By Megan Hadley and photographs by Caley Pigliucci
At this year’s fabulous 7th annual Harlem Haberdashery Ball in Harlem, NY, I spoke to Harlem founders Shay Wood and Guy Wood Sr., for Harlem World Magazine (HW).
Harlem World Magazine: So this is the 7th annual Harlem Haberdashery Ball. Can you share a little bit about what this ball means to you? What has the experience been like hosting these events?
Shay Wood: It’s a culmination of family, fashion and philanthropy, bringing everything in our brand together. We love to honor the community and organizations that are helping our community thrive and prosper. For us, it’s about creating a space where the community is welcome but the community is also amplified.
HW: What specific role are you looking to play in the Harlem Community?
Guy Wood Sr: We’re trying to show that if you give and care about your community, you don’t need anything from the outside. Self-contained is what you need to do. We show by example, our business is about giving back and making sure everybody is pleasantly happy, and caring about people all year round, so that’s what we do. That’s why we have this event, so the layman can come in and enjoy a masquerade party and rub shoulders with the upper echelon. Everyone feels special.
HW: You chose the name The Future is Harlem, was there any significance behind that? Is the future…. Harlem?
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GW: I would say Harlem is the future. It’s a good beacon of showing how communities come together and you have all races living together, and respecting each other; that’s what we’re all about. Building our community and making it a better place, so that’s why we’re saying “the future.” With what’s going on in the world right now, we all love each other and care about each other. We’ve been caring about each other.
HW: Have you seen Harlem change from being more caring or less caring now?
GW: We’ll always care. We live in our own little world. Things go on downtown and we just move nonchalantly. We’re people of resilience. What’s going on right now, it’s big, but it doesn’t scare us because we see the future. When it was 911, that was a tragic situation, but people were still jogging, running, still doing the things they do, going to the park with their children. And you’d be looking at the news, everyone else is in a state of panic. We have a coolness about ourselves, we know we’re going to be fine.
HW: Can Harlem play a role in political and social pandemic right now?
GW: Yeah, when people talk to me, they say why are you not panicking? But when you walk with a higher belief, you don’t worry about too much. You live in a community where something can happen to you at any moment, you’re not scared of that, why would you be scared of somebody sneezing on you, touching you?
SW: it’s about community sustainability; it’s about community preservation; it’s about preserving the next generation; it’s about representation, so everything about staying in Harlem and being in Harlem, and honoring people who help Harlem community is something we will always continue to do.
HW: Can you talk a little bit about your boutique and your roots in Harlem?
GW: We were born and raised in Harlem, what happened is we said, “we couldn’t do it any other place than Harlem.” People were offering us to come to Soho, and it just wouldn’t work, and no disrespect to Soho, it’s just that were from Harlem. So the people from Harlem get us. And what’s so crazy about our boutique, it’s a family boutique, it’s more about the atmosphere and the experience than selling you a shirt or pair of pants. It’s a cool vibe. You sit there and talk, and we might talk for 45 minutes, and say, you know what I do need to buy a t-shirt. But that’s the second thing. We’ve talked about where your from, where your parents grew up, you become family. And that’s what it’s all about.
HW: How does the family clientele play into the fact that you have this large client basis, Jay Z, DJ Khalid?
GW: That part of the business is 5001 flavors, which is our custom company, with having that custom business and being able to work with these icons, we realize we have to give back, so it’s the way we bless our community and treat our people. Its the way we have a ball and we have a red carpet and the stuff they see on TV, they can experience it. A lot of these children don’t have the experience of going to a masquerade ball. So if we have to spend money we spend money in our community. We’re inside a church. A couple of years ago we were in Harlem Hospital. We try to find venues that are cool, and it’s giving back to where we’re from.
HW: When it comes to 5001 flavors— where does your inspiration come from?
GW: The inspiration from that is a merge of great minds. Meaning, me and whoever I’m making the clothing for. It’s not all my idea. They give me the inspiration for what they think they need to have it done, and we collaborate together. I’m sitting down with Khalid or Jay Z, any of those guys, Puff Daddy, this is what they tell me I’m going to “a futuristic ball and this is what I want to do.” We build on that. Its a collaboration. It’s not just me saying “this is what I feel that you should wear” when you do that with people they feel more confident. They said I designed this, that’s what gives us the longevity and working with all these different big names
SW: 5001 is our custom caters company to various personalities in the entertainment industry, and Harlem Haberdashery was created as we expanded our brand, to include people who are not celebrities, to have their own red carpet moments. It’s about understanding that our consumer base and expanded from celebrities to all consumers. And so we brought more of our family into the business. Its a family brand. Harlem Haberdashery is definitely molded around the fact that we are a family business. We love the community, support the community, and that’s why there’s a social responsibly attached to Harlem Haberdashery. We don’t want to be consumers from the community, we want to give back and uplift the community, at the same time, our for-profit business can be socially responsible, and can also influence pop culture and motivate markets and create trends and be fashionable. It really is a combination of a family business that respects the community and also when you come into our brand you come into our home. The family takes care of the family. We keep you looking your best, having fun, support each other, and that’s the best of Harlem for us.
HW: Fashion world giving back to the community?
SW: We have multiple charity events each year, this is our largest ultra event, most of our events are at Harlem Haberdashery. This is our premiere event. It allows us to bring the food of Harlem together. People travel internationally to attend. It’s an event where we are able to show our love and appreciation for organizations. That’s what keeps the community thriving, people that. Honoring people in our circle. We say, if you’re not invited to the table, you have to build your own table and bring your own chairs. That’s what we do here.
HW: Is that why you didn’t move to Soho?
SW: Were paying homage to the visionaries and trailblazers in the community. We have to be in Harlem.
HW: Where do you see yourself and your designs within the next several years?
SW: We’re expanding Harlem Haberdashery into a lifestyle brand, and that really is our goal, to do mass distribution, nationally and internationally, and to make Harlem Haberdashery a lifestyle. And so, our spirit company was our first expansion. You can taste some tonight. We want to be national within the next two years. And so our goal is to take that lifestyle company and expand into as many categories as we can.
Expanding into home, beauty, accessories, luggage, any and everything. That allows us to create a lifestyle instead of just retail.
Harlem Haberdashery, 245 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10027, 646.707.0070, https://twitter.com/HaberdasheryNYC
Megan Hadley is a freelance writer, previously the senior writer at The Crime Report and has been published in Law&Crime and The New York Post.
Photo credit: 1) Guy Wood, daughter and Guy Wood Sr. 2) Shay Wood.