Harlem Haberdashery’s Sharene Wood on Building a Craft Liquor Brand & Her Go-To Glassware

"For us it's about collective thinking, being a part of a new wave of entrepreneurs that are uplifting and amplifying each other."

Photo by Brent Herrig/Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
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For Sharene Wood, Harlem is more than just the neighborhood where she was born and raised. It’s also the cornerstone of a lifestyle brand empire she and her family have shepherded and grown over the past three decades.

As co-founder, president, and CEO of 5001 Flavors—a renowned custom clothing and styling brand that counts an impressive roster of bold-name celebs as clients—and Harlem Haberdashery, its brick and mortar retail extension on Malcolm X Boulevard, Wood has earned a reputation as one of Harlem’s most notable and influential entrepreneurs. So, it should come as no surprise that she has her mind set on expanding the Harlem Haberdashery brand even further. In 2018, Wood oversaw the launch of HH Bespoke Spirits, a premium line of spirits that includes a small-batch vodka, gin, and rum, each of which is crafted with the brand's same level of commitment to serving customers a unique and custom experience.

"Just as our celebrities and clients would be in a celebratory mood in our outfits, they can now [do that with] our spirits," she says.

We recently caught up with Wood to find out what Harlem means to her, how the neighborhood influences her approach as an entrepreneur, and how she’s hoping to elevate HH Bespoke Spirits in the exceedingly competitive spirits market.

Thrillist: What does Harlem mean to you, and how would you say Harlem Haberdashery celebrates the energy and culture of the neighborhood?
Sharene Wood:
Well, Harlem to me definitely means family, tradition, legacy. My family is from Harlem. We say that when you come into Harlem Haberdashery, you come into our family because it's staged as a family home. We have family brands, we are a multi-generational family. So it's about creating generational wealth and building a family legacy of business in Harlem.

We definitely think part of being in Harlem is that you have to take care of the community, so we're very philanthropic. We believe that representation in our community of upstanding citizens is what's needed for the next generation, so we're really conscious about that and conscious about how we exist in the Harlem community. When you take care of them, when you take care of the community, you're actually investing in your future customers. So it is to your benefit as a business owner to be community-oriented and philanthropic and help the community thrive, because ultimately they help you thrive. And I don't think a lot of business owners respect the communities that they exist in, and so that was really important for us to do as part of our brand, our mission.

What’s your favorite part of being a business owner in Harlem, and what are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned during the journey?
So our original business is 5,001 flavors, a custom clothing company—we're celebrating our 30th year in business next year. So Harlem Haberdashery was a brand expansion. For us as a family at Harlem Haberdashery, it's about being able to duplicate our success in building a business and create a bunch of different businesses that now our family can benefit from. We're actually, like I said, a multi-generational family and we have about 10 family members that have their own brands, so it really is about creating a legacy of entrepreneurship and helping the next generation succeed. It's really about establishing not only just a brand, but a family of brands so that we're able to help the next generation. My sons, my brother, [they’re] all now entrepreneurs in the lifestyle, fashion, entertainment, and retail space. So just being able to see the next generation kind of benefit from the fruits of our labor is for me the most important part of our brand.

For us it's about collective thinking, being a part of a new wave of entrepreneurs that are uplifting and amplifying each other. And I think collective resources—collective economics—is what we need to get to the next level, and that's what we're really committed to, helping each other and uplifting each other.

Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

Why did you decide to expand the HH brand into the spirits category? And what was the most important element that you wanted to get right in the process?
Harlem Haberdashery for us was kind of like a retail expression of our custom clothing business that specializes in working with artists, celebrities, and entertainers. And for us, Harlem Haberdashery was addressing the client that we felt was not [always] a celebrity, but had their own red carpet moment.. So Harlem Haberdashery was always created as a lifestyle brand. It just so happened that the spirit category was the first of our lifestyle expansion that kind of came to fruition, but we had always envisioned Harlem Haberdashery as a lifestyle that had the same products in different categories that spoke to our HH aesthetic.

This is our third year in business. We are award-winning and critically acclaimed. We received an award at the PR%F Awards in 2020 for rum design and distinction. We've gotten great reviews and the product—our rum, gin and vodka—has been well received. But for us, it was about creating the same bespoke customization, in a different category. If you look at our bottles you see that if you don't know us as Harlem Haberdashery, hopefully the brand aesthetic of our bespoke customization—and a commitment to quality and a great looking product—is carried over.

We tried to fashion our HH Bespoke Spirits bottle almost as if we're addressing one of our clients. Each bottle was very distinct, has its own personality, has its own color motif, but yet they kind of exist together. So just as our celebrities and clients would be in a celebratory mood in our outfits, they can now [do that with] our spirits. So it really is about creating products that we love as a family that we would use, and we love to promote.

What sort of unique challenges did you face launching a spirits brand?
It's a very tough market. From a strategy standpoint, it made sense, and it was easy, and it was quick, and it was immediate. I knew what type of spirit, I knew the marketing campaign, I knew how it looked. I would say the hardest challenge about the spirits industry is one: that it's a completely new industry, new procedures and new licensing information, new contacts. I had a vision and didn't necessarily have the skillset or the connections of the spirit industry, so it's been a learning process. It's been a great process because we've been successful, but it's the realization that we are a small maker, we have a small batch, we're privately owned, we're limited distribution. So we're not really able to compete with the bigger brands as much as I would want to, but I'm super proud to have three terrific products that, like I said, have won awards and been critically acclaimed. And so now it's just about building our brand and being comfortable with our growth, on our terms and not being worried about what the competitor is doing, because a lot of the competitors have big machines and marketing dollars, and we're definitely creating our own small batch products, but it's been rewarding.

My goal for HH Bespoke Spirits is definitely maximizing our national distribution capability, and really exploring international distribution.

Do you have a favorite cocktail you make with your spirits?
I love our Negroni. I love any with [our] gin. It's very, very distinctive. [It’s] probably my favorite product and I never liked gin, I never liked gin by itself. I only liked it in a cocktail, but our gin has four botanicals: plums, cranberry, lavender, and rose hip. The floral notes are so great when you open it. It's very swirled. It's very relaxing. I love it on the rocks. So I would say anything with the gin is my favorite, but I also like our rum—specifically paired with food. We've done some great pairings. We've had rum ice cream, of course rum cake, we like to do a lot of different things besides just have cocktails, and we're always looking to pair with new food offerings with our different restaurant partners.

What are your home bar essentials?
I have been obsessed with bar carts and curating a great bar cart, a good friend of mine, [who’s known as] The Cocktail Snob, has been curating these really cute bar carts in her home and for other people. I'm obsessed with gold accessories, gold shakers and stirrers. I love great-looking bar accessories for the cart. I'm very simple, my cocktails only have one or two ingredients. I like it simple, but I like it to be cute and very presentable. So I'm into all of those cute accessories that no one uses, but you just leave in your bar.

Do you have any go-to glassware you’d recommend?
Well, I'm a very simple cocktail lover. I think Crate and Barrel has always had a great collection. I have actually been married now going on 15 years. So when I did my registry, I was in love with Crate and Barrel's glasses, and I became an immediate fan because of the quality. And they pretty much have everything you need: a lowball, a highball, a martini glass. Who doesn't love a beautifully crafted and artistically made martini glass? To me [they] are works of art.

I like old fashioned glasses because they're nice and thick and they can freeze very well. And I love to put my nice big glass into a freezer before I make my drink so that my drink is actually cold. For me, it's probably all about a great drink in a great glass that lasts a long time.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity

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