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With next month’s debut of her first collaborative clothing collection, Jeannie Mai wants to motivate people as much as dress them.
With that in mind, Mai will roll out her I.N.C. International Concepts line with Macy’s online and in select stores next month.
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Mai’s audience knows her from various roles such as producer and host of “The Real” talk show; her YouTube series; the wife of Grammy-nominated musician Jeezy; executive producer of “Surviving Sex Trafficking, and a former run as “Dancing with the Stars” contestant. Mai is also expecting her first child with Jeezy. Mai speaks to her audience and “the changes they have gone and what they are accomplishing,” saying in a recent interview from Atlanta that, “We’re united through our strength, our vision and what we want to become.”
Over the past two years, she said she gave a lot of thought to, “If I were to create a collection, what exact pieces would I want other people to have that will make them feel good and really take their lives to a new level?”
That’s a lot to ask from a tweed jacket or a V-neck knit dress, but she’s up for the challenge. Well aware that putting your name on a collection requires a good amount of attention in order to select the right manufacturer and ensure quality standards, Mai, an experienced stylist and makeup artist, waited nearly 20 years. The Jeannie Mai x I.N.C. International Concepts collection in will debut Oct. 25 and will feature three seasonal drops through the spring. Created in partnership with Reunited Clothing, the assortment will include cozy knits, suits, loungewear and outerwear.
Being in this world of television and social media, Mai said she doesn’t get to meet her fans in person as much as she once did on makeover show “How Do I Look?” where hugging everyday women on the show was routine. “This clothing line feels like a way that I get to be in people’s homes and cheer them on as they go to work, go out on that hot date, buy their first house or to finish that degree. This is my way of being with them and supportive of them. I want my clothing to have meaning for women and men, who are just looking forward to accomplishing things in life,” she said.
Transitional workwear pieces can be worn with jeans or skirts for going out with friends, or as complete suits “in order to nail that promotion or to go out and build that company you’ve been dreaming about. Every outfit has an intention whether it’s to be really fashionably dressed, to get your errands done, to go out there to build that career or just to hang out with your friends,” she said.
In addition to Macy’s, Mai shops at Zara, H&M and ASOS with quality and comfort being paramount versus brand-specific purchases. That said, her high-low approach includes mixing in “a good piece” from Gucci, Givenchy or Yves Saint Laurent. But the new fall line with Macy’s retails from $70 to $200.
Mai’s mother provided the first impression of what style can do for a woman. “We didn’t come from very much. I grew up in a three-bedroom home with 15 people. My family had immigrated from Vietnam. We were very functional, when it came to clothing. Just wear what you need to go out there to get a job or go to school to learn how to speak English,” she said.
But her mother spent time on her hair, makeup, accessories, nails and “on every single outfit.”
“She liked to look that she should be recognized. She liked to walk into a room to make people think, ‘Wait. Do I know you from somewhere?’ Are you famous? Should I know you?’” said Mai.
That continues to this day, but it is not, and has never been, about getting attention. “For my mom, who didn’t speak English and at the time only had a high school education, wanted people to know that she was worthy. She was worth getting to know or wondering about,” Mai said. “I felt I had those same shoes to step into, when I moved to Hollywood to build my career. I came to Hollywood because I was very passionate about helping people and supporting their individual stories. But in Hollywood, you can really get drowned out by people, who judge you or want to make you something that you’re not, and by trends.”
Aware then that her sense of style could be a point of differentiation, Mai said she is proud that 15 years later she is still talking about how style is so influential in her everyday life and how it is a platform to connect with women as evidenced in her own line.
As a Capricorn and one of the “get-it-done girls,” Mai says that having “immense drive and discipline” is necessary “to making sure that you don’t accept anything that is less than what you want…to ensure you stand for what you believe in and you create things with your own signature.”
Instead of numerical sizing, the 19-piece fall line ranges from XXS to XXL. Vice president of Macy’s fashion office Durand Guion said in a statement that the company continues to “amplify” its commitment to bringing more diverse brands and talent into our assortments.”
Mai is in step with that effort, referring to her fans as “Mai fam,” she said. “They are like my family. I love my fan base, because they do not all look alike. They all are different in their own ways, but what binds us are our individual stories.”
The newly minted designer said she personally buys products from minority-owned fashion and beauty businesses, knowing “how hard it is” to build companies “in this white corporate American world.” She said she likes knowing that the money she spends on those items will “go into the pocket of somebody who probably has parents who were immigrants, and who definitely had to make their own line with their own means without millions of dollars from investors” and didn’t have the support of “a huge conglomerate department stores.” She uses Instagram to shop directly from those founders and learn their stories. “As a woman of color, it is very important for me to add to the melting pot of creativity so that my name is available for anybody.”
She and Jeezy share a love of fashion. “My favorite thing to do with him is to see what he plans to step out in, and complement what he’s wearing. He does the same thing with me. He’ll literally wait. He’ll sit in his towel, because guys take five minutes to get ready. I will be [getting ready] two hours ahead. He’ll wait until I get dressed. He’ll take a look and say, ‘Got it.’ All of a sudden he’ll come out in a full suit or a matching loungewear set. He’s got a great fashion eye. I married my equal in that department. We love asking each other for opinions. Sometimes I just like asking because I like him being involved in my outfits. It’s not even that I need help. I just like hearing a man’s taste.”
Mai often borrows her husband’s clothes and her I.N.C. collection will include unisex items like jackets and suiting. She said, “His blazers are such a perfect oversize fit for me. I also wear his shirts, his ball caps. And sometimes when I haven’t done my laundry, I wear his socks.”
The couple is getting ready for the arrival of “Baby Jenkins,” whose sex they prefer not to know in advance of the birth. “That makes things more exciting rather than defining the baby with pink skirts or blue corduroy shorts, Mai said. “I’m getting everything because I want the baby to have options. It’s very awakening to see how much you put your baby into very specific stereotypes, based on whether or not you know it’s a boy or a girl,” Mai said. “I’ve already gotten Air Jordans from a friend for the baby that could be great for a boy or a girl. I’ve gotten tons of onesies. I like seeing what people gift. It makes me see, ‘What do you think of when you break yourself out of the expectation of what a boy or a girl wears?’”
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