A Blooming Brand for the Boogie Down Bronx

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A Blooming Brand for the Boogie Down Bronx

(Yohannah Franco Choi/The Fordham Choi)

(Yohannah Franco Choi/The Fordham Choi)

(Yohannah Franco Choi/The Fordham Choi)

(Yohannah Franco Choi/The Fordham Choi)

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By Yohannah Franco Choi 

(Yohannah Franco Choi/The Fordham Choi)

Strong. Beautiful. Lit. That’s how Amaurys Grullon describes his home borough, and that’s what he tries to reflect in the startup clothing company he co-founded, Bronx Native.

A Bronx-based brand inspired by the borough’s culture, Bronx Native says its mission is to create authentic community representation through apparel, art and media. The idea for the company was first conceived by Amaurys and his younger sister Roselyn in 2015, when they were searching for some Bronx-themed clothes to wear to honor their home.

“We really couldn’t find anything that really represented the Bronx correctly,” Amaurys recounted. “Something that utilized its culture, something that utilized its history and was also visually appealing.”

Stimulated by what they say is the lack of positive representation for the rapidly gentrifying birthplace of hip-hop culture, the then-23-year-old Amaurys and 20-year-old Roselyn saw a need for rebranding. In the midst of his graphic design studies at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, from which he graduated earlier this year, Amaurys launched the home-sprung clothing line with Roselyn, who is currently completing her last year of fashion studies at Parsons School of Design. Ever since, the young sibling duo hailing from Longwood, South Bronx has been striving to develop Bronx Native into much more than just a retail brand.

“Besides the clothing, there’s that community sense, there’s that outreach, there’s that call to action,” Amaurys said. “Because unlike these brands that are just like ‘Yo we gotta just put out dope stuff ‘cause people are gonna think it’s dope,’ no, we have to think about it has to be dope, but it has to be what the people want, and it has to have that community aspect to it.’

Amaurys calls Bronx Native a win-win situation because the siblings are simultaneously expressing themselves, creating change and sustaining themselves while pursuing something they are both passionate about. But he admits that their uncharted path hasn’t been easy.

From the company’s early days in 2016, the Grullons had to learn how to build a retail business without a comparable model or professional guidance. Fueled by a strong social media presence and frequent appearances as vendors at various local events, however, the community-based brand was soon met with an influx of interest from other Bronx residents and community organizations.

At the beginning of 2017, the co-founders made three resolutions to propel the company’s development even further: to meet with as many other Bronx influencers as they could, to say yes to every opportunity that came their way and to attend as many events in the Bronx as possible in order to make their brand more visible.

The plan worked, Amaurys says. This year, Bronx Native has had countless collaborations with other Bronx-based businesses, institutions and artists, gained over 5,000 followers on Instagram and has attracted media attention from influential news organizations such as the New York Times and News 12.

In retrospect, the young co-founder says that 2017 has been a breakthrough year full of realized impossibilities. “I’m gonna be honest, half of the things we do through Bronx Native, I talk to my sister like ‘How are we doing this?’” he said with a smile.

This past spring, Bronx Native became involved with Fordham College at Rose Hill through some student-developed events celebrating the larger Bronx community. On April 1, the apparel company was invited to attend at the first annual “Bronx Celebration Day,” where local businesses and organizations shared their contributions to the borough’s rich culture and history. A month later, they returned to Rose Hill for an art exhibition called “Watch the Gap,” which sought to bring the University and surrounding community closer together through creative expression of both Fordham students and Bronx residents.

Madeline Allison, FCRH ’19, was one of the students who walked up to Bronx Native’s table at the Bronx Day event to buy one of their eye-catching tees. Hailing from Oakland, California, Allison says she was excited to be able to display her pride for her new home.

“I try my best to challenge the narratives that are often perpetuated about negative aspects of the Bronx,” she said. “When I wear my shirt, that just says ‘The Bronx The Bronx The Bronx’ over and over, I feel like I am taking a small step to show how much I love this part of the city.”

Allison says that the rebranding focus of Bronx Native has sparked change in her own life at Fordham, where she has joined the force to increase visibility of the outside community.

“I’ve had a few interactions with people that were prompted by my shirt that allow me to talk about what the Bronx means to me or where I got my shirt and the company,” she said. “I really like supporting a company that is doing grassroots community work to promote resilience and Bronx Pride.”

Bronx Native’s new retail location sits at 127 Lincoln Avenue in Mott Haven. Upon walking into the sunlit shop, one is greeted by pounding hip-hop music and colorful walls covered with graffiti art, newspaper clippings, photographs, flyers from local businesses and quotes from Bronx-born celebrities. In the spirit of the company’s desire to give a voice to the community, clients are also invited write on the walls.

The company logo printed on much of the merchandise is an image of a burnt-down building – reinterpreting the perpetuated narrative of the “burning Bronx” from the 1970s-80s by representing a resilient community that has risen from the ashes with a thriving culture. The clothing designs are inspired by Bronx street art, pop culture and daily life, from “The Bronx” tote bags mimicking the “Thank you” plastic shopping bags to a tee with a quote from Bronx-born hip-hop artist Cardi B.

“When you do great design and great work but attach that to a story or a narrative and a mission, it makes it so much more powerful, you know what I mean?” Amaurys said.

Bronx Native has been pushing this mission to reach even more aspects of the local community, from hosting free cultural events which showcase the creative output of Bronx natives in public spaces like The Bronx Museum of Art, to empowering youth at local schools through talks on entrepreneurship, creativity and their resilient borough. While they are primarily utilizing the arts in their effort to keep Bronx culture alive, Amaurys says that the company’s future plans include expansion into other prevalent issues such as health and poverty, that plague the borough.

“I feel like the clothing is what got our foot in the door, and now we can tackle all these other things,” he said about their growing audience and public support. “Our purpose right now with Bronx Native is not to acquire finances and not to get revenue, but to just build the brand as big as we can, and then with the brand create the change that we want to create.”

Eliana Cruz, a Bronx native who has spent most of her life in the Castle Hill and Riverdale neighborhoods, graduated from Fordham at Rose Hill in 2016 and has since become heavily involved in the Bronx’s cultural scene through her journalism and non-profit work. Cruz had been following Bronx Native on Instagram for seven months before meeting Amaurys this past July at a local backyard party event she was covering for the magazine Edible Bronx. Since then, she says she has bonded with both him and Roselyn over their common mission and has worked on some collaborative projects with the two.

“We’re Dominican-American kids from the Bronx, and we really always wanted to represent that authenticity that we know, that we grew up with, creatively, entrepreneurially as well,” Cruz said. “I mean we live, eat, work, play in the Bronx. That’s what we do!”

This fall, the Grullons took Cruz around their hometown in South Bronx to film some episodes for an Edible Bronx web series called “Street by Street Eats,” which explores the food and culture of various neighborhoods in the borough. In October, Edible Bronx co-hosted a meet and greet party at the Bronx Native shop. Cruz says that through both her professional and personal relationship with Amaurys and Roselyn, she has observed firsthand the intense physical, mental and emotional labor the duo put into their work.

“They are the American Dream revived,” she said. “I don’t know any other brand, any other creative people that are so dedicated to their mission as they are. And I respect that a lot, and I aspire to be like that myself.”

Through her writing and freelancing work, as well as her new position as program developer at the human service organization BronxWorks, Cruz seeks to promote and give back to her beloved home while challenging the stigmatized perception she frequently encounters in outsiders. Addressing the disconnect that many Fordham students claim they feel from the surrounding Bronx community despite the school’s proud logo that “New York is [their] campus,” Cruz advised that the fear that often causes this divide should be transformed into respect.

“The only way you can really navigate the Bronx is if you respect it,” she said. “You respect the people that are here, you respect that they’re culturally diverse, you respect that there’s small businesses owners here, you respect that yeah, a lot of them are low income, you respect the struggles that come with being an immigrant in the Bronx.”

Cruz said that in order to respect this experience, one must be truly educated about it, and she believes that this important education is what Bronx Native is providing today.

“Whether directly or indirectly, they’re educating their customers, they’re educating their followers in the true Bronx experience,” she said. “And I think that builds the respect that reduces the fear and that builds the bridge.”