Sherri McMullen Is the Oakland Boutique Owner Redefining Retail

From mentoring emerging brands to spotting the next rising star, we chat with the entrepreneur about everything from TikTok trends to the current state of the industry.

A future graphic of Sherri McMullen
(Image credit: Katherine Pekala/Sherri McMullen)

In the 17 years since its opening, Sherri McMullen has cemented her eponymous Oakland, California, fashion boutique, McMullen, as a club of bonafide cool. In contrast to a big-name department store stocked with collections you might find at another retailer, McMullen carries independent and emerging designers with fresh fashion viewpoints. One rack might feature an exclusive assortment of whimsical gowns by Christopher John Rogers, while another mannequin is dressed in full Luar or Grace Wales Bonner. The store is a space dedicated to individualism.

McMullen also provides a home and nurturing space for designers struggling to secure commercial retail partnerships. “The focus has always been on supporting female designers, designers of color, and smaller brands,” McMullen, who previously worked as a buyer for Neiman Marcus and Pottery Barn Kids, tells Marie Claire on a video call. “Creating a space for those brands was always my purpose coming into the business. Everything,” she asserts, “with [my] business is intentional.”

photos of Sherri McMullen

Sherri McMullen, wearing a lime green Christopher John Rogers suit, inside her Oakland boutique.

(Image credit: Sherri McMullen)

McMullen's goal to curate an all-inclusive fashion experience extends beyond what's sold in-store and online. "We think of [McMullen] as more of a community space where we share ideas, which goes beyond being a [physical retail] space," she explains. "We talk about issues and things that are really important for our community, whether that's black women in health, entrepreneurship, or what it means to run a business and also be a mother." McMullen offers customers a 360-degree immersive experience that provides both style and support.

To get you better acquainted with McMullen, Marie Claire sat down for a conversation to chat about her muse (spoiler alert: it's her mom), the next soon-to-be-everywhere designer, alongside some closet organizational tips, too.

Marie Claire: First, can you describe your style in three words?

Sherri McMullen: Timeless, fashionable, and experimental.

MC: What are a few of the holy grail items in your closet?

SM: Blazers of all styles, shapes, and colors. I wear blazers over everything—it's become my uniform. I wear them over dresses and skirts. Sometimes, I wear them over swimwear in the summer and even over my workout clothes.

Then, I'd say any of my Christopher John Rogers pieces (but typically a midi or knit dress). I collect pieces from his collections every season. I cherish them, but I also wear them repeatedly. I'm a big proponent of the idea that people shouldn't save their pieces just for special occasions—wear them! Even if it's a CJR ball skirt, I might wear it on a Tuesday with a T-shirt and Birkenstocks.

Sherri McMullen in a sky blue Christopher John Roger knit set posing alongside the designer himself.

Sherri McMullen in a sky blue Christopher John Roger knit set alongside the designer himself.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

MC: Speaking of your do you keep it organized?

SM: Typically, it reads like my store. I keep my closet very organized because it's my happy space. I like to have my special pieces breathe so you can see them. If there is a gorgeous full dress or a skirt, I let it have its own moment on the rack. But generally, I organize by color and style. My jackets are all together, my tops are all together, my dresses, and such. Then, I have them organized by color from light to dark, starting with whites and creams and beige and going all the way to black. Then, my prints are organized by the most prominent colors within the print.

MC: Out of everything in your beautiful, organized closet, do you have an item that's the most special? The piece you would grab first in a fire?

SM: My mom's cowboy boots. I still try to put my feet in them even though she wore a much smaller size than me. Growing up in Oklahoma, she wore a lot of cowboy boots. She was very chic and would wear cowboy boots with caftans, dresses, and, of course, denim.

MC: Would you say your mother influences your personal style?

SM: Absolutely. All of the women in my family, really. I grew up in a very big family, and my mom, grandmother, and aunts were such fashion figures and icons for me. Seeing how they always dressed up in their own way when we all got together for parties was very inspiring. My mom would always have lipstick on. She didn't leave the house without looking [pulled] together.

Sherri McMullen curating her buying board for her boutique McMullen

A sneak peek of Sherri curating the buying board for McMullen, where she organizes the boutique's incoming products.

(Image credit: Courtesy of @sherri.mcmullen)

MC: You mentioned Christopher John Rogers earlier, and I know McMullen is the first retailer to pick up his line and carry it in stores. Can you shout out another emerging designer that you foresee being huge?

SM: Diotima comes to mind. We were among the first retailers to pick up Rachel Scott's line. [Scott] is a designer I wear often and a rising star. Seeing how much she's grown over the last three years has been wonderful. She is truly talented. You can tell she really thinks about the customer that she's dressing. Her work is sensual but wearable. It's a really interesting, modern way of dressing, from her crochet to woven pieces to her tailoring.

I love how our customers have really grown with the brand, too. They're excited to see the collections once they come in because they order and wear her pieces in their everyday lives, not just on vacations or for special occasions.

MC: What are your thoughts on the current state of the fashion industry? What would you like to see more of? Less of?

SM: I'd like to see more people throw out the rules and let their personal, individual style show through. Fashion is a way to experiment and reveal your personality. I think there shouldn't be any rules that go along with that.

MC: Is there a particular fashion rule you really don't agree with?

SM: This idea of seasonal dressing. I probably shouldn't say this as a shop owner because I know retail comes with seasons. Autumn/Winter, Resort, and Pre-Spring—we should throw all that out and start calling it something else.

Sherri McMullen in Diotima

Here, McMullen wears a Diotima macrame skirt and blazer with crochet panels.

(Image credit: Sherri McMullen)

MC: How about your thoughts on TikTok trends and all of those cores?

SM: Rather than focusing on any micro-trends, my team and I are always focused on who's next and who our customers would get excited about. We also really like to highlight our own customers as our muses because they're inspirational and trendsetters as well. That's what we really think about in terms of trends and people on social media who inspire us.

Sherri McMullen in jeans and a blazer

Sherri wearing her trusty staple: a hard-working blazer.

(Image credit: Courtesy of @sherri.mcmullen)

MC: How about the quiet luxury of it all?

SM: Quiet luxury has been around for a really long time. I dress how I feel: sometimes it's quiet, and sometimes it's not so quiet. Fashion should go back to your personal style and how you're feeling. I don't plan my outfits. In fact, people always ask me, "How long does it take you to pack for fashion week?" And I tell them that I pack the day before because I never really know how I'm going to feel until that moment.

MC: When you’re not looking inward for inspiration, what fuels you externally? Let’s start with music.

SM: I'm old school. I listen to eighties and nineties R&B. Anything by Erykah Badu, The Police, and Tears for Fears.

Sherri McMullen in her boutique McMullen

Sherri McMullen inside her eponymous Oakland boutique.

(Image credit: Sherri McMullen)

MC: Similarly, are you reading anything you're excited about?

SM: I'm not reading anything outside of business and fashion articles these days. But I do have Aurora James' book Wildflower on my nightstand. I've read a bit of it, and I will dig in once I can take a little quiet time.

MC: Do you have any quiet time coming up where you can relax a bit?

SM: I'm actually going to Mexico City for the first time in a couple of weeks, so I'm excited about that. I've had so much work travel over the last few months, so it'll be good to explore and go to the museums and see art get inspired in another way.

In our Have You Met series, we get to know stylish creatives, changemakers, and founders.

Emma Childs
Fashion Features Editor

Emma is the fashion features editor at Marie Claire, where she writes deep-dive trend reports, zeitgeisty fashion featurettes on what style tastemakers are wearing, long-form profiles on emerging designers and the names to know, and human interest vignette-style round-ups. Previously, she was Marie Claire's style editor, where she wrote shopping e-commerce guides and seasonal trend reports, assisted with the market for fashion photo shoots, and assigned and edited fashion celebrity news.

Emma also wrote for The Zoe Report, Editorialist, Elite Daily, Bustle, and Mission Magazine. She studied Fashion Studies and New Media at Fordham University Lincoln Center and launched her own magazine, Childs Play Magazine, in 2015 as a creative pastime. When she's not waxing poetic about niche fashion topics, you'll find her stalking eBay for designer vintage, reading literary fiction on her Kindle, and baking banana bread in her tiny NYC kitchen.