We had the good fortune of connecting with April Gray and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi April, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born and raised in Inglewood. In fact, my grandfather was the first African-American Mayor of Inglewood. My husband and I grew up as neighbors, but eventually I relocated to View Park and he moved to Agoura Hills. Fast forward 20 years… my husband and I reconnected, got married, had 4 children and moved back to our childhood neighborhood. We actually named one of our daughters Kensley, after the street we lived on as children. As you can see, I have a long history with the city of Inglewood. However, I never wanted to reveal my childhood roots to my non-black event industry colleagues or potential clients. Inglewood is portrayed in the media and rap songs as a violent, gang infested community. I was afraid the stereotypes associated with Inglewood would create a preconceived notion about me and cost me potential business. I tried to ensure my work was always strong enough to speak for itself without bringing too much attention to the creative behind the design. When asked where I lived, I would usually say near LAX never claiming any particular area as home. However, by denying who I was I oftentimes felt isolated within the event industry unable to relate to my non-black peers. For a long time, I struggled with my brand because I didn’t know where or how exactly I fit in. Over time, I became more confident in my work and began to find my authentic voice. The recent BLM Movement and #ShareTheMicNow also helped bring awareness to the lack of diversity in many industries including events. My goal within the event industry is to help create a more inclusive environment. I’m very intentional when creating my vendor team or selecting models for a styled shoot to include people of color. It’s essential to have people from various backgrounds seated at the creative table to collectively create the magic.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I am the Owner + Creative Director of C.C. Monroe Event Design. C.C. Monroe is a Los Angeles based event planning + design company specializing in creating modern, luxury-relatable events. My design aesthetic is clean, modern and inviting. C.C. Monroe’s events always provide an elevated celebratory experience for our clients and their guests with thoughtfully curated details. However, while our events are high-end, they are always approachable and relatable… nothing too stuffy or over the top.
C.C. Monroe was established in 2014 and was named after my 3 kids (Caleb, Caysen and Kensley Monroe. I found out I was expecting my 4th child, 5 months after starting my company). C.C. Monroe was initially created as an upscale children’s event planning company. However, I eventually expanded my services and now plan anything from a wedding or birthday dinner to an album release party.
My passion for event planning is what sets C.C. Monroe apart from other companies. I truly love the planning, the details, the chaos and the excitement that goes into each event I am a part of. I still wake up the morning of every event with butterflies. I only take on a limited number of events at a time to ensure my clients and their events get the attention, passion and enthusiasm they deserve. The personalized attention and relationships established during the planning process turns many of my clients to friends. Most of my couples still keep in touch long after their wedding, updating me on their growing families (usually to plan their baby shower or child’s birthday).
While I love event planning + design, starting my own business has not been easy. Establishing industry relationships and being introduced to ideal clients has been a challenge. It is hard to showcase your talent when you are not initially attracting clients with budgets that allow you to be creative or innovative. To overcome this dilemma, I began doing style shoots. While this method was not cheap, it did allow me to approach my dream vendors and strengthen my creative muscle. Overtime, my portfolio grew and my relationship with vendors deepened. I am now starting to attract ideal clients and work with a team of talented vendors that I am happy to also call friends.
Along the way, the most valuable lesson I have learned is to always have a talented team in your corner, as I am nothing without my vendors. I am loyal to my team, using them as much as I can on every event and always referring them to new potential clients. I’ve also learned to trust my creative circle. Once I give my overall vision, I let them run wild. I don’t believe in micromanaging during the creative process. Everyone comes to the creative table with their own expertise and I love hearing new ideas and seeing a design organically come to life.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
To be completely honest, with having 4 kids I rarely go to any “hot spots” these days. COVID restrictions also haven’t helped with being out and about. However, my favorite local spots are as follows:
Javier’s- I LOVE Mexican food! Javier’s in Century City is my favorite restaurant (their ceviche OMG!)
Will Rogers State Park- I love being outdoors and with COVID, being out in nature is one of the only activities we can still enjoy. The trails don’t kick my butt too much and the panoramic views at the top are breathtaking, especially on a really clear day.
Simply Wholesome- For years, I lived within walking distance from Simply Wholesome. Their chicken patties and smoothies are bomb.
Happy Ice- My kids and I recently found this spot (they have a location on Melrose and a truck). Think ice cream, sorbet and slurpee all wrapped into one…so good!
Sweet Red Peach- First, let me say I’m not a big dessert person. However, the cupcakes from Sweet Red Peach are addictive. The carrot cake cupcake and sweet potato cupcake are my favorite.
Hilltop Café: A hip community-oriented coffee shop and café that serves a bomb short rib grilled cheese.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have to give a special shoutout to my husband, Johnny. Being a mom of 4 kids and also owning my own business is a huge juggling act. I would be lying if I said it’s easy or I could do it alone. My husband from day one has been my biggest supporter. Whether it’s watching the kids while I’m on-site for an event, prop building or load-in assistant, he’s always there to help. My husband is a firefighter so he is gone a lot. However, he never forgets even while at work to always send me a text of encouragement before every event. It always blows me away that while his profession involves saving lives and property (super important things right) he never makes his work seem more important than mine. I’m beyond blessed to have him by my side.
Caitlin Alohilani Photography Kelli Bee Photography Emily McGahee Katie Edwards