We had the good fortune of connecting with Sherifa Gayle and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sherifa, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
It all began in 2010 with me jotting down some design ideas, this was my creative outlet, and being able to produce these designs via a 3rd party website was easy to do and fun. Wearing the tees on campus (CCNY) and posting them on FB gave them traction, so naturally, I began selling them but it wasn’t something I was taking serious. This led to me learning how to screen print and use photoshop to cut production costs. I was, and still am a huge hip-hop head, so BIGGIE was definitely on rotation, leading to me making a shirt in his honor. The design was a pic of BIGGIE’s face, but I didn’t know what to put on the side, so I put one of his infamous lines “black and ugly as ever”. As the Biggie shirt began receiving a lot more attention, people kept referring to it as the “black N ugly” tee. Hearing “black N ugly” stuck out to me, and I debated with myself for months on whether to use it as my brand’s name. I realized I could use the abbreviation BU, turning it into an oxymoron of sorts because most of the designs were pro-black with a prideful message. This was the real start of my business because I had a direction and purpose. The name is what I get questioned about the most. Why black N ugly? To begin, it’s everything you think it’s not. Black N’ Ugly is raw – it’s unapologetic, it makes a bold statement. An oxymoron, if you will. It’s one of a kind, there are no other brands such as it. While reclaiming the power of words I want Black N Ugly to be the dopest and most meaningful brand you’ve ever experienced! Every design is skillfully crafted and thoughtfully created. I’m taking the negative and creating a new and more positive stance. After all, Biggie said it first; “back N ugly as ever, however…”
I wanted to take some words that are frowned upon and then materialize it into a positive product. If it was black and beautiful you would just say how cliche. Black N ugly demands attention, it fuels the blood and dares to repeat those two hated words together but with a whole other meaning. I wanted to take something so raw and make it pure again. Black is definitely not ugly and we as a people have been hearing it so long we begin to believe it. Black is beautiful and with my line, I will continue to prove it, with pieces that honor those who came before us and inspiring those who will come after.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Being born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and growing up in Harlem, NYC has shaped me, especially creatively. Both places are filled with a lot of culture and pride, I believe I’m a walking example of that. My style is very unique/effortless, I love to mix patterns and color blocks, a walking collage of sorts. Fashion is a way for us to speak without saying a word so I try to make sure I’m always making a statement. While in college I always knew I wanted to be creative, I was just unsure as to exactly how. I’m forever grateful that I get to live a life I’ve dreamed about. One design in particular that solidified this was the ASSATA tee. I designed this tee after reading her book and being inspired by her life events. I designed the shirt and upon releasing it on my website I was contacted by the Zed books, the publisher of her autography. They wanted to send me boxes of her books to cross-promo my t-shirts because it was so beautiful. Seeing my designs all over the world has motivated me to continue to follow my creative talents beyond my wildest dreams.
Designing outside of my brand has become one of the best parts of my following my passion. I currently design for schools in NYC and have worked with schools all over the country. I’ve designed merch for other brands, non-profits, restaurants, dog shops, and more. My most recent venture has been designing dog accessories with The Dogfather of Harlem. I welcomed this challenge and learned a few things about the pet industry while doing so. I’m excited for what’s to come, stay tuned!
I believe I can design anything once I have the foundation of its purpose and functionality. I hope that in the future I can use this mindset to tackle furniture or even a building.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If someone comes to NYC it’s only right to stop in Harlem. It’s experience in itself, a melting pot of culture. We’d swing my the Apollo, maybe some shopping, then take a stroll over to Harlem’s restaurant row, where we can dine and have a few drinks while supporting black businesses. It’s a win win.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My journey has been blessed with an abundant amount of help, from family and friends. My mom has helped shaped my mind when it comes to business and fashion, she’s guided me by just being herself and providing me with the support to follow my dreams. My brother & sisters have always been in my corner as well and I appreciate that. One person, in particular, is my best friend/assistant Kenny Carew. He’s been with me from day one when I use to cut out letters and glue them to shirts, to now being able to work with major corporations. He’s helped me with designs, marketing, production, and everything in between. He’s a creative himself so he understands a lot of my struggles and his patience with me has been a beautiful thing. I think oftentimes we are told not to mix business and personal but this is one exception. Knowing that you have unwavering support as a creative is very important and I can’t express how grateful I am for that. They say if you want to go fast you go alone, but if you want to go far go together. He’s been the backbone of BU and I wanted to take this moment and acknowledge him.