Having worked in retail since age 16, Sharifa Murdock understands the business of fashion and rightfully so: She’s enjoyed a successful career in men’s fashion and is one of the powerhouses behind several fashion market shows. This black woman fashion designer dynamo connects with buyers, editors, stylists, fashion enthusiasts, bloggers, and influencers, proving she is leading the pack for women to thrive in the fashion world, which remains predominately led by male designers.
Murdock also has a mentoring program, The Brooklyn Intern as well as the newly minted ENVSN Festival.
For a deeper understanding of her journey, Black Cosmopolitan interviewed the designer about emerging and established brands, her daily work life, and why ‘paying it forward’ is always in vogue.
Black Cosmopolitan: How does it feel being an African American woman in a mostly white, male-dominated retail field?
Sharifa Murdock: Honestly, it wasn’t until I got older that I noticed a difference, and the short answer—I’m proud. I have been so fortunate throughout the years to work alongside someone, even at a young age, who never saw color or differences in races and this is the person who helped me become the businesswoman I am today. For the majority of my career, my work environment has been filled with people from all different backgrounds and filled with understanding and acceptance of different cultures. To that point, as I grew older in the fashion industry I realized how segregated the rest of the industry is and how hard it has been for the majority of African American women in this space. We’re surrounded by an industry that, on the surface, wants to promote “multi-centralism” but sometimes comes off in-genuine and insensitive. It’s those things that wake you up and make me appreciate the journey I’ve had and really empowers me to uplift other African American women in the industry.
Explain your introduction to the retail field.
I was young and hungry and just wanted to be part of the cool-kids-club. When I was 16 years old, there was a store called Atrium, down on Bleecker Street. It was the hottest store where every athlete, rapper, rock star was shopping and I just HAD to be part of it. I started off as a sales associate on the floor and worked my way up over the years to senior management. From there I ventured off working in-store and corporate for Louis Vuitton; change of pace to say the least. But it gave me the experience to work in a different setting and understand two different sides of the retail game. Ultimately, I ended up back at Atrium, which led me to launch tradeshows.
You juggle a lot of ventures including Liberty Fairs [an annual fashion tradeshow in New York]. You make it look effortless but I am sure it is demanding. How do you handle the stress of such a full workload?
It sounds cliché but if you do what you love, it’s not work. It’s honestly how I feel. Every day I get to have meetings with people I have the pleasure of calling my friends and meet new designers to discuss how we can help each other grow within the industry. There’s no normal schedule—it’s running around and making things up on the fly, always! With the ever-changing landscape of the retail industry you never know what you’re going to need to do next; one day I’m selling tradeshow booths, the next I’m planning a networking dinner to host at home with my chef husband: ‘Dinner with the Murdocks’ has become a specialty of ours.
This year we have seen a great number of African American female power movers and shakers: Essence Magazine’s return to 100% black ownership, Harlem Fashion Row’s shoe collaboration with LeBron James and Nike, and your involvement with the Cabana show [ a trade event focusing on swim, resort, and year-round travel lifestyle]. How have those moves changed the direction of the black buying market?
I don’t know if it’s changing the way we buy but it is for sure finally bringing recognition from places outside our own community that African American women are just as powerful as any other person in the workforce, if not more. The past year has given our community a stronger voice throughout all industries to say ‘we’re more than just entertainers or athletes’ and we don’t have to fit in this box that society has granted the norm for African Americans. We, as females, are strong and dedicated, but we, as black women, are unbreakable and determined to make our mark.
What are five things do you do to start your business day?
I have an actual routine: Get up early and workout; eat a healthy but tasty breakfast; pick an amazing outfit I know I’ll want to be photographed in (but with comfortable shoes, always); drive into work while FaceTiming my friends (I know that’s bad); get my daily dose of Oprah’s wisdom through her podcast
Why is the mentee/mentor relationship, especially with young women of color, so important to you?
It’s so important to me now because I never had it. I know I talk about how fortunate I’ve been in my work life throughout the years, but I actually never had someone that looks like me to guide me through the experiences I’ve had. There are times that something may happen, even something small, that makes you doubt your worth and it’s so important to have someone that you can have honest conversations with and ask, ‘Is this normal?’ or ‘Why are things this way?’ Having someone who can share their experiences with you for the good and the bad and have a little bit more of an understanding of what a controversial and crazy world we live in. Not to mention, this age of social media and what people choose to share about their lives online creates such a false expectation of success. Media, overall, also makes it seem “cool” to be in competition with the girl who is like you and encourages only one to be on top. I want to change that rhetoric; I want to help girls take the higher road and be true to themselves and help one another to be better as a whole. If we want to grow as a community, we need to break the stigma black women can’t work together. It’s so important to stop playing into this and start uplifting one another to make each of us, and us as a whole, great.
If you could give advice to burgeoning brands and even millennials about business what would it be?
Be true to you. Everyone is going to have an opinion on what’s best for you and what you need to do. Take criticism in a constructive way but trust your gut and know that you don’t have to fit into everyone else’s version of cool.
You have a heavy following on social media, specifically Instagram. How is social media important in today’s fashion and retail worlds?
It’s more important than we’d like to admit. It’s the driving channel of everything—it’s giving us access to information that, in decades past, have been impossible to come by unless you were in that very moment. It gives us access to other people’s lives, breaking news, global fashion, expectations, etc. For good or bad, it’s there and I hope that I can use mine in a positive way to showcase my story and my most genuine self.