This Sustainable Fashion Brand is Stylishly Fighting Against America's CORRUPT Mass Incarceration System
How often do you hear sustainable brands talking about MASS INCARCERATION??? …. NEVER! Which is why we were beyond thrilled to connect with Kimberly McGlonn who is the founder of Grant Blvd, a Philly-based brand committed to sustainable sourcing and supporting incarcerated and returning citizens. With American’s criminal justice system disproportionately and systematically affecting Black and Brown communities within the scope of being a form of modern day slavery - it’s imperative now more than ever for conscious brands to understand that sustainability also includes tackling the mass industrial complex.
We were so thrilled to learn about Grant Blvd’s fashion-forward and truly ethical brand, check out this interview
When and why did you start Grant Blvd? What does the name signify?
I first began conceptualizing Grant Blvd about 2 years ago. I was actually in Rotterdam at an exhibit on the future of design, and I was really taken by the diversity of approaches that I saw being taken internationally and across industries in terms of solving problems and meeting projected demands. About the same time I was falling deeper and deeper into my analysis of the American criminal system, in large part because of my work as a classroom teacher. So I spent the next year investigating the fashion industry from a systems level. I was shocked and than angered, quite frankly, by how shamefully destructive it and it’s cycles are to the planet. That lead me, more or less, to start cultivating my take on a solution- a brand designed to experiment with the kind of multilayered, multifaceted approach to addressing the challenges we’re facing. But in truth, I’ve always wanted to do my part to recognize and resist imbalance. Mostly because of Grant Blvd. That’s the block where I grew up in Milwaukee.
When my parents weren't at work, they were fighting for the things they believed in. My dad wanted to make sure that people living on the Northside had access to healthy food. My mom spent time on weekends going to Taycheedah, a women’s correctional institution, to counsel incarcerated women. As kids, my sisters and I, we knew these things. And as an adult, those family memories have always been my guiding lights- my northern stars.
How do you define sustainability?
I define sustainability as a persistent mindfulness about how our quotidian decisions impact the health of not only our planet, but our bodies, our minds, and our communities. For me, sustainability is about respect and gratitude and optimism. And it’s about shift- about shifting our thinking from existing in the space of the immediate into one shaped more by our visions for the long term. Sustainability is about shifting our values and thinking more strategically.
How does criminal justice / mass incarceration fit into the world of fashion and more specifically, sustainable fashion?
Here’s a troubling fact, the American criminal justice system currently holds nearly 6.5 million people in its claws- and that metaphor is purposeful and it’s accurate. Our criminal system imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the entire world and it, this system of warehousing humans, costs our country billions of dollars. And more often than most of us know, incarcerated people create millions of dollars for corporations, sometimes in manufacturing. However, when they return to their/our communities, many of them can’t get jobs.
I plan to change that by creating jobs in sustainable manufacturing for returning citizens.
How are your personally (communally or culturally) affected by mass incarceration?
Mass incarceration affects us all, but it disproportionately affects people of color. As it were, I’ve never been incarcerated, nor has anyone in my immediate family, but my grandfather was incarcerated for most of my childhood. And, as a result, my sisters and I had nearly no relationship with him. But he’s not the only person who I’ve known who’s spent time in jail, in prison, or on parole/probation. Undoubtedly America needs a system of justice, one that applies laws equitably regardless of race and class. However, we’ve never had that. Consequently, most people of color are not far removed from stories and experiences with mass incarceration. I am no different.
What does reform look like for you?
Reform for me looks very, very simply stated like substantial change. For me it includes significant changes in how our criminal system functions from arrest, to bail, to trial, to incarceration, to reentry. And reform from another lens means changing our relationship to consumption and convenience. It’s a change in how we get what we need, who we spend our hard earned dollars with, and what we give value to. Reform looks like changing who we do business with and what we expect from them in terms of their transparency and impact.
What is Books Through Bars and how is your brand working with this initiative? How can others get involved?
Books Through Bars is a volunteer-run non-profit that distributes free books and educational materials to incarcerated people in PA, NJ, NY, MD, DE, VA and WV. Each week, they receive hundreds of letters from prisoners requesting books. Each year they send over 8,000 book packages. They, like Grant Blvd, believe that “mass incarceration is not the answer to the issues that lead people to commit crimes”. Nearly 75% of state prison inmates did not complete high school. Years spent behind bars deprives people of formal education and job experience. In fact, according to their website, “The answers to these problems is not imprisonment. It is knowledge”. So, as a part of our collaboration we plan to support their efforts at filling book requests by sending a book for each garment you purchase. Others can support them by holding book drives or making donations through their website.
What inspires the design aspect of your collections?
Our collections are very much inspired by our desire to push back against sexism. This manifested itself in our decision to use reclaimed men’s shirts as our sole fabric. We’re also really drawn to approaches to womenswear that are translate well between spaces. Our first collection drew pretty heavily from the flirty, feminine energy of the 1950s. This fall we’re shifting our gaze towards the grit and grind of the 90s, so folks should expect a shift in our vibe. Still fun, still down to earth, but you’ll see a different edge in our fall/winter collection. And I’m happy about that that. Sustainability to me requires an enthusiasm for experimentation & play. I’m so here for that
How do you see the future of fashion? sustainable fashion? mass incarceration?
I see the future of the fashion bending itself more and more towards the need to recognize the perilous state of the planet. And I see this happening as a result of consumer demand and I hope, a growing and shared acceptance of what science tells us about not only the future, but the here and now. The same is true of my thoughts on mass incarceration. I think more and more Americans, across lines of race & class, are waking up to the human and civil rights horror that is the age of mass incarceration. I think this is in large part to pop culture conversations that have grown visibility around our justice system. And my hope is that this energy, the momentum of this moment, will produce the revisions we need.