“You don’t realize until you look back,” says Harlem’s Guy Wood. Guy and Sharene Barnett met over 20 years ago at a diner. “I saw her, I thought she was cute, and I hollered at her.” He had no idea that Sharene Barnett would be his soul mate, his life mate. “We became friends. We developed a strong friendship. Sharene is very determined. She saw something inside me that I couldn’t see in myself at the time.”
One common ground between the two is Harlem, a fact that they both honor. Their parents are from Harlem, and they credit them for the innate sense of fashion on which they’ve built careers. Guy is a designer/stylist/visionary. Sharene is president and CEO. Together they own 5001 Flavors and their retail establishment, Harlem Haberdashery.
“This wonderful village of Harlem really influenced my style. My mom and dad were sharp dressers,” Sharene says. “That’s also what attracted to me Guy. He doesn’t have limitations about what he can and can’t wear. I’m attracted to that.” Guy says, “I know I get my sense of style from my father and mother. My mother was a seamstress; my father was a sharp dresser. My mother used to make my outfits when I was younger. I hated it. But I remember going with her to pick out McCall’s patterns and fabrics.”
The 1990s—which afforded its own brand of renaissance for driven, ambitious Black New Yorkers—propelled the opportunity for them to make money operating within their passion. Guy is the designer who created the leather trend of the time. “Dudes didn’t want to wear leather because they didn’t want to look like Eddie Murphy Raw.” Elevating ideas around leather, he designed sweatshirts, pants, jackets, hoodies, shirts—all leather everything.
Even Heavy D and the Notorious B.I.G. rocked his skins. “I styled Heavy D and the Boyz for the Nothin’ But Love cover and it took off. They were cool with wearing the peacoats, but the leather pants took some convincing. I said, ‘If these pants don’t fit you like your jeans fit, then you don’t have to pay me.’ ” Led by his eye for style and Uptown will, they wore it. Guy recognizes flavor and who can pull it off. Guy and Sharene’s company has worked with LeBron James, Wiz Khalifa, Robin Thicke and numerous other luminaries.
Sharene calls it swag, Guy calls it flash. Although they live in northern New Jersey, the work and the inspiration are all about uptown NYC. “Harlem was a place [where] when you stepped out to a party or event, even if you didn’t have two nickels to rub together, you were clean,” Guy says. “You might not have any money but you had a hat on, you had a haircut. You were clean. It used to be fedoras, then Kangols. Now it’s snapbacks and bucket hats. But the hat has to match the shoe that goes back to the T-shirt that reminds you to check the belt.
“So that sense of style and pride is still here,” Guy continues, “it’s just a different day. As I see it, you have to let each generation do what they do. We would wear glasses with no lenses. Use a whole half a can of starch on one pair of pants! Our parents thought we were crazy!”
Married seven years ago, the Wood family is five kids strong. “All my kids are unique, and everybody thinks they’re cooler than the next one. They don’t realize I’m the coolest. But they don’t give me no credit. They think they just came with this sense of style.” Their children range in age from 5 to 24: Guy Jr., Teyanna, Brtittny, Jordan and the youngest, Sydney.
“All the kids work with 5001 Flavors or Harlem Haberdashery in some capacity,” he says. (Except little Sydney… soon though.) “Each of my kids have strong personalities. But it’s hard to work with your family! All of my children have been fired by me. They come back to work the next day like, ‘Whatever, Dad. You’re like Lady Eloise, you’re just a figurehead. You have no power. I’m calling [Sharene].’ ”
Sharene, the biological mother of Sydney, has always been a mother to all Guy’s children. “I always felt like men and women should be partners,” she says. “What I saw in him was a really great heart, a sensitive guy, a present father, and someone willing to help others. Those traits were really endearing to me. But I think we each bring something to the relationship that helps the other person be the best they can be.”
Sharene comes from a big family, and she was clear on this: “I wanted to be married when I had a child.” But having her own child was a huge moment for her. “When I realized how important a mom is and the fact that you are responsible for this life… I also didn’t know how difficult it would be. I did not respect the role like I should have before I became a mom. It’s a great job and a huge responsibility.” Luckily, she has a village: her mom, her godsister and other relatives.
Sharene’s husband believes that families who thrive put God first and then believe in each other, because you will not always agree. And that’s cool too. “But you got to have respect for each other,” he says. “If one person drops the ball, we don’t look down on them. We just pick up the ball and keep running. You’re going to make mistakes. We might razz them a little bit after, but at the end of the day we’re all going for the common goal.”
“We are truly family-owned and operated,” Sharene says. “We work together, we are cooperative. No selfish ideas of living.” Continuing, she says, “I don’t think it’s tied to money as many people think. Progress is important and having a purpose-driven life. Creating a transferable legacy, a history to look back on and leaving this world a better place for your family, that is success.”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.
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EBONY.com Contributing Writer