There’s no shortage of amazing individuals in Jersey City who dedicate their lives to helping others, elevating their community, and inspiring others to do the same. I often talk about finding your life’s purpose; part of that is finding things you’re good at and also using that to give back to make an impact on people around you. Monique Andrews is the founder of the Mo’Hair Foundation, which provides custom wigs for women affected by cancer and alopecia. She’s absolutely incredible for everything she does. Just by seeing before and after photos of some of her clients, you can see how much she impacts their lives. She makes people feel like themselves again.
The Mo’Hair Foundation has an office inside Christ Hospital, so I went to pay her a visit and hear her story. She’s a real life angel and I loved getting to know her.
Lynn: What’s your name?
Monique: Monique Smith Andrews.
Lynn: What do you do?
Monique: I am a cosmetologist for 36 years. I’m a salon owner for 31, and now I have my new venture, Mo’Hair Foundation, which I’ve had for about 8 years.
Lynn: And how did it start?
Monique: Well, it’s all out of my mom. My mom was diagnosed with cancer. She came into the salon when she lost her hair, and she was devastated. So I’m like, “Come on in the salon. I got you, we can do something nice. I’m gonna take care of you.” I’m much younger so you knew I was gonna take care of my mom. She sat in my chair and they don’t make wigs today for people that are completely bald. They still don’t make them even today. You gotta have the cap on and have something to grab on to. I didn’t even realize that.
Lynn: Oh wow, I didn’t know that.
Monique: Yes, the wigs in the store…
Lynn: They’re not made for cancer patients.
Monique: No, which I couldn’t help but her wig was so big.
Lynn: It wasn’t working for her.
Monique: It bothered me and it hurt me so bad that I couldn’t help her. I watcher her walk to the car and my father was waiting, it just touched me. I don’t know, it just bothered me. She had insurance but they didn’t cover that. Now some insurance do cover the cranial prosthesis but at the time, hers didn’t. I just said I want to be able to help people. My mom transitioned and that stuck with me. I always want to be able to help people that can’t afford hair replacement because insurances don’t pay. Not only cancer patients, because there are people that have alopecia, any type of skin or scalp disorder. Some people are just bald with age and they don’t have the resources. That’s how I came up with the Mo’Hair Foundation and what we do is we supply free non-surgical hair replacements for men, women, and kids that lose their hair to cancer, alopecia, any type of skin or scalp disorders, tragedies, what have you.
Lynn: Wow, you’re a saint. How has this experience been the last eight years?
Monique: It’s so rewarding. It started off kinda slow, like anything. God has put good people in my path now and things are working out. We had an awesome fundraiser. I raised the most money I’ve ever raised, and we’re just going to continue with blessing people and giving back.
Lynn: So what’s your process when somebody comes in here?
Monique: I have a schedule, they go online – mainly. Now I’m in the hospital, I get phone calls like I’m getting some right now. They go online and they inquire who they are, what’s the situation, what have you. We have someone get back to them within 24 to 72 hours – two days to three days, two days the most. I’m only here Monday and Tuesday, and everybody is doing volunteer. So we have it all on the website and then they just fill out a simple application and we let them know the requirements. We don’t ask for any personal information. We don’t want to know how much money you make. I feel like if you have a lot of money, and you know that this is for people that don’t have it, tough luck on you. I’m not going into anybody’s income. Because people ask me, “How do you know if people can afford it?” It doesn’t matter. Some people can’t afford, some people don’t know what to do. We have a consent form, some before and after pics. That’s it.
Lynn: And they come in and you look at them…
Monique: Yup, I find out the diagnosis and I give them an option of what type of wig they want. Mainly the people have cancer; 9 times out of 10, their hair will grow back. So I try to get them a wig that will come back quicker within maybe two to three weeks, as opposed to the custom wig for someone that might have alopecia. Their hair is not growing back at all. I try to get them something that’ll last longer.
Lynn: Wow. And you also still own your hair salon.
Lynn: Where is it?
Monique: It’s in Jersey City on Storms Avenue.
Lynn: How is it, balancing both?
Monique: It works out because it’s been 36 years and I’m kind of weaning off. I’m there for two days, I have other girls there and they hold it down. Mondays and Tuesdays, I’m here. I’m weaning myself off because I would love to do this. I would love to like just go to a place where I could just help people. Nobody is doing it – like people are doing it, but it’s not that easy. Like people are saying, “Free wigs,” this and that, but the stories… So many stories, it’s crazy. I’m sure they’re not doing it. I know I make their transition easy for them. That’s it. You come in, we do a little interview, I measure them, we talk colors, we talk textures. Most of them want to look like how they used to look.
Lynn: Is that the most common thing?
Monique: Yes, they just want to look like themselves. We’re gonna be in O Magazine. We just got some good news last week. They had a casting and they looked for women that have gotten wigs and someone had recommended my foundation, and they picked one of my clients. So I’m excited about that.
Lynn: That’s amazing.
Monqiue: It’ll probably be in the cancer issue. The young lady that sent me the letter, she’s telling them that it’s just unbelievable. It’s a lot. You just don’t know until it happens to you.
Lynn: Does it get intense sometimes?
Monique: Yes, very emotional. And it’s so funny because I get more excited for them sometimes. When I see it at the end, it just brings me so much joy because they really can’t believe it – they’re just so amazed. I like to get the natural wigs and plucking around the hairline because a lot of times people with wigs, you can kind of tell they have wigs. You can tell they have wigs on, but I try to make my wigs look as natural. Make it look not heavy and thick.
Lynn: How did you get into Christ Hospital?
Monique: I had a friend that was on the board, and I had asked her to give my proposal. A year later, I was in it.
Lynn: Did you grow up in Jersey City?
Monique: No. I’m from Bayonne.
Monique: Bayonne, New Jersey, born and raised. I’m married now and I have a family.
*shows photo of client*
This young lady. She has metastatic breast cancer.
Lynn: Wow. She looks amazing.
Monique: She wrote this nice little thing about me on Instagram. So this is the one they picked.
Lynn: I mean, I can’t even imagine. I feel like hair is so personal.
Monique: Let me tell you, one girl told me about maybe 2-3 weeks ago, losing her hair was worse than having breast cancer.
Monique: I said, “Wow!”
Lynn: You lose a part of yourself.
Monique: Yes! When she said that, I was like, “Wow, that’s powerful.” She said, “I’m telling you. I was so devastated.” She didn’t even come to me for wigs, she came to me because her hair had grown out and she just wanted me to shape it. And I wanted to talk her into trying to cut it really low. She was having a 40th birthday party. And when she said that, I said, “I wonder how other people would be feeling.” So when I see things like this, when they’re faces light up, you can hear it in my voice. I get so excited.
Lynn: I mean, I’m sure it’s so rewarding.
Monique: Because it is!
Lynn: Because you’re literally changing peoples lives.
Monique: Girl, it is. It is.
Lynn: Like you’re going to heaven and beyond.
Monique: You know what? Recently, I’m feeling it. I was doing it just to make people happy but not really getting it. You know, sometimes you do good, but really… When this woman told me about the breast situation that which was worse to her, I felt it.
Lynn: You’re a true testament of finding your purpose. I feel like everyone is put on this earth for a certain purpose, right? Some people just don’t know it or they have too much fear in them to actually go for it. You’re doing it.
Monique: I really love it. You just don’t know. Like I said, you have to be in it to see just how they are doing. They’re always surprised because, the way I have this set up, you can’t really see as I’m doing it. So I always have my phone ready because I like to get their expression. I mean, women cry, so it gets a little emotional. I enjoy it. I really do.
Lynn: So do you have needs other than donations? Are you looking for volunteers?
Monique: Of course, we always can use volunteers. We always can use donations and sponsorship. Again, I have this one big fundraiser – to me, it’s big. We don’t walk away with a million dollars or $500,000. But for me, when you start off and you walk away with $5000 and maybe in that following year, it might be $10,000.
Lynn: For sure. I run a non-profit, too.
Monique: So each year it does very well and I’m so excited. I don’t look for grants and stuff for right now because it’s just me. Why get the money if you’re not gonna use it? So I’m not at that point yet. When I do interviews, or if I’m on TV, or you get a swamp of people… it’s summertime, I like to not work as hard. But Monday and Tuesdays, I’m here. I even sometimes have people come to my salon because she said she can’t come on Monday and Tuesday, so I don’t have a problem taking them to my salon. That’s where I’ve always started, so this makes it more simple.
Lynn: Do you want to grow the foundation?
Monique: Absolutely. Do I? I have a young lady in Georgia. One of my old staff. It’s just setting it up, bringing Mo’Hair there, you know? Florida…
Lynn: It’s gonna happen.
Monique: Yeah, it’s just setting it up. Because there’s a need for it everywhere, so I’m excited. I love it. I got wigs right now.
Lynn: I love it. I have a few wigs at home.
Monique: Really? Isn’t it awesome?
Lynn: Yeah. It’s fun. You can transform to be somebody else.
Monique: I’m trying to get this lady to come before I leave because I’m going to a training next week. So I’ll be going all week for hair placement, this new system called 3D scanning. I don’t have to go through paperwork, the measurements. It’s like a scanner. So I’m excited.
Lynn: That’s awesome.
Monique: And I just send it in, and then they just send me a wig. I don’t have to do anything. So that’s something new. A little upgrade for myself and that’s it. This beautiful girl right here, her name is Chiara D’Agostino. She’s the one that recommended the O Magazine editor to me. She was featured about two years ago. She’s a blogger. Her name is Beauty through the Beast. She’s going through some trying times right now, but her situation right here is backwards. On the bottom is when she came to me because she wanted a wig made out of her own hair. The second time, she had to go to the chemo two years ago, she had done one year and she was devastated with the hair coming out. So the second time, she said she didn’t want to go through it again. She didn’t want to go through losing the hair. She came in, I cut it all in here. We got all her hair cut off. She had a barber come shave it off, and that’s over here in the bottom right, and that’s the wig on top that I made out of her hair.
Monique: That’s all her hair.
Lynn: That’s crazy.
Monique: Yes, her own hair.
Lynn: Yeah, that’s crazy.
Monique: She’s been in my fundraisers. She told her whole story and everything that happened.
Lynn: She’s amazing. She’s beautiful.
Monique: She is beautiful. She’s going through a little trying time right now. But the name is, like I said, Beauty through the Beast. She says she does a lot for the cancer community. Just give them awareness and just sharing her whole life. Beautiful lady.
Lynn: That’s beautiful.
Monique: Yup. It’s just so funny because we check up on from time to time. My sister called her and she said, “Chiara said she wants lasagna.” and I said, “Me too!” You know what? We Uber-ed her from my friend in Bayonne that has a pizzeria and we sent her a half a pan of lasagna.
Lynn: That’s nice.
Monique: She was so happy.
Lynn: It’s the little things.
Monique: Yeah, absolutely.
Lynn: So you’re talking about your future aspirations. What about being in Jersey City and how do you feel about the city?
Monique: I love Jersey City. I’ve been talking to some people over in Columbia Presbyterian. I would love to just set up one day here. One day maybe, I would do that. But if I do that, that’s when I get to get paid for my services.
Lynn: Yeah, you gotta pay your bills, too.
Monique: It’s a great thing and this is how I’m gonna retire. I wanna just keep blessing and it’s so easy. I’m just keeping it right.
Lynn: Well, it’s easy for you, you know it comes naturally to you.
Monique: Yeah, exactly.
Lynn: That’s great. Do you have a favorite Jersey City hangout spot?
Monique: I’m all over. I go to Just Beclaws. I go to Cherry’s Lounge. That’s like, in the hood. The Factory. I’m not out all the time like I used to, but it just depends.
Lynn: I love it.
Monique: I’m everywhere.