WORDS BY JOSEPH FURNESS
Drive is the innate ability to continuously push oneself forward towards goals and challenges, no matter how far-fetched they are. While speaking with Sherri McMullen – founder of McMullen concept boutique – it quickly became evident that she possesses this ability in abundance.
Prior to founding her namesake boutique, McMullen worked in fashion retail as a buyer: first for Neiman Marcus and later for Pottery Barn Kids. During her tenure at these big-time retailers, she couldn’t escape the feeling that she was destined for more, which led her to dream up her own conceptual space.
Eventually, McMullen decided to take the risk and put her ideas into practice, using her savings and a small loan from family and friends. It paid off. Now, she’s a successful businesswoman with a sizable boutique in Downtown Oakland – living proof that life is what you make it.
Below, Sherri McMullen shares her thoughts on the contemporary fashion landscape, luxe store interiors, empowering women and the secret to timeless style. Who knows, perhaps she’ll inspire you to embrace new beginnings this spring, too.
What makes McMullen different to other California-based boutiques?
McMullen brings global fashion, personal discovery and sartorial experiences to the modern woman. What makes McMullen unique from any other retailer is our point of view: it hasn’t changed since the store’s inception. We aim to support emerging brands, female designers and designers of color. As a Black woman buyer, mentor and influencer, Black designers have always been important to me. Every aspect of my business is intentional: from the curated designers we stock to the brown mannequins located around the store.
Speaking of the designers, you’ll find the most captivating mix of fashion and homeware brands at McMullen. There are established designers such as Proenza Schouler, young designers such as Christopher John Rogers and emerging designers such as Lisa Folawiyo.
Why did you choose to open your store in Oakland?
When I came to Oakland, I instantly fell in love with the city’s spirit – it felt like the right place for my store and me. I was fortunate enough to find a small retail space that was under development. Walking into the empty, sun-lit space, I instantly envisioned the McMullen boutique.
What are the core values of McMullen?
Above all, we value the relationships we have with our customers, partners and community. I always say that what we do goes way beyond fashion. McMullen is all about empowering women and giving them a safe space to explore – it’s a shared space. We hold events celebrating our designers; we have a panel to discuss women in film; we have open conversations about topics such as motherhood and Black women’s health. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
How does your store illustrate your personal style?
The store’s decor is based on my personal style: minimalistic with a touch of ’70s glam. There’s rich mustard carpets, deep pink velvet curtains, fringe chandeliers and portraits of the women in my family hanging on the walls. My aim has always been to create a space in which women can feel good about themselves and all can feel welcome.
How have you and the rest of the McMullen team coped with the challenges of the pandemic?
As we all know, 2020 was a year of uncertainty, a year that the team at McMullen will never forget. Truth be told, we are still dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, but we're now seeing some light. Last year, we took the opportunity to slow down and evaluate the future of the business. Like most businesses, we know that digital platforms are increasingly important. We continue to move forward with partners that grow as we do, helping each other through a time of change. It’s important for us to support our community.
What are the most exciting brands and collections for 2021?
What will your 2021 summer capsule wardrobe consist of?
This summer, I’ll be wearing Tove silk and cotton dresses and wide-leg cropped cotton trousers, Jade one-piece bodysuits, bandeau tops, Bottega Veneta ankle wrap sandals and Khiry and Third Crown jewelry. And I’ve recently decided that my go-to bag for the summer is Ree Projects white fringe crossbody.
Talking colors, I have a penchant for soft shades – whites, sands, camels and nudes – and this summer, I’m looking forward to pairing these neutrals with pastel pink. I’m particularly looking forward to wearing pink dresses designed by Rachel Comey and pink suits by Proenza Schouler. Additionally, I’ll be wearing knits and tees in neon brights.
According to McMullen, what’s the secret to timeless style?
I always tell customers and those closest to me that the secret to timeless style is to buy what you love and wear it often. I lead by example and wear high-quality pieces ad infinitum. And if I do stop wearing a garment, I'll donate it to someone who'll love it more than me. Always remember that people will recognize your style more than the specific items you’re wearing.
What’s one accessory every woman should own?
I find it too difficult to choose one, but my top four are a signature scent, a trademark lip color, a classic handbag and, last but not least, a smile. Regarding handbags, my two favorites are my Phoebe Philo-era Celine bag and my quilted Chanel handbag complete with gunmetal hardware.
Finally, how has FARFETCH had a positive impact on your business?
I've been working with FARFETCH for almost a decade; McMullen was one of the first US boutiques to join the platform. In the early years, we didn’t have an e-commerce platform; therefore, joining FARFETCH was a great business opportunity.
The highlight of my relationship with FARFETCH so far is when I launched Maki Oh on the platform back in 2016. It was so rewarding to know that I played a part in helping the Nigerian brand reach a global audience.
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