Before the Black Fashion Revolution in 2020, one woman decided to take matters into her own hands in 2007. Founder Sherri McMullen of the namesake Oakland boutique sought to bring emerging luxury and Black designers to the forefront. This year, McMullen marks 15 years of business with an exclusive curation, an exciting launch, and cementing McMullen the store and the fashion innovator herself as a powerhouse in the industry.
“It’s been quite a journey over the last 15 years,” McMullen tells ESSENCE. “Thinking about where we started in our small but beautiful space on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland to where we are today with a growing retail business. It feels really good.”
Fashion has always been prevalent in McMullen’s life. She reminisces on her early days in Oklahoma. She has a keen eye on what the women in her family, or fashion icons as she described, flaunted, from headscarves and shift dresses to cowboy boots and kaftans. That inspiration led her to pursue a business degree in college, becoming a buyer for Neiman Marcus, Williams-Sonoma, and Pottery Barn Kids. Once her journey landed in Oakland, California, McMullen was galvanized by the city, which determined her willingness to own her own. “There’s so much history in Oakland, and I fell in love with the city’s spirit, the sense of community, how people were embracing small businesses and continuing to support them. So it felt like it was the right time to do it.”
The debut of the McMullen Boutique solidified Sherri as a pioneer in fashion by filling the most considerable void of all – the placement and buys of Black and Brown designers, both newcomers and established. McMullen’s keen eye has grown sharper in 2022. The specialty retailer currently features over 80 designers, 40% being Black designers, including Sergio Hudson, LaQuan Smith, and Brandon Blackwood, and has become a preeminent destination for high fashion wear.
“I knew I wanted to create something different,” said McMullen. “I wanted a place where we could support young and emerging designers because you didn’t find that at the time. When I opened in 2007, for us, it was really about the discovery.”
All Black designers vividly remember their big break into the industry, and for the estimable Christopher John Rogers, McMullen played a key role. In an interview with Vogue, Rogers reveals how McMullen Boutique was their first brick-and-mortar for his first season in 2019, “She’s always been such an ardent supporter of me and my business. She understands my point of view and how to articulate it to her clients.” It’s no coincidence the designer was featured in McMullen’s 15 for 15 capsule collection showcase, celebrating the boutique’s anniversary and fashion activism.
During our interview, McMullen gives ESSENCE a first look at one of the garments featured as she models Roger’s blue ribbed polo knit dress with colorful peek-a-boo pleats retailing for $1,495, saying it’s her current favorite winter staple. “It feels really good on the body,” McMullen details. “I love a monochromatic look and punchy color, of course. This is my first time wearing it because it’s the first time anyone has seen it. You’re the first.” Additional pieces among the collection include a chocolate satin bias cut dress by NOMIA ($595) and a bright Fuschia Lockwood Dress by Kamperett ($1,200).
As factions of the fashion industry continue to stay grounded in gatekeeping, McMullen is determined to break barriers — and what’s next for the retailer is access. In 2023, McMullen plans on implementing an incubator program to grant featured emerging designers the space to be more hands-on in the industry with opportunities for an exceptional workspace and networking fortuity, as well as a 10,000-square-foot distribution center to do so. “We’ll be able to support young designers differently by providing resources and logistics to help them ship products and give them the tools they need to succeed in the actual business part of the industry.”
With a successful specialty shop, McMullen continues to devote and advocate for Black designers. Who better to learn from than the best?
Here’s to the next 15 years!