Grant Blvd’s Kimberly McGlonn on Blk Ivy, Her New “Shoppable Museum”
Plus: a peek at her other progressive projects focusing on the politics of fashion.
With progressive new projects focusing on the politics of fashion, Grant Blvd’s Kimberly McGlonn is redefining style in West Philly and beyond. And here, she shares her vision.
On what’s up first this year: Blk Ivy is opening this month in the Grant Blvd storefront in West Philly. It’s a thrift-and-vintage concept focusing on American fashion from the 1960s. The clothing spans two key dates in the civil rights movement: Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and Shirley Chisholm’s run for president in 1972.
On Blk Ivy’s inspiration: I got the idea after watching a Netflix documentary about jazz artist Lee Morgan, who donned the Black Ivy style of dress — a uniform of protest and a call to respect Black Americans rooted in button-up shirts, layering of fabrics and denim. But I just put a pin in it at the time. Seven months later, in October 2022, I find myself in L.A. for a conference and visit the Arcana bookstore. I walk down the aisle, and facing out from the shelf is the book Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style. I grabbed it, knowing intuitively that it was there for me.
On Grant Blvd’s transformation: We’re moving the flagship to Penn’s campus, but the store will be much different from how people currently know us. We’ll still make clothing with the highest standard of sustainability and ethics in labor, but we aren’t doing any more deadstock. There will only be one piece from the original Grant Blvd store that we’re carrying in the flagship, and that’s a shirt called the Harriet.
On the store’s design shift: We weren’t designing what we wanted to design. We were designing what we had. For the first time, I’m going to design what I really believe in — what I really believe that women who have very full lives like I do want from their wardrobe. They want clothes to feel like pajamas but look like elevated loungewear that can move from daytime to playtime. We’re going to offer monochromatic looks in a variety of shirt and bottom styles, called “day-play sets.” The pieces are meant to be modular. And then we’re going to offer denim that’s 100 percent made in America and will follow a 1970s design aesthetic.
On men’s fashion: Grant Blvd was probably 90 percent clothing for women and 10 percent clothing for men in the past, but we’re trying to adjust that balance. I don’t want men to think we’ve forgotten about them. Both Blk Ivy and Grant Blvd are going to be attending to them.
On her new hospitality division, GB Home & Hospitality: The W hotel’s director of marketing happened to be with a friend who kept getting compliments from strangers on our Harriet shirt. So she asked if we could do uniforms for the food-and-beverage team. That’s when I started thinking: Wow, there’s an opportunity here. Uniforms are wearable art for restaurants and hotel spaces that are thinking about how they are creating texture in a space beyond what lives on a plate or the walls. Fashion is another canvas, and textiles are another canvas at large.
On her upcoming Fashion the Future Forward initiative: This project will be part of the nonprofit that we’re launching in 2023 called the Green Labor Lab. Our mission is to lobby for equal wages and education about sustainable living and also workforce development, particularly for women who are formerly incarcerated. There’s a real intentionality to the program beyond creating living-wage jobs. We will identify women who are interested in learning how to sew, train them in the sewing arts, and then retain their talent in an effort to grow our internal capacity. For a very long time, Philadelphia was the textile manufacturing center of the U.S. We haven’t given up on the need to really revitalize that industry. This is one way to do it.
On her goals: With Grant Blvd, I hope that the clothing works as a secret networking card. Because if the pieces are recognizable enough, Philadelphians will immediately know when they’re with someone who shares the same values. They both care about living wages and the planet and justice. They might even become real friends because they both care about supporting women. They belong to the same tribe without even speaking a word. Overall, I hope that these projects remind people that what we wear matters, and that it’s a reflection of what we value. The power of our dollar to create change is as powerful as our vote when we shop local and locally produced.
Good to Know
Think of Blk Ivy, named for the style of dress favored by Black creatives and activists in the ’60s, as a “shoppable museum” filled with thrift and vintage pieces that defined the era. The store will also serve as a community space, with poetry slams, book clubs, and voter registration events.
- Opens Grant Blvd
- Named to Citibank’s top “20 of 2020” list
- Joins faculty at Drexel
- Grant Blvd named first Black-owned North American B Corp in fashion
- Launches GB Home & Hospitality
- Debuts Blk Ivy and transforms Grant Blvd
- Plans launch of Fashion the Future Forward
- Will expand Grant Blvd’s concept to other cities
Published as “School of Thought” in the February 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.