Monroe native Zay Turnage finding success in fashion world

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LAWRENCE, Mass. — Monroe native and 2016 Monroe High School graduate Zay Turnage is finding success in the fashion world as a sportswear design. Today, he lives in Lawrence, Mass. In addition to his clothing line, The Chosen Few, he is a Designer I in Performance Menswear at Reebok. One day, Turnage hopes to open a design academy in Monroe.

In 2013, Turnage and some MHS friends established The Chosen Few, which today has customers around the world. The company aims to give back to the Monroe community that always supported Turnage, the company’s website says.

Turnage just launched a new collection of clothing and will have work in a major Boston-area fashion show in June. In 2020, Turnage opened a store at 105 E. Front St., Suite 205, in Monroe, which later closed.

More: The Chosen Few Threads opens in Monroe

Tom Adamich, a Monroe News regular contributor, asked Turnage about his career and ties to Monroe.

Q: What were some of your accomplishments in 2023?

A: I moved to Boston, Mass. after receiving an apprenticeship offer as an apparel designer with New Balance. I ended my apprenticeship a month early to join Reebok as Designer 1, basically skipping at least three to four years of experience it would have taken to reach a promotion of that level. I think that speaks for itself, considering my journey getting to this point. Being able to say I stepped foot in NB and RBK world headquarters as a designer is something not many people can say. I’m proud I can bring honor to my last name and ancestors with such an achievement.

More: Clothing entrepreneur brings brand home to Monroe, paves way for young designers

I also had the pleasure of showcasing some of my looks at ZAZ FEST fashion show in Seaport Boston. I also mentored a handful of students and young professionals in Massachusetts and spent time volunteering at boys and girls clubs in the state.

Q: What are your plans for your Front Street in Monroe location?

A: Unfortunately, I closed that location late 2021 after realizing I had seen the peak of what the location had to offer. Before I was accepted in design school a year after closing, I was initially looking for a street-level storefront. I’m determined to accomplish that goal if it’s the last thing I do. I will never abandon Monroe. How could I, after this city gave me the platform to truly rise to my potential? I will always reach back and give what I can. I’m focusing on bringing a design academy to Monroe to show the youth in Monroe they can be like me. They can be designers and design, not only apparel, but also their lives.

Q: What are your business plans for the coming year?

A: At this moment, I just released my most recent collection “TCF University,” a collaborative collection with the BCEC (Business Careers in Entertainment) organization at the UC Berkeley in California. It’s available at thechosenfewthreads.com. Besides that, I’m focused on growing my endeavors between Boston and Monroe. I just want to continue to collaborate and work with hard working, talented individuals. The creative community in Monroe isn’t huge, but I want to nurture it as much as I can.

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Q: What would you tell others wanting to start and run businesses in Monroe?

A: The perfect moment doesn’t exist. Just do it. When I moved back to Monroe in 2020, I told myself I’m going to focus and give this clothing thing my absolute all. Four years later — six overall within the business — I’m designing for some of the biggest sportswear brands in the world. Not bad for a kid from Monroe’s east end. My point is to always strive for growth. Once I broke the press in Detroit with my Detroit Free Press article, there was truly nothing that could stop me, not even myself. Anything is possible when you want it badly enough!

Q: Tell me about your family and your connections to Monroe.

A: My family moved to Monroe when I was in second grade, maybe around 2005 or ’06. My maternal great-grandfather was a pastor (Pastor Robert D. Turnage) and had a church on the east side off Third Street and Conant Avenue (Miracle Faith Missionary Baptist Church). My great-grandparents established their roots in Monroe and set the foundation that I stand on today. I have four siblings, one niece and four nephews and a loving, supportive family behind me.

Q: Who/what inspired you initially and who/what continues to inspire you?

A: My parents (Rodney Green and Christine Turnage) are the root of my inspiration because I am just an evolved version of them both. All my uncles inspired me as they have instilled very valuable morals and principles within me. My Uncle Que (Quentin Turnage Sr.) has been an entrepreneur as long as I can remember, so it starts there. Music industry entrepreneurs Dame Dash and the late Nipsey Hussle were the people I was paying the most attention to when I started my clothing brand because of the message they preached, and there was plenty of proof they practiced it as well. At this point in my career, it may sound arrogant, but I’m inspired by myself. I’ve never seen or met anyone from Monroe who has had the same trajectory my career has. The fact that my entrepreneurial efforts led me to being a professional designer in the sportswear industry really inspires me every time I have a moment to reflect because the statistics of the average person coming from the neighborhood I grew up in are slim to none.

— Tom Adamich is president of Visiting Librarian Service, a firm he has operated since 1993. He also is project archivist for the Greening Nursery Co. and Family Archives and the electric vehicle awareness coordinator at Monroe County Community College.

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