By Rosella LaFevre
Brooklyn resident Sharifa Murdock is the well-heeled woman behind Liberty Fairs, one of the hottest menswear tradeshows in New York City. She got her start in retail early with a job at Atrium, a store owned by her mentor Sam Ben-Avraham. After earning a degree in fashion merchandising and buying from Wood Tobe Coburn, a career college located near Bryant Park, Murdock worked in customer service at Louis Vuitton. It was there she developed a fondness for high-quality footwear, something she’s become known for. (Currently on her feet? A pair of Celine brogues her husband bought her.)
After a decade working at menswear tradeshow Project NYC, Murdock left to start Liberty Fairs with Ben-Avraham. When not shopping at Barneys Co-op and Intermix, she travels the world in search of hot new design talent.
Murdock talked with BELLA about the lessons she’s learned, how she tries to pay it forward and what it takes to succeed in New York.
You work in SoHo and live in Brooklyn. Tell me about “your” New York.
I’m a firm believer that New York is the place where you can be successful, where anyone can make it if they really work hard. That’s my version of New York. I love it.
Can you tell me about some of your favorite places to shop and eat?
I’m obsessed with Atrium, Barneys and Intermix. Those are my favorite cute little spots to shop in. Two of my favorite places to eat are the General Green in Brooklyn and Spice Market in Manhattan.
You got your start in retail at 16 with a job at Sam Ben-Avraham’s store. What were the most important lessons you learned in that first job?
I learned that you should always believe in yourself. All my friends weren’t working and they were always picking on me, like, “Why do you work so much?” I didn’t believe in myself. Sam obviously saw something in me that I didn’t. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. He’s the one who pushed me and taught me a lot about this industry.
I think, for anyone, it’s all about not giving up, truly believing in yourself and knowing that you can do more than what’s expected. I went to school for buying. I didn’t know about trade shows and Avraham was the one who taught me the lay of the land. I’m so grateful for that because I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for him.
Can you tell me more about The Brooklyn Intern, the organization you founded with the goal of placing Brooklyn High School students in six-month internships in the fashion industry?
I know the importance of a mentor, so I wanted to become one. It happened so innocently – a young lady came up to me at [an event] and was like, “Listen, I want to work for you.” She was so passionate but didn’t know what she wanted to do. I saw a bit of myself in her. She ended up working for me and later on it was just amazing to see how much she had matured. I ended up doing it for another girl and then another girl, and then wanted to build The Brooklyn Intern. It’s a program for boys and girls interested in the fashion industry. I look for any way I can help them get that in at a young age.
As co-founder of Liberty Fairs, a menswear trade show, you travel, seeking new talent to bring to NYC. What personality traits do you look for that indicate whether someone will be successful?
I look for people’s drive. I look for the passion they have when they speak about what they want to do. I’m mentoring my niece and her mom has more passion in what she’s trying to have her daughter do than my niece does. I told her, “It’s not for your mother. It’s about drive; it’s about passion. It’s not for your mom to push you; it’s for you to want to push yourself!” That’s what I look for in people. It’s about the energy they give off when they speak about what their passions. If I see that, then I know it’s going be a good run with this kid.
What’s next for you?
I’m always looking for improvement, both personally and professionally. I’m working to grow Liberty Fairs, but also want to make sure the customer is my priority, and that I cater to their needs.