JouJou Elreda-Safa is the style behind accessory boutique Bijuju
It’s high noon and hotter than a pair of four-inch-high heels. But a balmy breeze that flutters through the table umbrella overhead on the Gordon Biersch patio is just enough relief to cool the conversation over lunch and sweating glasses of sweet tea.
“I’m an observer,” JouJou Elreda-Safa says. “I think that’s what makes me a good buyer.”
There’s much to observe in the fashion sense of passersby at The Market Common today, from twenty-somethings who look like they just rolled off their sandy beach towels to pretty women perfectly primped in their summer brights and designer shades.
Elreda-Safa, head buyer, creative director and co-founder of Bijuju Accessory Boutique, is making a flawless statement today in a white tank, ripped jeans and nude sling-backs that she owns with comfortable confidence. “I love shoes, and everyone needs a good pair of jeans,” she says, pushing a strand of black hair behind her ear. “I’ve had a thing for ripped jeans since the fourth grade—it’s my signature. And my hoops! Hoop earrings look fantastic on anyone. It instantly dresses you up.
“I love basics and dressing them up, like a white T-shirt and adding a skirt, heels or a clutch or scarf. Oh, and a pair of Converse—white or gray—I’d wear them with a dress.”
Starting with the basics on a body or an empty shell of a shop and transforming it by hand into something successful and beautiful was Elreda-Safa’s destiny. She started up Bijuju (formerly Vanity) nearly 10 years ago and now co-owns nine locations throughout the Carolinas with her husband, Abe, and brother-in-law, Rob. The two men in the trio actually came up with the idea for an accessory boutique.
“But then I came in and was like, ‘We have to do it my way,’” she recalls. “My whole thing is creating things from scratch. But I never really envisioned myself in retail, honestly. My dream was always to be an archeologist or anthropologist. And now this has been one of the best experiences of my life.”
Elreda-Safa and her hubby—and best friend of 14 years, she says—moved as newlyweds from Brooklyn to Myrtle Beach in 1998. She finished her undergrad courses at Coastal Carolina University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“There wasn’t anything in that field here, so I took some photography classes and took a year off to find myself, so to speak,” she says. “I love, love, love to read, I love history and I love to travel so much.”
Little did she know she’d be able to utilize her passion for travel as inspiration for her Bijuju buying trips. The Safas traveled last September to both Paris and the ancient city of Marrakesh, Morocco, where Elreda-Safa says standing in a town square there on a Saturday night, soaking in the cultural buzz, she “never felt so alive.”
“It helps to see how women dress from city to city and country to country,” she continues. “Sometimes fashion trends aren’t just fed from clothing, but also home design. Morocco was huge a couple years ago. I follow those trends as well, and fabrics. … Right now in our store, for instance, we have these new beautiful beaded clutches from India and I must have one in every color!”
Buying for the boutique takes a lot of immersion research, whether it’s in the streets and sexy stores of New York or in the Southern comfort of her new home here in Myrtle Beach. Bijuju, she says, is a good balance of both North and South.
“I think the Southern woman has a fantastic style all on her own and is becoming known for being a little more fashionable nowadays,” says Elreda-Safa. “She’s very bold and she loves her accessories—and I love it. When you go to New York, it’s all about being hip and chic and cool. Here, it’s more honest. If a Southern woman likes a big green and yellow necklace, she will wear it and wear a matching dress and it looks fabulous on her.”
Bijuju’s mantra is for all women to: “Be Bold. Be Beautiful.” Elreda-Safa knows women want what’s hot, but also what works into their daily lives. “So I try to find pieces that are both—classy, like pearls, or the trendy big bauble necklaces that you wear with a T-shirt,” she says. “Accessories are the one thing that any woman of any size, any color, any body shape can walk in and buy. They can make you stand out; it’s personal.”
Buying for her stores is also very personal for Elreda-Safa, first generation American, born of Lebanese parents and the older sister to three brothers. She speaks fluent Arabic and all of her immediate family immigrated to the states, her dad in the 1960s.
But it’s the strong women in her family—her grandmother, mother and aunt, in particular—who are the collective source of her inspiration.
“My grandma is in her 70s and is the classiest person ever,” says Elreda-Safa. “Whenever I’m buying for the store, I always think grandmother, mother, aunt … because everyone’s so unique and has a different point of view on everything. Let’s just say that when we get together, it’s certainly interesting! ... They’re such a big part of me.”
Her grandmother moved here in the 1970s from Lebanon because of a civil war, not speaking a lick of English; her mother was 13 at the time. Her grandma went on to work as a seamstress and run her own design business in Brooklyn, even sewing pieces for Jones New York and working for Kleinfeld Bridal (of Say Yes to the Dress fame) for many years.
Elreda-Safa’s mother married very young (she gave birth to Elreda-Safa when she was 17), then went on to raise four children, donate her kidney and survive a double mastectomy. Her aunt battled through a divorce and raised two daughters on her own.
“That’s why I have such a strong sense of family,” she says.
And her Bijuju family is 60 to 100 members strong. “We’re all about employing and empowering hundreds of women who have used Bijuju as a stepping stone along the way,” she says. “Some stay all throughout high school, college, and we watch them grow—that’s huge for us. I strike friendship with a lot of girls, and I’d like to think I’ve made an impact on them. ... I treat them the way I’d want to be treated.”
Elreda-Safa also has a big heart for charity. She is co-founder of Feed a Family, established in 2004 in Myrtle Beach to deliver meals to those in need during Christmas. The group began packaging 250 meals out of the kitchen in Thoroughbreds and has now grown to delivering nearly 1,000 meals.
She also believes that anything is possible if you believe in it and work hard at it, which has been her life story—especially her chapter on Bijuju.
“We had an idea and just went with it. ... What makes us different is that we’re still very homegrown, not corporate—and very connected to our customers, who will even text us if they have an issue.”
And she’s very closely connected to the idea that every customer should own her own style—not something that’s in style—whether it’s a bauble necklace or a vintage broach, a pendant necklace or pearls.
“Every woman should feel celebrated who walks through our door,” says Elreda-Safa. “Feel special no matter what she’s buying. And I think we do that.”
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF JOUJOU ELREDA-SAFA