law school. Spending three years buried under case analysis and briefs, I was constantly on the lookout for a creative outlet. It just so happened that my law school was across the street from a Crate & Barrel and a Starbucks. It was the beginning of several addictions, and the outlet that I had been looking for. Whenever I had a moment to escape for the weekend, I would head to the bookstore and pick up every shelter magazine and interior design book I could get my hands on. Interior design really became my refuge, and place of comfort. It was a natural place for me to channel my energy and eventually it became my ambition.

Clutch: I just love saying AphroChic! How was the name born?
Jeanine: I wanted a name that described me–an African-American woman who loves style. My husband and I went back and forth between names, and one day landed on AphroChic. It felt appropriate since at the time I was sporting a short afro. When I went to start the blog, the name AfroChic was taken, so the blog became AphroChic. It’s amazing how the name has taken off and expanded to define my design philosophy of modern, soulful, style.

Clutch: Your blog has been the catalyst for so many great things. What has been your greatest challenge expanding the AphroChic brand?
Jeanine: There have been many more opportunities than challenges. It’s truly been an incredible journey. Expanding the brand has been like nothing I have ever imagined. It’s been more than three years since that I started the blog, and two years since I decided to take the leap and start my own textile company, which launched in late 2009. It has been amazing to watch things grow. The process of creating and expanding the brand has been very organic. I think the only major challenge has been keeping up with it all. As the brand grows so does the demand for new products, engagements, and time. It’s hard to manage it all, but I have learned something very valuable–it’s important to work with the right people to help you expand your dreams.

“It’s your road, your journey, and you have the responsibility to steer your life and your brand in the direction that you want to go in.”

Clutch: Not only was one of your beautiful pillows featured in Lucky magazine, but you got the opportunity to blog for them as well! Tell us about that experience.
Jeanine: The Lucky experience was a complete dream. It happened out of the blue. One of the editors from the magazine reads the blog and read about the launch of the new line. Within a week we were sending pillows to New York, and the next week I was asked to blog for them! It was so much fun to come up with feature posts for a magazine that reaches millions of people. I had a blast developing each post, and the online editorial team was fabulous to work with. It was a great experience that I hope to repeat sometime soon.

Clutch: Speaking of magazines, you landed your first cover with Nesting Newbies! How exciting is that?
Jeanine: Nesting Newbies was another wonderful experience. I can tell you this: the power of Twitter is incredible. I learned about the online magazine via a tweet, and sent them a quick note to let them know I was a Bay Area designer. Soon my husband and I were asked to put together a selection of pillows for their cover shoot. The editors, Jodi Murphy and Lea McIntosh are amazing women who embrace the work of new designers and bloggers. They also invited me to participate in a video shoot that was inside the magazine. It was my first time doing a segment on camera, and I had a wonderful time getting cooking tips from a trained chef and learning what happens in front of and behind the camera. My husband (who is my incredible business partner) also enjoyed the experience. He received his first styling credit as we both helped with the styling of the cover shot.

Clutch: How did the amazing opportunity to be a judge for HGTV’s ‘Design Star’ happen, and do you think judging will be a tough job for you?
Jeanine: Last year I met with HGTV’s programming team, and have made friends with some wonderful people at the network. They celebrate creativity in design, and were interested in taking a look at the pillow collection. Since that first meeting, it has been so much fun getting to know about the work of the incredible designers who are a part of the network. When they sent an email offering a guest judge opportunity for Design Star, I literally jumped for joy! It’s such an honor to be asked. I don’t think judging will be tough at all. I’m always happy to give my honest opinion and feedback. I never hold back.

Clutch: What could the design stars possibly be holding for you next?
Jeanine: I have no idea, but I am definitely open to whatever is in store. We are working on launching a new collection in 2011 that I am so excited about! I also hope to be able to expand into interior design and styling work in the next year. It’s what I love to do.

Clutch: Young women are in the stage of creation. And though it’s exciting to see so much great talent emerge, many don’t know how to get started, be and stay relevant. What is your advice on brand building?
Jeanine: Believe in yourself, understand yourself, and have complete confidence. Lifestyle branding is much more organic when you brand around yourself rather than a target market. Your brand is a reflection of who you are, so you are your own target market. You can’t build a successful brand without knowing yourself and believing in whatever product or service you are putting out there. Be open to outside opinions and influences but don’t be ruled by them. There will be many times as you work on your company that you will be the only person who believes in a certain decision. But you have to know that you are doing the right thing, despite what others have to say. It’s your road, your journey, and you have the responsibility to steer your life and your brand in the direction that you want to go in.

Join the AphroChic Journey:
AphroChic Blog
AphroChic Shop

Photo Credit: Patrick Cline

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