Inside Her Kingdom: Sherri McMullen on Oakland & Beyond

A warm Spring day in Oakland, as I make my way to McMullen on the corner of Grand Ave in Uptown, Oakland.

Uptown Oakland, for better or worse, is on the rise. High price condos, the onslaught of chains inhabiting retail spaces, and the removal of what Oakland was: real. Luckily, the Oakland residents have high hopes. More and more local businesses have started to reclaim their town—opening a variety of food, hospitality, and shopping that stems for keeping Oakland local and real. Meet Sherri McMullen, a local boutique owner who has gained national recognition, including being named one of the top boutiques in the country by WWD (Women’s Wear Daily). Sherri is actively involved in the community, regularly holding fundraisers for organizations focusing on women, children and the arts inside the McMullen shops.

As she walks into the store, you can see and feel the kinetic energy she exudes. A confident step, poise, and a grace that wafts through the store.

Sherri, a former textile buyer for Pottery Barn Kids, has always had a passion for the beautiful things in life and the small designers who dream up these precious objects. Hailed as “Oakland’s Fashion Diversity Ambassador,” she told the Chronicle, “It was important to me that if a young woman of color was walking by the window or came in because she followed me on Instagram that she’d see herself reflected in the store,” says McMullen, “I want her to know that there’s a place for her in this world, in fashion.”

We met up with Sherri in her newly opened Oakland flagship to talk inspiration, the business of fashion and how this store owner fell in love with Oakland.

// Sherri McMullen inside McMullen in Oakland, 2257 Broadway, Oakland, shopmcmullen.com; Photography by Anthony Rogers.

Sherri McMullen helping out customers during the photoshoot.

Sherri McMullen helping out customers during the photoshoot.


Q

Tell us the overall story of McMullen. The origin.

A

I decided to pursue a career in the fashion industry because I wanted to understand the behind-the-scenes process and how product got into luxury retail stores.  I was living in Oakland at the time, working in corporate retail and knew I wanted to open my own store. I had a business plan and started to envision my business and life in Oakland for the long haul.  Oakland didn’t have any luxury retail shops since I Magnin closed in the 90’s and I knew it would be the perfect place. I took the experience I had of building in-store concept shops from my buying days at Neiman Marcus and Pottery Barn Kids. I had always envisioned a beautiful boutique that would become a shopping destination in Oakland.

Using my own money and a $50,000 investment from friends and family, I opened my original location on Piedmont Avenue in 2007.  I made sure to focus on emerging and established designers that aligned with the woman that I knew wanted conscious, fashion-forward and timeless pieces. We were able to surpass through the 2008 financial crash that sunk other newly opened businesses, and grow. After success on Piedmont Avenue we then moved to Grand Avenue three years later. With our ever growing relationship to our client base that feels much like family and friends, I knew we had to expand into the next phase of McMullen and here we are at this new location.  


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The left side of McMullen, the new Oakland Flagship sports high ceilings, Insta-worthy interiors, and walls and walls of fashion.

The left side of McMullen, the new Oakland Flagship sports high ceilings, Insta-worthy interiors, and walls and walls of fashion.


Q

Who was McMullen and who is McMullen becoming?

A

When we opened, the McMullen woman was a woman coming into her own and finding pieces that fit her lifestyle.  That woman was interested in discovering new brands. My McMullen woman today knows her style, knows what she likes and what looks good on her but trusts us to put it together for her.  

What I have created for McMullen, I’m extremely proud of because I created a place for women to explore, share and feel confident when they walk in and leave the store.  We have built relationships with these women that I know will last a lifetime. They are more than clients, they are friends and family. It’s a respectful place, it’s a place where women can feel safe to express themselves and it’s a place where women can share stories, ideas and connect with other women.  


Q

Sherri, tell us about your background—we're interested to know more.

A

I studied accounting in school and knew that I would go into the fashion industry at some point.  I was living in Dallas and quickly found that fashion was my true passion. I decided to apply for the executive development program at Neiman Marcus where I was trained as a fashion buyer. This training in the executive development program taught me to hone my business skills and after a few years at Neiman Marcus, I left Dallas, moved to San Francisco and started working as a textile buyer for Pottery Barn Kids. I traveled the world meeting with vendors and manufactures and was exposed to an international market and that later gave me the drive to open my own business. I helped the brand launch a sizable amount of retail stores and I also traveled around the world working with factories in India, China, and Hong Kong by the time I was 25.


Q

When and why did you feel that Oakland was the right space for McMullen?

A

Oakland is my home.  I moved here over 15 years ago and fell in love with the heart of the city and the community.  Oakland felt right for me, I opened McMullen during a recession when some thought I was crazy to do it.  They said, retail is risky and why Oakland? I knew I would prove them wrong and 12 years later, here we are.  


Q

How do you seek the brands to carry in the store? Everything is beautifully curated.

A

Thank you so much!  It is the best part of what I do- curation.  I travel to different markets all over the world finding unique designers who tell a story through their work.  I am very conscientious that each designer shows inclusivity and representation not only on their runways, but within their lookbooks, on their websites, and within their overall brand values. We have a distinctive point of view and like to tell a story through the designers we carry, promoting positivity and female empowerment.

You can ask me about any designer we carry and I have a story to share.  My clients love that and want to understand about the pieces that they are buying.  It’s just as important to them.


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Q

What's a common misconception about McMullen you hear all the time?

A

People assume that fashion is all fun and games, but it’s a business and many days, I’m analyzing my business, thinking of sell-through and growth strategies.  I love that part of my work but it’s not all shiny and pretty as some may assume it is.


Q

What words would you tell to women who want to be founders and store owners?

A

Have a solid vision and plan, follow your gut and be prepared to “work” harder than you ever have before. Understand your product and your customer and know that you will experience some challenges but learn from them and move forward.   


Q

What's coming up in the McMullen family? What can readers know more about?

A

We will be expanding our footprint in Oakland with a men’s store and an expanded home assortment, as well as a few key women’s and men’s concept stores throughout the US.

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Portrait of Sherri McMullen in her Oakland store.

Portrait of Sherri McMullen in her Oakland store.

Portraits of the McMullen family line the store, giving history on Sherri’s inherent sense of style.

Portraits of the McMullen family line the store, giving history on Sherri’s inherent sense of style.

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Anthony is the founder of Bob Cut Mag and the director of business development. Anthony writes on LGBT, people, and gender issues but catch him also writing about other shenanigans he finds himself in. Want to partner with Bob Cut? Email him at anthony@bobcutmag.cm


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