"What I would want a girl to know is that she is enough. She is enough to be loved, she is enough to exist without her family or even without a relationship. I think that we have to teach young girls to be complete in themselves so a mate will compliment them."
Sharene Wood has been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry, starting with her work as founding partner of 5001 FLAVORS and Harlem Haberdashery. A fervent supporter of education and community empowerment, she serves on the board of Black Women for Black Girls and is a philanthropic supporter of the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem, #TakeCareofHarlem, Food Bank of New York, and Y.E.S. (Young Executives For Success). The passionate entrepreneur has embraced the same qualities she has taught to young budding millennials in her creations of 5001 FLAVORS and Harlem Haberdashery. Kicking off our first “Ladies First” interview, Sharene takes us on her trailblazing journey to entrepreneurship sharing her most memorable life lessons and the rewards of turning her passion into a family business in her neighborhood of Harlem.
Wood’s career as an entrepreneur began in the mid-1990’s as a 20-year-old pre-law student at Columbia University. She was a full-time student, a part-time employee, and a business owner. At the time her business partner turned husband, sociology major Guy Wood asked Sharene to be his business partner. Sharene, a master organizer, said yes to Guy’s partnership offer and with $600, a strong vision, and not even a computer but instead just a word processor, the dream was born. The small dorm room business grew into a successful empire with no outside funding and the old school tradition of word of mouth marketing. See our intimate conversation about family, womanhood, and motherhood below:
Ladies First: Talk to me a little bit about how you grew up here in Harlem and the family circle you come from.
Sharene Wood: I grew up in a very large family. I grew up with my mom who was a teenage mom. Um, I remember when my mom graduated from high school. I grew up in Harlem, went to P.S. 200 on 150th until 6th grade. I was chosen to go to Prep for Prep while I was in the gifted and talented program at P.S. 200. I went to Prep for Prep which prepared me academically, socially, financially and it sent me to private school. So, I went to Riverdale Country School for middle school and high school, but I have very strong roots in Harlem. My family is here and I have over 100 relatives still here in Harlem. So, for me Harlem is home. Like I said, I grew up in a large family surrounded by love and aunts and uncles and grandparents that really kind of made me who I am. I have a strong sense of family and I was always encouraged to do things.
Ladies First: Yea, how does that dynamic work? How to you find yourself in a large family?
Sharene Wood: You have to have a voice because you get lost. Growing up in a big family made me understand the value of cooperative community. How things work and how you have to put the work together to make the family work. So, I’ve always had a great understanding of how a family should operate. Our family was so large that other people who didn’t have large families would attach themselves to our family because they loved that vibe of the closeness we shared.
Ladies First: Do you remember when your creative process first began within your big family? Do you remember those first things you loved to do as a girl?
Sharene Wood: Well, has more cousins started to born in my family, it was really like a mini summer camp in the summer time when we would go to my grandmother’s. So I began to assume a leadership role within the family. Even it was, who is going to pour the milk divided my 15, I always assumed the leadership role or just like being in charge. People call it bossy, I call it leadership.
Ladies First: (laughs) So, it was a natural innate thing for you to take charge and organize things.
Sharene Wood: Well, I have my mom to thank for that, who is very opinionated and has a strong personality. She is where I kind of get my voice from. Now as an adult, I appreciate that because she taught me to speak up and teach the world how to treat me.
Ladies First: When you say, you mom taught you how to speak up, do you remember that moment when you have to really put that voice to the test or when you began an adult in that aspect?
Sharene Wood: For me, I don’t necessary think I remember when I became an adult, but I knew that for me there was a definite um, elevation of my maturity level when I started traveling to private school. Only because one, I had to travel a bit further for my education. But really as a 7th grader leaving Harlem and literally getting on the train and going up to my private school, the disparity between education and opportunity, was so obvious to me, that it kind of shook my core. Because then I would come back to the community and then I saw what was being offered to my family. And so, for me, it wasn’t an adulthood moment, but it was kind of an awakening moment. And I realized that there are two different worlds out there. And there is a huge disparity in a lot of different things. Things like the aesthetics of your community, what you eat at school, trips you go on, what you learn, and what you talk about in school. I know the biggest difference was my cousins would ask, “Are you going to school? Vs. my classmates asking, “What school are you going to?” So even the conversations were very different at the school I went to. This really opened my eyes to seeing what was out there outside of my community.
Ladies First: What is it that you and your daughter practice?
Sharene Wood: Well it is your job as a parent to understand that it’s your job to make your child's life easier by saying this works and this doesn’t. Don’t do that, this is what you should do and this is what I want you to do. Sometimes girls aren’t taught that they should demand to be treated a certain way. And so, I always tell my daughter, “Please don’t talk to me that way because I don’t want anyone talking to you that way.” This is why I say you really do have to put out into the world what you want back for yourself. I realized this is important especially now as a mom because it’s going to be over really soon and so I pray her future spouse is doing the same building and having the same conversations.
Ladies First: What has been your biggest realization within motherhood and the responsibilities you are expected to fulfill ?
Sharene Wood: My biggest realization about my responsibilities as a woman clicked for me when I had a child. I got it. It clicked. There is a huge accountability that you realize is now yours when you have a child. That moment you leave the hospital and go, "Ok, this is all me now." Kids don't come with instruction manuals and your really do ha start moving and planning with intention. I mean, I can remember coming home from the hospital, taking a moment and I sat down and said to myself, "ok" and I have a picture when I took that moment and I am giving my daughter a kiss and I said I will do the best that could possibly do to be the best teacher for her. I realized everything that I am doing is a legacy for her and her kids. I became super conscience because I understood that her success is my success. It is not a job I take lightly and I really wish that everyone was doing the same.
Ladies First: When you say, you wish that everyone was doing the same, what do you believe every girl should begin to love and understand about themselves individually?
Sharene Wood: What I would want a girl to know is that she is enough. She is enough to be loved, she is enough to exist without her family or even without a relationship. I think that we have to teach young girls to be complete in themselves so a mate will compliment them. A lot of women don't get that. I am not saying you don't need a man, but I am saying that you have to be able to be self-sufficient, happy with yourself, and happy with your choices. You have to be self-reliant and be able to stand up on your own and make your own decisions.
Ladies First: Was that belief apart of your connection in becoming the board member of Black Women for Black Girls?
Sharene Wood: Well I always felt a social responsibility working in our retail store and its other business. I always feel really blessed, but there is still a social responsibility to give back especially in Harlem. So it was important for me and my family to be a place that did not just consume the community but lead the community. We like to look nice here at Harlem Haberdashery but we also want our community to look nice as well. This is why we started working with #greenerlenox, #believeinablackgirl, #elegantforprom to help the community. I always say, "look good, live good, feel good!" Those are kind of my motos and working with the organization Black Women for Black Girls was just another step in fulfilling community philanthropy. Officially Black Women for Black Girls is a charity giving circle kind of network with like-minded sisters designed to help the positive development of Black girls in the New York City area. One of our signature programs is our annual if the "College Shower"
Ladies First: Yes, I love, love, love this idea of a college shower, tell me how you became involved.
Sharene Wood: The main reason I became involved with Black Women for Black Girls is because of the "College Shower". I loved that concept! Joi Gordon who is one of the founders and is President and CEO of Dress for Success, my mom works at Dress for Success, so Joi is a great friend and mentor who basically came to me and said you're gonna join this organization. (laughs). But when I heard about the mission and the programs it was a no brainer. There is a financial commitment for 2 years as a charity member and the goal is to amass financial resources to go out to different organizations to help the girls. The "College Shower" is a fantastic opportunity to kind of acknowledge as a Black woman the love for another Black girl of the next generation. We all say that we are just big Black girls over here at BWBG but really it is us paying homage to the sisters and letting them know that we see you, we acknowledge you, we want to help you. We have a nomination process and the girls are either referred and or we reach out to them directly through organizations or guidance counselors. Girls must be a graduation senior going into a college. We prefer students to live on campus to get the full experience but that is not a requirement. We feel like living on campus deepens the college experience and so we try to steer the girls in that direction.
Some girls are first generation college students, some girls do not have the full support of their families, others are raised by their grandparents and some are just girls who want the opportunity for a great future. We get to know the girls through the application process as they answer a series of questions about their inspirations, thier upbringing, and their future goals. Members on the board like myself all vote to choose about 5-10 girls each year. every year our commitment is to add two more girls than the previous year so that we increase our reach. Each young lady chosen is paired up with a sister to register for everything she needs to go to college. our goal is to assist them in receiving all the things they need for the college to be successful. and we know for many parents receiving that college list of things is overwhelming and huge financial commitment. This is our way of rewarding the girls who are doing great things and a way for us to counteract the Baby Shower craze happening amongst teenage mothers. We decided to celebrate those young women doing what they were supposed to do and it's a wonderful opportunity. Yes, we have an actual shower where the girls come with their families and they get to really experience what it is like to be supported and surrounded by love.
Ladies First: And for my final wrap up question, what are you most proud of to date that you have accomplished
Sharene Wood: For me its being an entreprenuer and creating something out of nothing. It's really easy to sit there and dream about what you're going to do, but the hardest thing to do is to go from concept to manifestation. I am proud to create my own economy because I knew I wanted to be my own boss and it would always be uptown. And I always knew it would be something different that I would create uptown because I didn't feel like we had the best aeshteic and services. I knew once I went below 96 street I could receive good things, but as a Harlem girl that annoyed me about the neighboorhood. It was very obvious, but I knew I had to change it. One thing I never like was us recieveing less than we deserved and that was something I was adminat about changing in Harlem. I am pround that I have created a family business and a legacy that I can leave my child.
Ladies First: Sharene that was awesome, thanks so much! It's a wrap that was my last question.
"Most of the time I feel like Super Lady and sometimes I'm Super Lady with a hole in my cape, you know. But change is season to season, day to day, so it's about evloving on different levels on every plain of your life."