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New Philly Street Art Project Explores Fashion As Activism

February 2, 2023

Yesterday I followed around Dr. Kimberly McGlonn as she installed a new street art poster project that explores fashion as activism!

Kimberly is the Founder and CEO of Grant Blvd, the first Black-owned B Corp (i.e. Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s) in North America as well as the soon-to-be Black Ivy Thrift launching on February 10th, which will offer curated fashion and artifacts for the radical mind and sustainable soul.

Installed on the first day of Black History Month, the wheatpaste project that Kimberly led invites people to think about the history of the Civil Rights Movement through a particular lens. One that we talk about in the interview below! The project was created with design support from OMFGCO and installation support by much-beloved Philly street artist, Symone Salib.

As documented in the photos of this post, the posters were installed at the following locations: 36th Street and Lancaster Avenue, South and Clarion Streets, 3rd and Market Streets, 3rd and Chestnut Streets, Front Street and Girard Avenue, Frankford Avenue and Norris Street, and on the second floor of Tattooed Mom.

Without further ado, a conversation with Dr. Kimberly McGlonn!

Conrad Benner (CB): First, can you tell us about what we did yesterday? And how did the idea to wheatpaste these posters around the city come about?

Dr. Kimberly McGlonn (KM): Yesterday we came together in the spirit of activism to tell a story of Black History through the lens of fashion during the Civil Rights Movement. As a creative team in partnership with OMFGCO of Portland, OR, we designed a campaign for Blk Ivy Thrift which highlighted how activists between 1954-1972 used style to tell stories of resistance. 

CB: Can you offer some details about what folks will see in the posters? What are these images? What is the text talking about? And who designed the posters? 

KM: The campaign pays special attention the Black Panther party, who choose the beret in homage to French resistance fighters in WWII, as a call to action in response to white supremacist terrorism. We also amplified the denim worn by activists across the country in an effort to stand in solidarity with rural farm workers in the south. The last look we highlighted in this campaign is the wider adoption of “Sunday’s Best” attire, as a sign of spiritual devotion for sure, but also as a reclamation of the dignity so often reduced during the six day work week of Black laborers under Jim Crow and the wider oppression of the moment.

CB: Why a wheatpaste project? Why was it important for you to have these images and words in our public space? 

KM: We choose a wheatpaste project because we recognize the public space as a powerful canvas for storytelling, education, and provocation. As a brand, Blk Ivy wants to educate Philadelphians about how fashion has always been used as a tool for activism (particularly during the Civil Rights Movement and more broadly throughout Black culture), but we also want to revive the spirit of that era through our homage to its style. We want folks to think about just how much what and WHO they wear, matters.

CB: Why was it important for you to pull in a working Philly street artist like Symone Salib to help install this around town? 

KM: The gift of Symone’s involvement on this project was crucial to its execution. She stands as such a beautiful representation of the power of street art and just as much as we wanted to pay reverence to the activism of the Civil Rights moment, we also wanted to pay reverence to the activism of the street art community of which her work has been so valuable. I mean and she’s a straight up wonderful human being, so there’s that :)

CB: Can you talk about that connection between fashion and activism? 

KM: Fashion has for so many people always been about activism–it’s been for some the only way to advocate for themselves, their bodies, their values. And fashion remains a crucial, and too often overlooked opportunity for us to show what we care about most. Who makes our clothes is a story of our values. Who we shop with is a story of our values. My first company, Grant Blvd, has built community around the idea that the story of our garments is story of what we truly care about as we imagine our shared future. Blk Ivy takes that thread backwards and hopes to give the city a place to remember that radical change has always been worn, too.

CB: What do you hope folks take away from seeing these posters?

KM: I really hope people feel intrigued by it and I hope they are inspired by its messaging. I also hope it raises new questions about the garments we have in our closets and the stories behind them. I hope it serves as a call to action to curate more intentional closets in general. Lastly, the activist in me hopes people feel more excited than ever about shopping more with brands that are disrupting, with brands that are local, and shopping with brands whose efforts recognize the continued need to fight for civil rights and human rights in 2023. Happy Black History Month!

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