Photography: Daniel D’Ottavio
Interview: Igee Okafor BOND OFFICIAL
Ahead of Liberty Fairs’ new initiative around taking tradeshows virtual, we asked co-owner and founder, Sharifa Murdock to share the significance of change in the men’s fashion and trade show circuit. In light of recent events and movements towards COVID-19, diversity and inclusion, we bring you an insight into how the powerhouse brand is conveying necessary change and leadership plus an introduction to the new Vice President, Edwina Kulego.
BO: Emerging brands at the forefront of Trade Shows: What is your origin story with Liberty Fairs?
SM: Liberty Fairs is my second soirée into the world of trade shows. After successfully building and selling Project to Advanstar Communications back in (2012) my business partner and I immediately recognized there would be a void in the market, and that up and coming designers looking to break into mainstream fashion would have limited if any resources. When we launched Liberty Fairs in 2013, our tagline was “Brand Together.” We were committed to helping new brands build and create their identity by connecting them with premium retail partners. I’m proud to say we continue to deliver on that creed year after year.
BO: Any advice on achieving corporate success?
SM: Do away with the idea of achieving corporate success. The world is changing and those changes will directly impact the infrastructure of corporate America. Over the next 5 years as the country rebounds culturally and economically – you shouldn’t be beholden to an architect standard of “success.” My advice would be to build your own core value and goal system and measure your success against that day over day. Set your tone.
BO: Speaking of change, a lot of good news for Liberty Fairs recently. First off, you’re taking the tradeshows virtual and you’ve also appointed a new Vice President. What do these new advances mean professionally for the business and for you?
SM: What this pandemic has taught me is we can’t rely on one business model to serve our fashion community. Virtual programming is just an additional platform that we had been considering for some time to serve as an added value. We are co-opping virtual programming with our traditional footprint because FASHION DON’T STOP!
BO: What would you say is hindering change?
SM: Fear. The new world is unknown and uncharted. The exploration needed to push this industry forward will require us all to do away with comfort. That can be paralyzing when you think that for 50 plus years a norm was created and managed by the majority. The future of this industry rests in the hands of those who look to abolish the old and welcome in the new. What that means is empowering young people. Giving them a seat at the table and allowing their vantage point to be seen and considered not just commodified.
“As a Co-Owner/ Founder of Liberty, I can’t ever walk away! I am deeply invested in the purpose and success of my business. If I’m being honest, the only angst that I felt in this process was the delay in announcing Edwina Kulego as my successor for the day to day business functions.“
BO: Congratulations on your new position as Vice President at Liberty Fairs. For those who don’t know, walk us through your career journey.
EK: Thank you! It’s exciting to start this new chapter in my career. I began my career in fashion and trade shows 10 years ago. I met Sharifa Murdock during my senior year in college and she offered me an internship at the trade show she founded with Sam Ben Avraham called PROJECT. It was my first introduction to the trade show industry and I was intrigued by the beautiful events we created. After the completion of my internship I was offered a position as executive assistant to the CEO. After that I pivoted into sales and over time I helped launch our first International show in Tokyo, Japan. I aslo co-created the first International Business Development Department at Informa Markets in 2016. In that role I spent most of my time travelling the world and building partnerships with government groups investing in Fashion. I feel incredibly blessed to join the Liberty Team as Vice President after 10 years in this exciting business.
BO: What does your new job entail and what does this role and responsibility mean to you?
EK: As Vice President, I will be overseeing the Liberty Fairs brand and all facets of the business. I am officially three weeks in and I am already building and collaborating with the team; I couldn’t be happier with the transition. The new role gives me that opportunity to impact not only the Liberty Fairs brand and team but also our industry in a meaningful way and that is a responsibility that I take very seriously. The current pandemic has forced many of us to hit the reset button, in my opinion it is a much needed wake up call for the Fashion Industry. It is time for us all to rethink our typical habits and processes in order to create a more dynamic and sustainable ecosystem.
BO: What a legacy to follow. Did you ever see this coming, especially starting off working with Sharifa as an intern?
EK: Sharifa and I always knew that we would work together again one day. It’s definitely a full circle moment for us. I believe that we both needed time to develop and grow on our various paths before reuniting. After a decade in the business I am convinced that I have the experience and perspective that will serve the Liberty Fairs brand.
BO: From the first day you met to what you both are now, what are some valuable lessons you’ve learned from her?
EK: One of the most valuable lessons that I learned from Sharifa was to keep my word, especially when it came to customers. Essentially, when you commit to doing something you have to follow through. “Your word is your bond” this is a quote that Sharifa would frequently repeat to the team. Her passion for getting tasks done by all means necessary is something that I truly admire. Sharifa’s work ethic is undeniable; it is what sets her apart from the average person. It is nearly impossible to work at less than a 100% capacity when you are in her presence.
BO: What are you looking forward to the most in your new role?
EK: I am extremely passionate about developing our team and seeing our organization soar. I believe that internal passion and positive energy exudes externally. I want to support our community and customers by creating new pathways for them to achieve their various goals.
“I want to impact meaningful change in the fashion industry that is recognized and valued. Lastly, I want to continue to promote diversity and inclusion in our business, internally and externally.”
BO: It’s very refreshing to see women supporting each other in a way that exerts much needed examples of female empowerment and influential leadership. How do you both plan to make sure this DNA is instilled in everything you do?
SM: Edwina and I EQUALLY represent the power and value of women’s voice and influence within the Menswear space. However, we are part of a small number of women who help this business THRIVE. I know that we are both committed to the recruitment and investment of more females leaders in this space. We plan to use what we have learned from our personal and professional business relationships to serve at the foundation of our mentorship and recruiting efforts to further diversify what leadership looks like in Menswear.
EK: It is imperative that women support each other and pull each other up. Women already deal with so many oppositions in our professional careers; it is important that we have allies and a strong support system to continue to grow. I am committed to supporting women in reaching their goals to the best of my ability. Each one teaches one! I consciously make myself available to offer mentorship to young women who are entering their professional careers and I am pleased to say that I have a few success stories that I am proud to be a part of.
BO: Any concrete/initial plans to revolutionize the ethos of Liberty Fairs currently and post pandemic?
SM: Liberty Fairs will ALWAYS lead the charge by ushering/introducing new brands into the marketplace. We pride ourselves on our ability to influence retail from a trend and heritage perspective. Innovation will always serve as the cornerstone/ intersection of our product/service offerings. During the pandemic which froze us all into place- I was fortunate enough to experience the luxury of time and to assess how I could inject meaningful change in the fashion space by leveling the playing fields for new diverse talent. Our industry is so large and from a macro level, I have become uber passionate about creating infrastructures where diversity becomes the norm in the workplace. I realized that I had built and fostered a diverse team during my tenure at Project, Liberty Fairs, and ENVSN Fest. It has become apparent that this is what I enjoy doing. Standing up a business that houses some of the most brilliant and motivated minds. So that’s what I look to do in the future- WATCH OUT WORLD, I’m on my way!
EK: Liberty Fairs is always at the forefront of innovation and change; I am committed to keeping that legacy alive. I have no doubt that 2021 will be a groundbreaking year of creativity and change for our events. We are working on some exciting new plans that will create more value and meaningful connections for our industry. Stay tuned!