Women Behind the Brands: Brooklyn's Own Boss - Sharifa Murdock
Name: Sharifa Murdock
Occupation: Co-Founder of Liberty Fairs
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Wood Tobé-Coburn School
A prominent figure in the menswear industry, Sharifa Murdock is the woman behind Liberty Fairs, one of the biggest trade shows in the United States. From New York, to Vegas, and all the way to Italy, Sharifa has made her mark. She travels the world in search of the most diverse, interesting, and innovative menswear brands and offers a chance of a lifetime.
Having gained a tremendous amount of experience from a young age (i.e. Donna Karen, Louis Vuitton, Project and now Liberty Fairs), Sharifa has paved her way in the fashion industry as a well respected and inspirational icon.
I've had the opportunity to hang out with Sharifa and gush over some passion-fruit-bubble-tea, impromptu visits, and weird TV shows. She is one of the realest and most giving people you'll ever meet. Always willing to give advice and create opportunities to help others, she agreed to share her story and knowledge with us. Bienvenue!
“I just think I’m doing something I love, and I want to do more to help more people.”
What is Liberty Fairs?
Liberty Fairs is a menswear fashion and lifestyle trade show where brands and buyers come together to sell and purchase the goods for the future seasons.
How did you become the co-founder of Liberty Fairs? Tell us about your journey.
I always wanted the latest and greatest in fashion. My parents are from Trinidad and they would say, "Ok, you want that, you have to work for it". At 11, I started doing paper route, and then I worked at McDonald's, KeyFood, and random little places. When I reached high school, I got a job at Atrium - I walked in and got the job as a salesperson. Atrium was the coolest store to shop (it still is to me), and everyone shopped there. In college, I worked at Donna Karen, then Louis Vuitton where I built their whole customer service department.
I eventually went back to Atrium as a manager for a few months, and then Sam, the owner, approached me with an idea. He said, "I'm going to start a fashion trade show called Project". I had no idea what that was nor what I was doing, I went to school for fashion merchandising and buying. When we started Project, I was 23 and I didn't realize it was such a big deal until I was 28. I was just having fun, meeting tons of people, traveling that I never saw it as a business. I'd never experienced anything like it before.
Sam went on to sell Project to a corporation and I decided to stay on board. I couldn't understand the corporate side, we had always worked as a small family, but I'm grateful for the experience because I got to learn it. I had both an entrepreneurial and a corporate understanding of the industry.
Finally, I was reaching a point in my life where I needed to reinvent myself and Sam reached out about starting another show. My initial reaction was that we'd already done this, and he said, "no, we're going to do something new".
You have another venture, tell us about it.
I'm a big person on giving back in life. Sam gave me an opportunity, he took me in as one of his kids and taught me what I learned when he didn't know me from Adam. I feel like we don't have that consistently enough in our community. If we helped each other more, we would be such a powerful unit. I'm a big believer of that, and I always wanted to give back in that way.
I started this program called The Brooklyn Intern to help juniors and seniors in high school get an early glimpse in the industry. It's too late by the time you get to college because you start having responsibilities and worrying about loans. I have a girlfriend who went to school for fashion and now she does finance - it doesn't make sense. I feel like if she'd gotten a little bit of experience in her high school years, she would have known early on if that was the right path for her.
“I work just as hard as I did when I got my first internship. Internships are huge.”
Brand Together. This motto really summarizes the entirety of the program, how did it come about?
Actually, it was Sam's thing. What we realized in doing these trade shows over the years is that you're never going to be great at everything. Joining forces with Capsule, Agenda, and MRket doing 4 different shows under the same roof is not the norm because everyone wants to have a competitive edge. We wanted to come together and demonstrate that although each show has its own identity, we can all unite to make the experience easier and more convenient for the retailers by eliminating the concept of "running around". It's only 3 short days, and there is a lot to cover.
That's where #BrandTogether came from, a desire to build a community and a culture.
What's a day in the life of Sharifa?
It depends. Generally, I get up at the crack of dawn and go to the gym. I want to be healthy (my husband is a chef, he cooks a lot), so in order to keep my energy up all day and do what I do, I work out. Peace, for me, is a state of mind, so I drive to work every day in the city. When people get on the train, they let other people's energy rub off on them, and you become that individual no matter how much you aren't.
Once at work, I answer calls, set meetings, and go over my daily/weekly and traveling schedules with my assistant, Preston. I spend most of my days on the phone, texting, and answering emails. My days are also filled with meetings (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and events.
What do you like to do to relax and/or for fun? How do you balance your life?
I always spend time with my husband on the weekends. I like eating out and going to the movies, but I'm very chill - whatever he wants to do. I like vacationing, planning random weekend getaways because I think if you work hard, you should have fun doing what you want to do. I'm also a huge binge TV watcher, I will binge watch shows and sitcoms like crazy.
“When you set a goal for yourself, you don’t necessarily have to reach it, but you have to reach a point in it.”
What was your first job out of college?
As soon as I graduated from Wobé-Toburn, I started Project.
Were you ever an intern? How important was interning for your career?
Yes, of course! I interned everywhere! I interned for this designer named Mark Montado, and I learned so much from him. I was on the train schlepping clothes and running around like a chicken without a head, and I thought it was the funniest ever. That's when I knew I wanted to be in fashion.
It's so important! That's why I started The Brooklyn Intern. You need that experience, you need to get your hands in and dirty, and work really hard. I still work my butt off every day; I work just as hard as I did when I got my first internship. Internships are huge.
You've become a force to be reckoned with in the menswear field how does that make you feel?
I honestly don't feel like I'm that force, it's just fun. I like being that representative and I would love to help more people, so if it can do that... But I really don't see what everyone else is seeing. I just think I'm doing something I love, and I want to do more to help more people.
As a woman, was it harder to break into the industry?
Yes, because it's a man's world. Everything that you do, you have to work extremely hard to prove yourself. I was blessed to have had Sam's guidance. I owe him my life as I would never be the woman I am today if it weren't for him. He taught me everything about this industry and gave me the opportunity to drift on my own. He allowed room for mistakes; in fact, he anticipated them because that's the way you learn.
Any advice for women who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
Stick to your game plan! I think women just need to have a goal. When you set a goal for yourself, you don't necessarily have to reach it, but you have to reach a point in it. I love writing things down; anything I do, I plan. I have notebooks upon notebooks on everything I need to do.
Women need to be more strategic and realistic about what they want to do. You have to know what it is that you want to do. If you want a certain kind of career, how do you build to get to that level? Who do you need to talk to? Write down the people you need to meet and be associated with. Don't associate yourself with people who don't want to see you advance. Lastly, know that you're going to make mistakes, and it's okay. When you fall, you just have to get back up.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
Be stronger. Don't take anything for granted. Don't procrastinate. I'd tell myself to do what I did and have fun.
I'd advise myself to take the real estate test that I took classes for as I'd love to, maybe one day, I’d love to do that.
What was one of the most defining moments of your career?
When I became co-owner of Liberty Fairs. That's when I felt like "damn, I did something good with myself.”
Where do you see yourself in the next decade?
I see Liberty becoming the emperor of fashion and lifestyle trade shows. I feel like there's so much more we can do, so much more we can expose to the consumer. I see it becoming that consumer exposure brand that people have not yet seen.
I see myself having a family, and I want to be that career mom that's kicking ass.
“Be stronger. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t procrastinate.”
What is one word you'd use to describe yourself?
I don't get caught up in the drama and excitement of fashion. I'm appreciative of where I am in life. I'm happy to be here to contribute what I am able to. I still have so much more to learn, and I want people to teach me.
This was originally published in October 2015