Amuarys and Roselyn Grullon are proud children of the Bronx. Their remarkable clothing brand, “Bronx Native”, is an homage to their hometown. I spoke with Amaurys about the initial concept for Bronx Native, the ideas behind their iconic clothing line, and the future of the Boogie-Down (Bronx) in general.
DB: Let me get right to it. What got you started with the whole idea of Bronx Native?
AG: What really got me started was, I guess, the love and the passion that I have for where I come from, and my people. I was born and raised here in the Bronx. Ever since I was a small kid I’ve heard negative things about the Bronx. I’ve heard horrible things compared to the other boroughs, compared to other places. It genuinely got me sad. Why do people think my home is so ugly, when in reality I believe that the Bronx is the most beautiful place on Earth. That’s what I tell everyone.
Basically, in 2015 that pride and that passion started growing more and more. I started at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan in 2014. I was in a space where I was the only one that was from the Bronx. I am a minority, of Dominican descent, and also there were not too many Hispanics. But I was literally the only one from the Bronx.
Me being there I saw that people, people basically, they’ve never been to the Bronx, but they believe it to be some sort of way. I feel we’ve been underrated for too long. No one really shows us love, so I said, “You know what, I’m going to utilize my skills, my creative abilities to showcase and highlight the Bronx, the beauty of the Bronx. I’m going to do this little brand.”
One of the first things I started utilizing was merchandising clothing as a tool, because we actually were looking for clothing to wear. When you look at somebody for the first time, the first thing you see is their shirt, or what they’re wearing. You can make a true statement with that. Me and my sister, Roselyn Grullon, who’s a fashion designer at our studio and right now studying at Parsons School of Design, we couldn’t find anything. We saw a void. We saw a problem. We said, “You know what, let’s tackle this issue.” We’re creative. I’m a graphic designer. We can make it work. In 2016 we started a brand and from there and so many things happened and now we’re where we’re at now.
DB: What is it that’s so special about the Bronx to you?
AG: Number one thing that the Bronx is, is my home. I feel the Bronx is a melting pot. There’s so much flavor here. It’s so beautiful how all the different cultures come together. Here in the Bronx we actually we have no divisions. All cultures, Black, Hispanics, Albanians, Bangladeshi, Yemeni, we’re all together in one space, in one borough and we work well together.
Our people have worked hard. We talk about the history of the Bronx, the struggle that we went through to get to where we are now. During the ’70s, the ’80’s, the Bronx was literally burning. Our buildings were burned, we were marginalized communities. Governments basically built a highway to go past the Bronx, and not even, they didn’t even want people to stop in the Bronx. They didn’t want people to look at the Bronx. That kind of enclusion, that kind of thing that we went through.
Even through all of that we created beautiful things like hip-hop, Salsa, that were music genres that were built here in the Bronx, and they go even beyond music,- -they’re a lifestyle, they’re mainstream now. All of that came from the Bronx. I see the Bronx as like a Mecca. I see the Bronx as similar to how New Orleans, jazz came from New Orleans because the slaves were able to play instruments and stuff. They created beautiful things from these communities that were being marginalized, these communities that were tossed aside. We struggled, we worked hard, we’re ambitious. The Bronx for me is one of the last frontiers. When we talk about New York, that grittiness, that broad New York vibe. The Bronx is one of the last boroughs to still have that authentic New York in it. Most of the other boroughs either have gone through gentrification, but the Bronx is still alive and well. When we talk about authenticity, when we talk about realness, when we talk about raw. Of course, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly but we take it all because at the end of the day it’s beautiful and it’s part of us.
DB: Let me ask you a question about the neighborhood you’re in, your store is in Mott Haven. I moved there about three, three and a half years ago and at the time it was the Mott Haven Bar and Grill and that was kind of it. Charlie’s was there, well there were a couple, but not much. Now, there’s you and there’s Crash One has his gallery right by you, the party we ran into each other at, The Compound from Set Free and Mos Def-pretty amazing. Tell me a little bit about why you chose Mott Haven and tell me a little bit about the changes that you’ve seen in Mott Haven since you opened the business.
AG: Actually, I didn’t really choose Mott Haven, everything happened really organically when it came to us having a shop in Mott Haven. We were literally, before having a legitimately permanent spot, we were doing pop-ups in different locations, vending at different events and stuff like that. There’s a concentrated quantity of, something concentrated going on in Mott Haven where there’s a bunch of businesses, there’s a bunch of events happening, there’s a lot of movement happening. In early 2017 I found myself being around Mott Haven a lot more because there’s a bit of an art movement going, there’s food, there’s a bar. So, I found myself going to Mott Haven a lot more at the beginning of 2017 and just me being around and me just working around that area, the opportunity came about that somebody offered us like, “Hey, you guys want to do a pop-up here?” We said, “Yes,” So, we started up a pop-up shop for two weeks. It was never really meant to be permanent, like forever, but whatever we do to Bronx Native we put our heart into it and we really put the most into it
We were there for two weeks, we hosted an event every single night, every single day for two whole weeks, we were open literally 24-7 while we were there, and that paid off. We got a lot of media coverage, we got a lot of new audience that came to the shop, we got lot of buzz going on, on social media and just word of mouth. We brought a lot of traffic to our shop and with that, we were able to solidify a permanent spot there, but initially, it was not supposed to be permanent and we didn’t really choose that spot. We actually, to be quite frank, we weren’t really looking for a spot yet, we were just working, basically. We were working around Mott Haven, we were going to the events that were happening in Mott Haven, we were connecting with business owners in Mott Haven. Our involvement, just being around there, you know how they say being in the right place at the right time I guess, and it just happened really organically and really by itself.
DB: It’s a great story. I’m just wondering, I know of some people who have expressed some concern about gentrification. Does the issue come up a lot? Do you feel that it’s something that needs to be addressed?
AG: Of course, literally, gentrification comes up every single day, I’m going to be honest. If it’s not in the shop, then somebody starts talking about it. It’s on social media if it’s not on social media, somebody else is talking about it. It’s a recurring topic that comes up every day. I think it should be addressed, definitely, gentrification has to be addressed because that’s something that is happening and that affects us and affects our people. I feel like the conversation we should be having shouldn’t be conversations of bashing others. A lot of what I see is our own people saying wrong things, bashing about our own people. I feel like we should be working together to fight the real enemy in this situation and fight to figure out ways for us not to be like uptown or not to be like Brooklyn. Do things differently.
These are things that are going to happen, people own properties, people have money, so gentrification is a given. But I feel like we have the opportunity from seeing what’s been happening in the past in these other boroughs, to change the narrative. To change it up, instead of displacement, instead of having our people having to leave because of the rents, stuff like that, we should figure out ways to buy our own property. We should figure out ways to make enough financially to be able to do what we want to do and to stay here because we put our blood, sweat, and tears into our home, and no one should come over here and take us away from where we come from, and what we’ve been cultivating all this time.
DB: That’s a really good point. I’m up in Melrose, most of the new developments, the new housing that’s coming up, it’s mostly affordable housing, probably 80% or more. I think with the sale of the property along the waterfront, that whole development being delayed. I think that was going to push things in a certain direction and with that not probably happening for a few years, the neighborhood has a chance to, as you say, grow organically.
AG: When I was around the area our business owners, the people of color, the people from the community that are owning these businesses and trying to make it happen, I do see change, and I see people stepping up and doing the work that’s needed.
DB: Tell me, what are some of your favorite items from the store? What are the top selling items, the hot items that people have to have?
AG: Some of the dope items we have, start with a t-shirt that says “El Bronx”. That’s because when it comes to The Bronx, we have a high population of Hispanics, the largest population of Dominicans in, actually, all of New York City. Me being of Dominican descent of Hispanic descent will say, “You know what, we should do something in Spanish.” We decided to get “El Bronx” on a T-shirt in a college football font, and the back has “718”, the area code of The Bronx. That has become one of the best sellers right now in our shop and in our online store. It’s so simple but it’s so– Everyone connects to it. Everyone loves it. It has been a great seller.
Another great seller that we have, this one it says Bronx Woman. The front says, “Bronx Women” and then the back says, “Are.” They have a bunch of adjectives. Adjectives that represent what Bronx women are. Some of them are, they’re ambitious, they’re courageous, they’re passionate. That shirt really resonates with Bronx women. To have a shirt that really showcases who you are, I think is very important. We’ve seen the importance of that, right? We didn’t think that those shirts, especially the Bronx women, we did it for March, which was women’s awareness month, where we also had Tarana Burke come to the shop and do a community talk. Tarana Burke is the founder of the Me Too Movement who is a Bronx native. We did it for a joint event that we did with her. They completely sold out the first time that we put it out. Since then, it’s been one of our bestsellers. It’s been great. To make merchandise that people can wear and they’re proud to know it’s going to showcase their love and showcase who they are, it’s great. Giving our people an identity and a good one at that.
The Bronx Native is located at 127 Lincoln Ave, Bronx, NY 10454. Open 10AM-7PM, Monday-Saturday, or online here.
Danny Brody is the author of The Cold Shake (2018), a noir novel of ‘70’s New York, and The Gilded Palace of Sin (2008), a collection of poems. He created the seminal Miami food blog, Daily Cocaine, penned numerous food, wine, and booze columns for the Miami Herald, and wrote The Art of Hunger column for MAP Magazine. He has also written art, design, and architecture pieces for Modern Luxury Magazine, Design District Magazine, Social Affairs, and Art New Orleans. He lives in the South Bronx.