“I always knew I wanted to work for myself,” Sharene “Shay” Wood remembers of the decision that inspired her to co-found custom clothing company 5001 Flavors with her friend, now husband, Guy. Impressed by Guy Wood’s tailored style, a music label rep approached him to style and act as an image consultant for an artist. Shay, then in college at Columbia University, partnered with him.
“From that job,” Wood explains, the referrals started rolling in. “We went from one client to two to 10 to 20… and helped create the look of a lot of up-and-coming artists who went from obscurity to fame almost instantly. One of the interns on an early shoot was Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs. Befriending that intern [led] to working with this entire roster of artist[s] [at] Bad Boy.”
After two decades building 5001 Flavors, working with artists including Will Smith, Alicia Keys, Dwyane Wade, and Jennifer Lopez, the Woods have opened a companion store, Harlem Haberdashery. We asked the president and CEO how she juggles both businesses, her thoughts on the stereotypes that make caricatures of “boss ladies,” and her opinion on the recent news that Facebook and Apple are expanding their employee perks to include egg freezing.
MadameNoire: Designing custom looks for celebrities can be a 24/7 job in and of itself. What motivated you to extend the brand with Harlem Haberdashery?
Sharene Wood: 5001 FLAVORS was in business for 20 years when Guy and I knew we wanted to open a retail shop. We wanted to keep the custom division catering to our celebrity clientele in tact and separate and came up with the concept of Harlem Haberdashery… [to cater] to stylish individuals that had their own red carpet moments and had their own unique fashion sensibility.
MN: Did you have any prior experience in retail?
SW: We did not have prior retail experience, but had 20 years of business experience with 5001 FLAVORS and knew that we had a great consumer base uptown that loved our style and wanted designers that [were] not being sold there.
MN: Why open a brick-and-mortar versus an online shop?
SW: 5001 FLAVORS has always been a consultant-based business. We knew we wanted to open a store to serve as a brand statement from its design and decor to its product offering. We wanted to create a brand destination spot for our fans, followers and pre-existing client base that lovingly brought over from 5001 FLAVORS.
MN: You’ve successfully run a business with your husband for two decades. What’s your advice to people currently working with or considering going into business with a spouse/family member?
SW: We both work together to create a business legacy for our family. That is the main focus of everything that we do at home and at work. You have to have respect for one another in each role that each family member has to assume. You have to create boundaries and balance so that spending so much time together is a joy and not a hassle.
MN: There are so many caricatures of “boss ladies.” How do you define yourself as a boss?
SW: I am a mother, wife, sister and then a boss. I consider all my titles as important and vital. I think we all should consider ourselves bosses so that we are all accountable for our own successes and failures. Being a boss is being in control of your own destiny and I have always been the captain of my soul, master of my ship even when I didn’t have the title.
MN: Recently, Facebook and Apple announced they are offering their female employees a $20,000 egg freezing perk. What do you think of this benefit?
SW: I wonder who thought this was a needed benefit. [I] hope it helps females who are interested in that perk, but I think that flexible working schedules, [and/or] at-home working arrangements would be very beneficial to working moms and dads. I have a six year old and I know that it truly takes a village to help raise that child. I think we need to create a balance so that mothers do not have to feel like they need to delay parenting to be able to have the home/ work success that we all dream of.
MN: What is your advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
SW: Network with like-minded individual individuals. Educate yourself about technology, organizations and community and industry resources so that you are always well connected.
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of Powder Necklace. Her fiction is included in Africa39: New Writing from Africa south of the Sahara. Follow her on Twitter @nanaekua.
If you want to be a boss, you have to think like one. Check out more on our first annual selection of MN Bosses here.