Walking into Harlem Haberdashery as an inner city native, I was instantly drawn to the historic hip-hop vibe and the elegance of the decoration. HH is a cozy and unassuming boutique fit for a comfortable shopping experience. Gazing at the dark wooden furniture, I was blown away by the details of the aesthetic as well as the welcoming energy that I received from each person. I walked in on Shay Wood, CEO being styled by her good friend and colleague Louis Johnson, dressing her in a trendy yet classically casual ensemble and some killer heels. Although I was there to interview her, I instantly gravitated towards a Biggie painting on the back wall, where she eventually joined me and we began to chat about music and her beloved Harlem. I knew that I was in a home of hip-hop.
If you are familiar with Harlem and its rich culture, you should know about the family-owned business that has been a part of the city for over 20 years. Harlem Haberdashery is the city of New York’s official destination for fashion, events and the home to the renowned custom clothing brand, 5001 Flavors.
A rustic ambience, decorated with paintings of iconic black role models and artists, antique furniture, and darks shades of colors pervading each wall; the Haberdashery is a brilliant representation of Harlem’s proud culture, right in the heart of the neighborhood. Located on 245 Lenox Blvd. and 123rd street, the quaint boutique is home to custom pieces from local designers, the distinguished custom clothing brand 5001 Flavors, and Harlem Haberdashery’s signature retail brand.
PYNK got to spend an evening with the ladies of Harlem Haberdashery, CEO and president Shay Wood, clothing designer and relative Brittny, and partner Shay Harris. Speaking with Wood helped paint a picture of the important role that HH plays in the Harlem community. 24 years ago, Shay and her husband Guy Wood had a vision to create something that the Harlem youth and community could look up to and be proud of. Their passion soon birthed the brand that offers quality, custom designs for upcoming artists. Since then, 5001 Flavors has become a fashion staple in the entertainment industry, working with major talents including: Diddy, Fat Joe, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown, Dwayne Wade and more.
The Wood family got their start working for Uptown Records as a consulting and styling company bringing unique statement pieces that exuded hip-hop and exemplified the personal style of their famed clients. Two decades of success later and the Wood’s finally decided to give their unique clothing ideas a home—and three years ago, Harlem Haberdashery came into fruition.
Working with big names like Diddy, Shay and Guy were able to increase their network and gain experience, which eventually led to more opportunities with industry movers.
“We started working at uptown records when Heavy D was on the roster. Our clientele evolved as our projects evolved. The intern at the time, Puff, eventually branched off to create his own record label and he had producers and artists…the experience of working with one client ultimately evolved into working with several others.” -Shay Wood
Today, Harlem Haberdashery is home to their HH signature brand and a few other brands from young upcoming designers and creatives in the family. Spawned from 5001 Flavors, HH prides themselves in creating unique pieces that make their clients feel like celebrities, which is why they only produce about 5 pieces per item—a minor detail that has brought attention to their store from shoppers looking for exclusive and personalized looks.
Harlem Haberdashery is more than just a store with dope clothes, it’s a monument that represents the foundation of Harlem and the importance of family. Being one of the longer-standing black companies in the neighborhood, HH and 5001 Flavors continues to be a symbol of Harlem culture and a legacy that has contributed to the enrichment of Harlem’s forward growth and essence. Continue reading to learn about he legacy of Harlem Haberdashery and get to know the women behind the fashionable madness.
PYNK: Did HH come about because of 5001 Flavors?
Shay Wood: My husband and I, Guy Wood, are the creative visionaries of 5001 Flavors. We started it 24-years-ago. It’s a custom clothing line catered to the diverse personalities of the people in the entertainment industry. We started out doing custom styling, which led to custom designs. We started working at Uptown Records when Heavy D was on the roster. Our clientele evolved as our projects evolved. The intern at the time, Puff, eventually branched off to create his own record label, Bad Boy, and he had producers and artists who we worked with. For example, Puff was working with Missy, so we were able to work with her and Timbaland. So the experience of working with one client ultimately evolved into working with several others. We knew that our celebrity clientele had a certain design sensibility that was unique. A part of their brand is their look. We knew that there were clients that weren’t celebrities who also had that look, so ultimately we decided, 3 years ago, that we were going to start our own store that catered to that same celebrity feel for non-celebrity clients. A lot of our designers and pieces here have a small production line. We don’t like to do more than five of one particular style. We also consider HH to be the brand extension of 5001 Flavors. We do co-brand it as the retail expression of 5001 Flavors. We have a lot of new and upcoming designers, but we also have our signature brand “Harlem Haberdashery.”
PYNK: Why was HH started in Harlem and how has Harlem culture influenced HH?
Shay Wood: We wanted to create a space that also branded 5001, but was open to the public. We still wanted to have our celebrity clientele as well. Guy and I grew up in Harlem. It’s where he got his swag and style from. Our moms were both seamstresses. We wanted to convey a love of family and fashion in Harlem. We knew that we couldn’t open up a store anywhere else. The aesthetic is that when you come into the store you kind of walk into a home. We really do operate as a family boutique. It is family-owned and family ran. We also do a lot of philanthropic initiatives as well. I always say that HH is an intersection of family, fun, philanthropy and fashion.
PYNK: As far as Instagram and all these other online boutiques becoming relevant in the industry, how would you say the journey has been to stay authentic to your design and not let the technological washing of the industry affect the HH vision?
Shay Wood: For our fashion vision and designs, we really do try to create a story and I really think each brand and each artist always tell a story. Like 5001, HH also realizes that part of everyone’s brand is how they look. Our designs are created to make sure each client makes a good impression. We don’t really follow fashion trends. We really try to create pieces that are authentic to a certain look, feel and vibe. It really is about creating stories that people want to tell. We do know our customers. They like to look neat, fly and throw on something original. You have to understand who your customers are. It’s not hard to create that if you don’t concern yourself with what other people are doing. I think it’s easier when you know exactly what message you are trying to convey and when you don’t pay attention to all those new boutiques that pop up and are probably more about quantity than quality.
PYNK: A lot of owners like to keep their personal lives separated from business. Would you say that working with family has been more rewarding than a challenging?
Well, I’ve worked with my husband since we started. He wasn’t my husband then, but eventually we got married and we started our family and when our kids grew up, they worked with us in the business. To me it’s kind of something that I’ve always done, so I never looked at it as problematic. I think working with your family to build that transferable legacy of wealth and business is a no brainer. There is a great combination of fun and family at work. There’s not a lot of separation between my social and business life and I’m fine with that. It’s really hard to negotiate and separate the two, so I find that I’m blessed because the two intersect. I don’t understand how more people don’t see how much easier it is to combine the two. However, you do have to be mindful, in terms of the boundaries you have to create, in regards to family time and business time, but that’s a personal choice. I think it’s very easy to work with family. I love my family. I enjoy working with them and being in business. I enjoy building something together that we all can benefit from. It’s a great accomplishment as a family. I think anytime you get uncommon people to work for a common goal, it’s a success. The fact that success is measured with my family is even better for me.
PYNK: Would you say that you have a hand in EVERYTHING as the CEO and president?
Shay Wood: It really puts me in a straight up administrative and managerial role. Basically, that means I do whatever I have to do. If there is a deficiency or something that needs to get done, the Chief Executive Officer has to make sure it gets done. I’m fine with that. Guy, my husband, and my children are definitely more of the fashion designers and creatives. Anything else is for me. It’s an important role because the fashion aspect can’t be anything without the administrator.
PYNK: How does it feel to be a woman and African American business owner in Harlem?
Shay Wood: I grew up in Harlem, went to college in Harlem, Columbia University is technically in Harlem. I lived on campus, loved it. I have an intense connection with Harlem. It’s amazing to see how it has evolved and I’m looking forward to seeing where it will be in the future as it evolves into a better place. I think about how it is being a business owner and being a wife and mother. As a woman, your roles continue to increase and your resources seem like they don’t. I try to balance and have it all. Sometimes that means that I have to sacrifice. It’s not a strive for perfection, but I do have to understand that as I evolve and our company evolves, so does my personal life. As a woman, I didn’t realize that I would still have to answer this question, but it’s unfortunate that it just doesn’t change. After 20 years of being in business, I would hope that it wasn’t an issue, but realistically it continues to be an issue. Before my family got involved, I was the only female and the youngest to be a business owner. It was a little weird, but at some point I didn’t even think about it and I don’t think about it now until someone brings it up. I love being a female business owner, I love working with my husband, I love working with my family and I love being a lady, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
PYNK: Whats next for HH?
Shay Wood: My brand expansion plan is to become an international lifestyle brand. I would like to expand our signature HH line goods and create the same brand aesthetic in other larger retail stores. With 5001, my goal is to celebrate the legacy and really get people to know and understand, through music and fashion, the artists and brands that we helped create.
PYNK: What does Harlem Haberdashery’s Harlem residence mean to you?
Shay Harris: For me, it meant a lot because my family’s history is in Harlem. My family had a business in Harlem. When Shay and Guy ran the idea by me to open the boutique here it was overwhelming to be apart of something so meaningful. It’s also amazing to see the area change and for HH to be a part of that change.
PYNK: Being a black owned business how has HH contributed to the growing rate of other black owned businesses in Harlem?
Shay Harris: We are definitely contributing to the community because the majority of our clientele and even our workers are young and black. The designers that we have sell merchandise in our store, are mostly black. We are trying to create an outlet where young and talented people on the come up can feel comfortable and flourish. We are helping these upcoming designers get themselves out there.
PYNK: How would you describe the HH journey?
Shay Harris: It’s been progressive. It started out slow because our customers didn’t quite understand what we were. Some people would just come in and look or just pass by the window. You can tell they were interested, but they didn’t know what the store was about. They weren’t sure that we even had things in the store that were for sale. Not only did we want to just sell things however, we also wanted to be a staple in the community so we started getting involved with community events and charitable events.
PYNK: As far as gentrification, how does it feel to be a start up business during the age of gentrification?
Shay Harris: I definitely feel strongly about gentrification because I was raised in a time where I didn’t see many people that looked like me having businesses of their own. I feel like in this age, being a blacked owned business is more accepted and respected. I think that as long as we make sure to be open to new people and accepting of differences between people. But it’s a privilege to be a part of this journey and movement.
PYNK: What do you see in the future for HH?
Shay Harris: The sky’s the limit for us. We definitely would like to get even more involved with the community. Perhaps participating in more events and services. We also would like to remain a positive influence in the Harlem community and give hope to younger generations considering being business owners one day.
Get to know the designer Brittny…
PYNK: Does it feel like your contributing to Harlem culture and creating this new scene for Harlem?
Brittny: In my own small way, yeah. Because I am a designer from here in the grand scheme of things it’s amazing being apart of the store, my family, and it’s legacy.
PYNK: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Brittny: When it comes to custom pieces, I kind of look at the woman’s body and their own personal style. I make sure to see what’s flattering for them cause I think for women that’s the main thing like it has to make you feel good, you know what i mean, if you look good you’re going to feel good that kind of thing. But when I design personally, I think about what would I want to wear simple and sexy.
PYNK: Who else have you style for or designed for?
Brittny: Mainly Draya, K Michelle, Emily B, Christina Milian and some others.
PYNK: How did those clients come about?
Brittny: Well Draya is a really good friend of my partner. I met Emily through my dad, so a lot of the connections kind of come through the store or through social media. After Draya wore my stuff, social media and a lot of people started contacting me from there.
PYNK: It’s definitely hard since Instagram got super popular with all the online boutiques, what has the struggle been like to keep your stuff authentic and unique?
Brittny: I don’t really have too much of a problem with trying to keep it unique. My problem stems from having a few notables wearing my stuff especially, Draya she’ll wear my stuff and then someone will copy it.
All Photo Credits: Kadeem Watts