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(Exclusive) Meet the Black Designer Behind Kaepernick’s GQ Cover: ‘I Didn’t Know What It Was For’

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Guy and Sharene Wood/MJP Paparazzi

Excluding the people who’ve disagreed with Colin Kaepernick’s protests from the get-go, there were a lot of folks who were pleased when they learned he was selected by GQ for Citizen of the Year. Those same people were probably just as happy to find out he only wanted to work with people of color or female designers for the photo shoot.

Rachel Johnson, Kaepernick’s stylist, told Refinery29 that it was important to him that he worked with designers who’ve been underexposed.

“He wanted to wear designers of color and/or designers who were women,” said Johnson. “He wanted to give an opportunity for designers to be featured in the magazine who wouldn’t normally be, especially for a cover shoot of this magnitude.”

Johnson reached out to Kerby Jean-Raymond for the shoot, the designer of the menswear label Pyer Mos. He created a shirt for Kaepernick called “Even More Names,” which follows a similar shirt he wore called “They Have Names.” Both list some of the Black men who were killed by police officers.

Kaepernick’s stylist also reached out to Guy and Sharene Wood, the husband and wife designing team who owns Harlem Haberdashery and its parent company 5001 Flavors.

It was The Woods who designed the stylish black leather blazer worn by the 30-year-old for the GQ cover, and it’s gotten 400,000 likes on Kaepernick’s page in just four days. 

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In an exclusive interview, Sharene Wood talked about the jacket she and her husband made for Kaepernick, and how it felt when she landed the gig. 

What was your reaction when you first got the call?

We knew that we had designed for Colin before but we weren’t sure what this one was for. I was actually surprised. Glad for this honor. We’re glad that we were included in the historic shoot.  

From the time you got the call to actually turning the jacket in, what was the process?

Because of [Harlem Haberdashery’s parent company 5001 Flavors], we had a longstanding relationship with both the stylist on the shoot Rachel Johnson and also Colin as a client. So it was not out of the ordinary to get a call regarding [work] or a request from Rachel. We’ve worked with her quite extensively for over 15 years. She knows our capabilities and what we have, she requested -very specifically- that jacket for Colin and it was made for him. Since he is a client of ours, we had his measurements. We made it and dropped it off, not knowing what it was for.

Is this a one of a kind piece, can people get one just like it?

A lot of our clothes are custom made or made to order. It’s a little bit difficult for us to style some really cool leather pieces unless we know specifics. So a lot of our clothes are available, but custom made to order.

What do you think about Colin only wanting people of color and female designers for the GQ shoot?

I think what he’s trying to do is create a space where he feels people are not represented and I respect that. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes that’s how we have to get a chance. But I believe it’s just like what Ava Duvernay is doing on OWN, working with a lot of women. It’s not about being exclusive to other people, but he’s trying to be inclusive for the community that he feels is not represented fairly.

What’s your opinion on Colin as a person, as well as an activist and what do you think about the conversations he’s started by protesting NFL games last year?

My only issue with the protest is that other people are not recognizing what the true meaning of his protest is. People aren’t recognizing the severity of the issue that he’s trying to bring to the national spotlight. They’re concentrating on something very specific but also taking it out of context … I believe in the protest. I kneel with him, so that means I stand next to him.

What has the general fanfare been like for you since the GQ photos have surfaced? Especially since Kaepernick has been praised by many and compared to sports legends like Muhammad Ali and John Carlos.

I think that we’ve had a lot more fashion feedback than political activism feedback. It just so happens that a fashion statement became a political statement because I didn’t really understand visually how much of a Black Panther look that was- until I saw it.

So sometimes things happen for a reason. I knew he was getting a black leather blazer but that image in Harlem, in that context, with all of those like-minded activist talking about him, really made me see, ‘Oh my gosh, this is almost like a blast from the past, like a Black Panther look.’ I loved it. It’s exactly what they wanted to convey, and I don’t mind being part of the statement that is being made.

What’s next for you?

Next for 5001, we’ll definitely continue to work with our celebrity clients. We often work with them from obscurity to fame, from unsigned hype to mega-stardom. We work with our clients on their image and look. The good thing now is, our clients are becoming multi-generational. We’re working with Christian Combs and Puff’s kids, Will Smith and his kids.

For Harlem Haberdashery, we’re looking for strong strategic partners. I would love to branch out into a lifestyle collection of various categories for homes, beauty, clothing, accessories. We’re actively pursuing a lot of those opportunities. We also want Harlem Haberdashery to expand into multi locations throughout the world.

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