Jeanine Hays and her husband, Bryan Mason, are plotting the transformation of the deck off their Old City apartment for a photo shoot for Matchbook magazine. Devotees of, say, the now defunct Metropolitan Home (may it rest in peace) may not have heard of the Web-only shelter magazine, but Hays, founder of blog and virtual shop AphroChic, makes it her business to be in the forefront of the online design world.
Online is where she began her journey from attorney to designer. Hays was working full time as a policy associate for the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund when she started AphroChic in 2007 to connect with like-minded design-magazine junkies. Her mission crystallized when she noticed the dearth of African American women blogging about modern design. "I wanted to provide that perspective," she says.
The blog's popularity gave her the confidence to try her hand at design. She digitally manipulated some photos on her computer, and found a company to print the ensuing designs onto fabric. The blogosphere embraced her collection when it launched in 2009, and the praise led to plenty of click-through sales.
Hays, still working at the time as a lawyer, and Mason, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, would come home from their "real" jobs and stay up till 2:30 a.m. working on AphroChic. "We joked that we were going back to our Philly roots," says Mason, "because everyone in Philly has a side hustle."
The couple were able to embrace their native Philly last January when they left San Francisco and Hays left lawyering. These days, AphroChic's PR and marketing continues to consist of Hays' own blogging, Facebooking, and tweeting - her blog attracts 40,000 readers per month. "It's a good way to hyperspeed word of mouth," she says.
Hays' aesthetic is "modern, soulful style," or "modern with an edge," she says. The first collection included pillows printed with bold graphic designs inspired by ikat (a dyeing technique) and African kuba cloth in bright, cheerful colors. Her second collection expanded to include place mats, table runners, and shower curtains. She calls it Brooklyn Renaissance because many of the images pay homage to that borough's style and creative culture. The self-taught designer just added wallpaper to her growing portfolio. "The more I meet people in textile design, the more I realize there are things I don't know," she says, "but in the end, I'm the customer and I know what I like. I just ask myself, 'What would I want?' "
Picking colors . . .:
"The yellow of the 'Haze Mimosa' pillow is based on the yellow Michelle Obama wore to the inauguration. It was also the Pantone color of the year. It's warm and happy, all about optimism and change."
. . . and product names:
"Bryan and I work closely, and it depends on the theme of the collection. Our first collection was about identity but through the theme of dreams, so the names reflect that abstract, always just-out-of-focus quality that dreams have - Haze, Reflection, Mandala, and Silhouette."
How to have a popular blog:
"Don't get caught up in the numbers. Just be yourself. People will connect with you and your blog because they connect with who you are and what you're writing about. When that happens you'll find yourself going back to your blog because you love it, and not because you're chasing bigger numbers."
Loves Philly for . . .:
"the creativity, the fact that there are so many artists and entrepreneurs, that people are willing to work hard to make things happen. I love the vibe of this city, and being here has been wonderful for my creative process."
Go-to lunch spots:
"Farmicia, Revolution House (the most beautiful rooftop ever!), and Jones."
"Haze Mimosa" silk pillow. A Michelle Obama color, Pantone color of the year.