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Meet Grant BLVD: The Sustainable Brand Tackling Mass Incarceration
Lifestyle

Meet Grant BLVD: The Sustainable Brand Tackling Mass Incarceration

The United States leads the world in the highest rate of incarceration: 2.2 million people were incarcerated in the United States by the end of 2016.

Kimberly McGlonn, founder of sustainable brand Grant BLVD, is combining her passion for fashion and social justice to address mass incarceration and creating a pipeline to send books to prisons.

The beginnings of Grant BLVD

The Milwaukee native moved to Philadelphia about fifteen years ago to teach at a suburban high school. Teaching youth on marginalization in America through literature and documentaries, her students learned about issues such the school-to-prison pipeline and how slavery still manifests in our current systems. Although she was opening and guiding new  conversations, McGlonn was looking to do more.

“Having grown up in Milwaukee, on the north side as a girl who identified as Black and Muslim,” she said. “I recognized that there were communities still experiencing significant oppression in my daily life that I wasn’t connected to the way I wanted to be.”

McGlonn eventually volunteered at Books Through Bars, a nonprofit in West Philadelphia that sends free books to people incarcerated in the mid-Atlantic region. The letters sent from people in incarceration resonated with her and she pondered over how she can personally contribute to this mission.

Product exchange was the solution she found. Her vision grew into creating a slow fashion company with a mission of ethical and sustainable production, and produce a constant supply of books for donation.

Fashion was not a new interest for McGlonn. From a young age frequently visiting thrift stores, she was enchanted by the idea of reclaiming old things and reimagining them.

“My earliest relationship with fashion is rooted in the way you can choose an outfit to time travel,” she said.

“The Jane”, a garment in Grant BLVD’s Re-imagined Menswear line

Her return to fashion came after discovering how impactful the fashion industry is and the limitations of access to sustainable fashion. Fast fashion is dominating the industry with global production doubling, leading to clothes being worn less and thrown away quicker. Aside from the issue of waste before and after production, the demand has led to issues of human rights, resulting in incidents such as the fatal garment factory collapse in Bangladesh years ago.

McGlonn’s love of not producing and buying new things as a cost-saving measure, became an ethical stance that molded into her company’s mission.

Enter: Grant BLVD.

The brand name, Grant BLVD, is a reference to the boulevard McGlonn grew up on as a child and inspired by the work of her parents and life experiences.

Having managed to escape poverty and moving up to the middle class, McGlonn says her parents had a sense of obligation, responsibility, and awareness that she recognized. Her mother would work with incarcerated women at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution on the weekends. Her father, who took pride in organic urban gardens, centered his activism around addressing food deserts. He tended to his own gardens to provide fresh produce to his community.

“I grew up on that boulevard understanding that I had a sense of obligation and I had room to take action,” McGlonn said. “While Grant Boulevard taught me about this larger sense of obligation to people of color and the poor, it also taught me about that struggle.”

Her parents’ health began to decline and by fourteen, McGlonn’s sheltered life was obliterated and she navigated through personal struggles on her own. By living on Grant Boulevard, she was able to grow.

The significance of names is present in the titles of the clothing sold in the reimagined menswear line. Customers may recognize tops that are a nod to figures such as Harriet Tubman and Nina Simone. McGlonn says honoring the legacy of women who have inspired her and informed her thinking are a must.

“Diane Nash, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth are names people should know,” she said.

“There are all these other stories of women, black and white and brown who have been fighting for equality and justice.”

Kimberly McGlonn

Threads you’ll find in Grant BLVD

The current collection includes blouses, dresses, rompers, and skirts created from fabrics of what was originally mens clothing. Other lines include shirts with phrases like “End Mass Incarceration”, “Earth Bae”, and “Mad Sustainable” screen printed onto the front.

One of Grant BLVD’s screen printed works stating “End Mass Incarceration

The most time-consuming part is finding garments that fit the vibe of a particular collection. The fabric is not bought in bulk, so “every piece is curated like art,” McGlonn said.

Additionally, Grant BLVD practices sustainability by lightly packaging orders in recycled plastic bags and printing business cards on recycled paper. They plan to always use reclaimed fabrics for their garments. As an ethical brand, they practice fair-chance employment and purposely hiring people who have been marginalized, paying a fair wage and providing a support system for them.

Grant BLVD’s partnership with Books Through Bars has been successful so far. Every purchase will include a book donation. Since launching in October, approximately 110 books have been donated to the nonprofit. The fashion brand meets its needs by donating dictionaries, the books demanded the most.

McGlonn is aware that sustainable fashion is often inaccessible due to its pricing. She does not want to price out people who should be accessing these resources. By going outside of systems that have disregarded the planet, producing things environmentally will come with a cost.

“For people that value sustainability, there’s a growing conversation that we’re going to have to make sacrifices in terms of our greed if the larger ambition is to save the planet,” she said.

McGlonn is actively changing the face of sustainability, as the movement has been white-washed at times. As a Black woman owning a sustainable fashion brand, she understands there are obstacles in her way but she’s determined to overcome them.

“There are some really phenomenal women in America who are hidden figures in this return to sustainable practices which we know culturally for indigenous peoples around the world that it’s intuitive,” McGlonn said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for centuries. That’s how we survived.”

Grant BLVD’s studio currently resides in Southwest Philly, but they hope to eventually move into a brick-and-mortar. With a brick-and-mortar, they’d like to grow their presence and be a welcoming space for people to connect. They also hope to play around with more sustainable designs, using reclaimed fabrics.

Their main goal is to continue the conversations around mass incarceration and the future of the planet in order to create a diverse coalition. These are conversations where every voice needs to be at the table, and Grant BLVD is willing to offer that seat.


Photos: Madelynne Juenger, Grant BLVD

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Siani Colon
Siani is a junior journalism major with a minor in Latin American Studies at Temple University. She is an editorial fellow at Motivos Magazine and also works for student publications like The Temple News and 14th Street Magazine. During her downtime, Siani loves watching documentaries on Netflix. View all posts by Siani Colon

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