February 20, 2023
A new West Philadelphia thrift shop that doubles as a museum epitomizes the term "fashion as activism."
Black Ivy Thrift, which opened earlier this month, sells a curated collection of sustainable fashion items and displays artifacts that celebrate the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
"I wanted to do something that would continue to amplify all that Philadelphia offers American culture by paying homage to the figures who came through Philadelphia in the civil rights movement, and how they use style to tell stories," said Kimberly McGlonn, the curator behind Black Ivy Thrift.
Black Ivy Thrift sells hand-curated thrift and vintage items associated with the fashion of the civil rights movement from 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, to 1972, when Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, ran for president.
McGlonn has traveled around the country to find pieces of corduroy, leather, embroidery and florals that embody the '50s, '60s and '70s. The store offers everything from denim jackets to turtlenecks to polyester pants, with countless opportunities to mix and match the thrift and vintage pieces into unique outfits.
People also can purchase original artwork and decor, plus rare vintage vinyl by musicians like Nat King Cole, first edition books by writers like Maya Angelou and pieces by modern figures like Barack and Michelle Obama.
When people enter the store, they are greeted by a wall covered with artifacts, including vintage gloves, records and magazine covers. Other distinctive touches include a TV screen playing footage from the civil rights movement, a 1959 typewriter and a photo of McGlonn's great grandparents.
The "shoppable museum," as McGlonn calls it, also will host listening sessions and networking events that she hopes will attract people from across the country.
"We're offering an opportunity to curate another kind of closet, one that really remembers all that America has been and that is working to propel America into a more optimistic future," McGlonn said. "So this is a chance for people to come in and and be in community with with other folks, be a part of a diverse coalition of people who have shared values, and it's also an opportunity to elevate your entire closet."
Black Ivy Thift is the second retail store that McGlonn has opened. In 2017, she founded Grant Blvd, one of the largest female Black-owned businesses in Philadelphia and North America's first Black-owned B Corporation in the fashion industry.
McGlonn, who is also a Drexel University professor and Jenkintown councilwoman, said her inspiration for the stores came from several sources: her own activism, her former role as a teacher, her travels around the world, and Ava Duvernay's "13th" documentary. The latter inspired her to find solutions to create jobs for the formerly incarcerated.
"I feel like I was kind of commissioned to figure out how to change conversations about living wages ... and challenging all of the disregard the fashion industry has just normalized in terms of its processes and production that are horrible for the planet, and to use fashion as a vehicle to get people to maybe think differently about who they buy from, and why they buy what they buy, and just to be more thoughtful about their consumption at large," McGlonn said.
Grant Blvd, which is preparing to open in a new location on University of Pennsylvania's campus, creates stylish apparel from recycled clothes while offering employment opportunities aimed at combating recidivism. Black Ivy Thrift has moved into Grant Blvd's former home, and is extending the store's mission to fight marginalization by bringing sustainably-sourced civil rights era fashion and stories to a large audience.
Since opening Black Ivy Thrift, McGlonn has been excited about people of all backgrounds coming together to experience the new concept.
"The community that came out on our opening night were queer and straight," McGlonn said. "They were Muslim and Jewish. They were Gen Z and they were boomers. It's a really eclectic balance of people who are all discovering or remembering, or who have lived through this moment, and people who are realizing in their own ways that we're still in that moment."
Black Ivy Thrift, at 3605 Lancaster Ave., is open Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.
Follow Franki & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @wordsbyfranki
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice
Have a news tip? Let us know.