How can you turn something you love into a successful career? Ahead of hosting WAH at our V&A takeover we asked its founder, Sharmadean Reid, to unlock her key to success. Since starting as a fanzine, WAH has gone from strength to strength with a recent collaboration with ASOS and new store opening in Soho – Sharmadean is the perfect source of knowledge for women wanting to set up their own business.

gal-dem: How did your journey into the world of fashion begin?

Sharmadean: I always read obsessively, I read magazines cover to cover, first teen girl magazines, then Vogue and Elle and music magazines, anything related to pop culture. I lived in Wolverhampton which is a small town and I just always knew I wanted to live in London. I found a degree when I was 12 at St Martins and I knew I wanted that degree, so I got the prospectus every year from 12 to 18, I called them up every year and asked if the course was still available. I graduated with a First, but I worked in fashion before I even started the course because I was just so hungry, I interned for Nicola Formichetti and then I was styling and consulting loads before I started WAH.

Do you see going to university as an essential step for someone wanting to enter the world of fashion and design?

I actually don’t, I always tell girls now to study something they don’t know much about. I almost wish I hadn’t done a fashion degree, because I already knew a lot of it and I already had a huge passion for it – I was always going to do fashion. I wish I’d done something like History, and then I’d constantly be learning something new that would complement my love for fashion, but give me a whole other skillset and level of knowledge.

How did WAH transition from a fanzine to business idea?

I just wanted somewhere I could hang out with my friends and we could get our nails done, nowhere was doing cool designs so I decided I was going to do it myself, to be honest I was a bit naïve about the whole thing. I’d started the zine and was giving it out to all the cool girls I knew and saw in clubs, so I’d already built a collective of really cool people. I wanted to showcase nail art in a cool way, it was never a big trend back then, but all my cool girl friends got their nails done and I knew it could be big.

Then I got obsessed with business and proving myself as a female entrepreneur, I didn’t need any men in suits to help me grow my company, they didn’t understand the brand or the mind of a 16-year-old girl anyway.

As a woman of colour have you faced particular challenges in progressing creatively?

I never see my race as an issue, or my gender. I’m going to do what I want and I’m going to be great at it – I never start something thinking it will fail.

How important is a business plan in building your brand?

I was quite naïve when I started WAH, but I always tell girls now to make a business plan and keep it as a working document. I go back to mine all the time, adjusting strategy and how I’m going to make this brand work. For me, it’s about helping girls not make the same mistakes that I made, helping girls get the confidence so that they can do whatever they want.

What would be your top tips for women wanting to build a creative business?

  1. Ask your friends and family for money first, but you better pay them back!
  2. Always have a vision and make sure you can say it in a single sentence.
  3. Have a sick brand aesthetic and stick to it in everything you do.
  4. Only hire people on your vibe, if you’re not working someone is.
  5. Build a community, they’ll be your most loyal customers.

What did being awarded an MBE mean for you?

I mean, I’ve still got to go to work. I actually love the symbolism of the Royal Family, a lot of people think they’re a waste of space but it represents a lot for British exports. It means a lot to me, I’m very British.

How important is it to have female role models in the world of business, beauty and fashion?

We definitely are living in an age of female solidarity; girls just need a bit of encouragement and attention right now. They also need someone to look up to, I barely had any female entrepreneurs to look up to growing up. I try to provide role models for girls who are only a couple of steps ahead of them, it makes it more relatable and attainable. The whole thing with Future Girl Corporation is that imagine a boardroom and instead a bunch of old men it’s me and my friends. It’s a kind of a piss-take of what we view as a corporation. What I want to do long term is think about how I can utilise my knowledge and network of amazing girls, they have such amazing knowledge I feel like everyone should be able to have access to them.

You recently collaborated with ASOS on a fashion line. How do you go about choosing which brands to collaborate with?

Lola Okuyiga, who’s a buyer for ASOS White and Collaborations, has known about WAH since I had the fanzine. She’s asked me loads of times to do a clothing collection but I wasn’t ready, I was never going to do it just for the sake of it. But when she asked me again recently, I’d had an idea, and I knew it was going to be sick.

With the launch of your new store coming up, what can we expect and what other projects do you have in the pipeline?

WAH worldwide domination starts with Soho, it’s going to be the salon of the future! It’s going to be so cool, it’ll be our flagship and the epitome of all things WAH! We’re combining beauty and tech to create the perfect hang out spot, we’ve got 6 manicure and 3 pedicure stations, a retail space featuring our fave independent beauty brands and a cocktail bar! We’ve been working on a virtual reality nail designer, Kim Boutin has been building it for us and she’s incredible, she used to do all the digital design for Kenzo. I want it to create a seamless online and offline transition, so from our Instagram to our store, the vibe remains the same. It’s really about utilising retail technology to create something that’s truly futuristic.

You can find WAH in the reception of the V&A museum tomorrow at the learning centre from 6:30pm.