By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — Sharon Reynolds is a highly successful serial entrepreneur, but she’s never forgotten where she came from.
A five-generation Nashvillian, she’s a scion of her forebears. Her grandfather, a Black man, owned an automotive detail shop, T. H. Williams and Sons Automotive Repair, in the 1950s and early 1960s. Reynolds remembers hearing stories of him sitting outside the shop at night in those days, keeping vigilant watch over his family and business from those driven to violence by hatred, ignorance and fear.
Her father worked three jobs to care for his family and successfully integrated his job at the fire department, affording her and her six siblings a middle-class lifestyle when Sharon was eight.
Her mother’s side of the family consists of a line of scholars, who taught her education was key to success.
“I wanted to see more than what I saw growing up as a child. I knew that Black people were great in a lot of areas, we just needed opportunities, and having no access to opportunities was what the downfall was to keep us from shining to our fullest extent,” Reynolds said of her decision to go to college.
She said her father’s youngest sister, Gloria, influenced her growing up, teaching her to never take ‘no’ for an answer. “‘Find your ‘yes,’ is what she would always tell me,” she recalled.
Gloria encouraged her love of fashion and taught her the basics. She began sewing her own clothes in middle school when her dad bought her first Singer sewing machine at Gloria’s behest. She loved the creativity of it all, and began developing a circle of clients by the time she was a high-school senior.
Making her own clothes gave Reynolds a sense of individuality that she treasured. “I liked looking different. I liked bringing something different to the table, and that’s in everything that I do.”
Her newfound entrepreneurial abilities were taking off, but education remained the top priority in the household.
Days turned dark, however, when her family found themselves at the mercy of a society that, despite checking all the boxes of what makes an ideal American family, regarded them as disposable because of the color of their skin.
Sharon’s sister lay bleeding in the street waiting for help after being hit by a drunk driver. She was nine years old, and the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. The ambulance that serviced the nearby white community was not permitted to come to the aid of Black residents in need. By the time an ambulance that could help arrived, her sister was beyond saving. “She laid there for what seemed, to me, a lifetime, but they said it was about 40 to 45 minutes later. It was terrible. She died two days later,” Reynolds said. “I saw the difference between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ and why it’s so critically important for everyone to have an equal chance, an equal opportunity to be the very best that they can be.”
“I love Nashville, but it still has some black eyes,” she said. Interstate 40 carved up the thriving Black community of North Nashville, scarring its historic landscape. And now, gentrification and the lack of affordable housing are displacing its families, who’ve been left without a lot of options. “People can’t afford to stay where they grew up,” she lamented.
So she divides her time between her roles as CEO, mother, wife, and member of multiple boards, working to intertwine them with efforts to positively affect her community and help people all over the world.
That mission is at the heart of her businesses, such as DevMar Products LLC, a wholesale distribution company established in 2007 and designed to address sanitation issues in the healthcare industry with a focus on sustainability and environmental consciousness. The company holds eight patents for just one of its products, and was deployed in worldwide military installations when Covid-19 hit. DevMar’s products are used in hospitals, schools and airports, to name a few. The name is a hybrid of the names of her sons, Devon and Marco.
Reynolds launched DevMar Manufacturing in 2012 to handle the distribution of its specialty products, partnering with big companies that want to partner with diverse suppliers like herself. “Since George Floyd, I’ve never seen anything like it. Companies that I had been chasing for 10 to 15 years were all of the sudden chasing me … [These companies] were remiss in their supply chains of not including people of color and they know it,” she said. Shifting leadership leads to shifting concerns, and in some companies, even bonuses are being tied to supplier diversity, Reynolds said.
Then, six years ago she launched DevMar Global Healthcare Solutions, partnering with a team, Ni-Q, which is one of only two companies that center on providing human milk for at-risk and premature infants to hospitals across America. The process is extensive, including pasteurization and screenings for bacteria and viruses, but does not degrade the nutritional components of the milk. The shortages of formula and tainted formula have shone a light on this need within the last few years.
That venture would prove to be somewhat serendipitous. In 2017, Reynolds’s grandchild, Bryla Josephine, was born prematurely and her daughter-in-law was unable to provide milk. Reynolds doesn’t believe in coincidences.
“It was ordained for me to be there with that company,” she said. “Ni-Q milk saved my own grandchild. That child is healthy, and that milk had everything to do with it,” she affirmed.
And so, Reynolds launched yet another business venture, this time to secure a legacy for her grandchild.
Bryla J. Couture Clothiers was born. “Fashion for a purpose,” Reynolds said of the line. Part of the proceeds go to charity, but it’s also about elevating women in business. To Reynolds, it’s crucial that women support women.
That philosophy is the reason why Reynolds mentors young women in business. “It’s important for women like us to step out of our comfort zone, to mentor and train other women coming behind us, especially African American women. We are the ones who get the least opportunities,” she said.
There’s a long way to go but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, Reynolds asserts.
“I don’t like to see children hurting and wanting for things, not just what they want but what they need for survival,” she added. That’s why her role on the board for Enterprising Women is so important to her. EW helps young girls in at-risk schools in Davidson County through its Young Enterprising Women program with a focus on the STEAM areas. “There is an awesome responsibility God gives us,” she said. EW will be part of the annual WBENC conference March 20-23. For more information, visit enterprisingwomen.com.
Continuing on, she wants to put a focus on the communities that are still struggling here.
You can find more information on the DevMar family of products at devmarproducts.com and shop Reynolds’s line of couture clothing at brylaj.com.