In honor of Black History Month, FN is recognizing African-American movers and shakers in the shoe industry. From rising stars to accomplished executives, here’s how they’re making waves and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
It came full circle for Sherri McMullen when she opened her namesake womenswear boutique on the West Coast.
The Oklahoma City native — whose entrepreneurial spirit was born years before she majored in business — started her career as an accountant in Dallas and later transitioned into a buying role within Neiman Marcus.
But, McMullen truly hit her stride when she took her expertise to Oakland, Calif., where she launched a tastefully curated clothing and accessories store that has garnered a cult following of sartorialists and influencers, with its intermix of haute couture like Jacquemus and under-the-radar labels such as Kamperett and Maki Oh.
A decade after opening her namesake boutique — McMullen is finding even greater inspiration in mothering her two-year-old son, Frederick.
“The work that we do today will impact our children and the younger generation,” she said, noting that she’s shifted some of her focus to advocating for issues such as gender equality. (Her store’s inventory consists of predominantly female designers.) “I’m constantly looking for new talent, and the designers who inspire me the most happen to be women who are telling a story through their work and producing responsibly.”
What made you want to pursue a career in the fashion industry?
“I studied business in college and always had a curiosity for how product got into the stores. I always loved fashion, but the business side peaked my interest — that is when I decided to pursue buying as my career path. That corporate experience ultimately led me to open my own business. Here I am over 10 years later.”
What has been the biggest obstacle/challenge you’ve faced along the way?
“Juggling all areas of the business plus balancing work and family. As the business grew, I had less time for myself [and] my family, and I knew I had to make some changes.”
How did you overcome it?
“I delegated and realized that I had to take more time for myself. My [personal] time and time with my son have become my priority. If I have to work late, I make sure that it’s not multiple days in a row, or I will get up early before exercising to get things done. It’s a constant juggle.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
“Stay true to yourself, and let your instinct guide you through many situations.”
Is there anything you would have done differently?
“I wouldn’t change a thing.”
What advice would you give other African-Americans looking to enter the fashion industry?
“If you are looking to go into buying, take business classes. It will give you an advantage. Companies look for students with strong analytical skills since buying is so much about the numbers and running a business. Get internships whenever possible. Gain the experience and start building your network. Look for a mentor — someone who can help you navigate through the industry.”
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