“Gray and Jourdan sittin’ in a tree, paintin’ up signs, for you and me. First came…”
No marriage. At least, not to each other. And no baby carriages filled with kids they’ve made together will follow in this remake of a childhood song.
What follows is an interview that’s a story of love, friendship and creativity.
Back in 1997 in Yadkinville North Carolina, two little kids found each other. They met in kindergarten at the tender age of five. Gray was a shy little boy with blonde hair and Jourdan was an energetic and outspoken little brown girl who enjoyed sports.
Race and religion never presented themselves as boundaries between the two. As children they were one’s yin to the others yang. Gray was shy with most, but not with Jourdan. And even back then he was a creative soul who often drew pictures for Jourdan. She used Gray’s creations to decorate her notebook binders and was quite proud to do so.
Around the time when Gray Phillips was turning 20 years old he told his buddy Jourdan Hawkins he liked boys before he told anyone else.
“I honestly think since he came out, he’s more comfortable with being himself and now he’s outgoing, self-assured and more confident in himself. Thank goodness and way to go Gray.”
At the time of Gray’s coming out, his family, southern and quite, religious were not accepting of having an LGBT person in the fold. Fortunately Jourdan and her family have always been accepting of the two being friends and Gray’s coming out never changed that. In 2010, the inseparable two relocated from Yadkinville to Charlotte.
Gray came first and couldn’t imagine embarking on a new journey in a new town without his best friend. So, covertly, he filled out an interest application at a Charlotte university, in Jourdan’s name. Shortly after, a college representative telephoned Jourdan about her application and the next thing you know, she was taking a tour, enrolling in school and following her bestie with a move to Charlotte.
Today, the two have their own romantic partners and still remain best friends, living near each other in the same apartment complex in Mathews. They’re also in business together as co-owners of The Green Giraffe – a custom sign company.
Qnotes: What is The Green Giraffe?
Gray: [We’re] a custom wood shop.
Qnotes: What makes your shop different from any other wood shop?
Gray: A few things, starting with when we say custom. We mean custom. People can come to use with any idea, any text, any color [suggestion] or no idea at all and we’re going to turn it out for them. We also provide exceptional customer service and make sure our customers 100 percent satisfied.
Qnotes: How’d you get into this?
Gray: One night last year [October 2021], Jourdan and I were hanging out at my apartment playing with paint and drinking wine. We were just being creative and having fun with it. We wanted a welcome sign for our doors. I made one for mine and she made one for hers. After we finished, we showed our family, and the reaction was all positive – they instantly wanted one and started asking if we could do different things with colors and text. We then started researching – kinda just to find out what products, paint and stain colors to go with different designs and also to find out if other area businesses were doing this. We’re now licensed for North and South Carolina.
Qnotes: How’d you turn an idea into a business?
Gray: We started on social media and word-of-mouth. We were attending different pop-up shops and a flea market in South Carolina. Then we heard about the Painted Trees Boutique in Matthews. It’s like a big warehouse where tons of small business have booth space. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. The timing was right, and the location was great. So, we met with one of the managers to discuss the requirements and signed a yearlong contract. The Green Giraffe now has a Brick-and-Mortar home in booth W2 and we love it.
Qnotes: Any plans for when the lease is up?
Gray: When the year is over, we plan to have bigger and better things coming, whether that means re-signing the lease of expanding into other locations.
Qnotes: What kind of signs do you make?
Gray: Currently we offer a 17” round sign, 4 or 5-foot vertical signs and bottle opener signs [square shaped signs with bottle openers attached], T-Shirts with our company logo on them and noodle boards. Noodle boards are like stove top covers.
Qnotes: How long do you see yourselves doing this?
Gray: I don’t see myself ever not doing it.
Jourdan: For a long time, until we can hire people to do it for us.
Qnotes: It’s been said, you shouldn’t engage in business with family or friends. What do you say to that?
Gray: It can be challenging but at the end of the day, what’s not a challenge?
Jourdan: That’s because they’ve never worked with Jourdan Hawkins (giggles)
Qnotes: What would you say to those interested in turning a craft into a livelihood?
Gray: Just do it. Stay focused and positive and get your bag.
Qnotes: What are you doing when you’re not painting/working on signs?
Gray: Graphic Design.
Qnotes: Life seems pretty good and filled with quite a few smiles. What makes you frown?
Gray: Dishonesty. I pride myself on being loyal and honest, so if you can’t be those things, it’s a wrap. Other than that, not clearing the seconds on the microwave. Makes my blood boil!