Talking Shop: Retailers Ayesha Curry and Sherri McMullen discuss the importance of inclusion
Sherri McMullen’s early career experience as a buyer for Neiman Marcus helped kick-start her entrepreneurial journey, but it was her vision for representation that powered her intention. “For me, it was really important that if a young Black woman was walking by the store, she could pass by, come into the store, and see herself in this industry,” says the founder and CEO of McMullen, a luxury womenswear boutique showcasing designers from across the globe.
That drive to create inclusive spaces was also a motivator behind chef Ayesha Curry’s desire to extend her popular Sweet July lifestyle brand and magazine into a brick-and-mortar artisan store, dedicated to emerging Black-owned brands. “I’ve always seen a void for something that I wanted to be a part of ... so for me it was about making sure our team looks like all different types of people,” Curry says.
It’s stories like these that we aim to tell in our new series Talking Shop, a conversation space to amplify the profiles of Black and other underrepresented business leaders. In our first episode, McMullen and Curry chat about pivoting during the pandemic, digital’s impact on their businesses, and the best advice they’ve received.
Ayesha Curry: Hi, Sherri!
Sherri McMullen: Hi, Ayesha!
Ayesha Curry: So good to see you.
Sherri McMullen: So good to see you.
Ayesha Curry: My name's Ayesha Curry, and I am currently at my new flagship location
here in Oakland, California, Sweet July.
Sherri McMullen: I am Sherri McMullen.
I'm the founder of McMullen boutique here in Oakland.
I've had the business for 13 years now, and it is a luxury women's and lifestyle business
focused on emerging designers, female designers, and Black designers.
Sherri McMullen: Well Ayesha, you know, I've known you for, you know, well over 10
years now, and it's just really been such a pleasure, like watching you as a businesswoman
and as a community leader.
Sherri McMullen: Now to see that you have this booming food and lifestyle empire
… a chain of International Smoke Restaurants, a lifestyle line under Sweet July.
What inspired you to start your businesses?
Ayesha Curry: I’ve always seen a void for something that I want to have in my life
or something that I wanted to be a part of and it wouldn’t exist.
Ayesha Curry: I feel like Sweet July is really, like, a culmination of years of
trial and error and triumphs, failures, finding my own voice and finally getting to a place
where this is, this is everything that I've had in my head all these years finally coming
to fruition and exactly the way that I want it.
Ayesha Curry: Which I feel like makes me think of you and how we met many, many
Like we said, over a decade ago, I stumbled upon your first location of your store in
I would like to know a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur and how far you've
come because you’re such a powerhouse.
Sherri McMullen: I was always really curious to know about the behind the scenes,
like how did product get into the stores.
And in 2007, I started McMullen
Sherri McMullen: You know, every part of the business was really intentional, from
the mannequins that we had and my family portraits on the wall.
Because for me, it was really important thatif a young Black woman was walking by the
store, she could pass by, come into the store,and also see herself in this industry.
[TITLE CARD] Adjusting During The Pandemic
This is an important one, actually the pandemic -- what innovative ways, I guess,
have you come up with to try and keep up with that - to keep things going?
Sherri McMullen: We closed down.
But I think what it did was allow everyone in the industry to slow down, rethink about
how we can do business in a different way that actually made sense.
Sherri McMullen: So we were able to look at our business model and figure out ways
that we can actually enhance certain parts of it and then really pivot to the digital
Sherri McMullen: What we have seen is that we really want to focus on creating that
same story that we have created in the store -- really making customers feel like if
they go onto our site, they actually have an overall understanding of who we are as
a company, what our vision is.
Sherri McMullen: So the e-commerce business has - it’s really taken off.
Ayesha Curry: I think you've done an amazing job.
Ayesha Curry: I think YouTube was huge for me in the forward-facing nature of my
It gave me a voice and allowed me an avenue to show my personality and tell my own story.
Ayesha Curry: “Hey guys!
Welcome to the International Smoke popup!
Come on in!
Sherri McMullen: When you walk into Sweet July, it is, like such a happy space.
I'd love for you to talk about just the curation.
It's amazing to see so many artisans that you've been working with … so many black
designers that you've brought into the space.
Can you talk about that?
Ayesha Curry: Yes, I would love to.
For me it’s about inclusivity and diversity on a whole, So making sure that our team looks
like all different types of people.
Ayesha Curry: The best thing that I've learned along the way or advice that I’ve
gotten is to realize that with business, it’s not a sprint .. it’s a marathon.
And so if things take a little bit longer, it’s okay because you want to be here to
last … not here today, gone tomorrow.
Ayesha Curry: What are some exciting things or some goals that you have for yourself
looking, let's say five years ahead?
Sherri McMullen: I really want to continue to grow the McMullen brand and continuing
to bring in these amazing designers from all over the world and really being the leader
in the industry in that way.
Sherri McMullen: How about you, Ayesha?
Ayesha Curry: When it comes to Sweet July, I would love to just make sure we're
staying on top of what it is we've created and staying true to our ethos.
Ayesha Curry: I loved talking to you!
Sherri McMullen: I loved talking to you!
Ayesha Curry: Well thank you, Sherri.
Sherri McMullen: Thank you, Ayesha!