Amaurys Grullon, 30, likes to say he didn’t choose the Bronx, the Bronx chose him. He thanks his mother for settling in the South Bronx when she emigrated from the Dominican Republic in the 80s and raising their family along the streets of Longwood and Hunts Point. The energy of the Bronx was inspiring to Grullon, and he was always seeking a creative outlet. He eventually made his way to his dream school, the School of Visual Arts (SVA) for college.
At SVA, Grullon lived between two worlds, one at the downtown school and the other at home in the Bronx.
“I was the only kid from the Bronx, the only Dominican kid. [My classmates would ask] ‘Are you from the Bronx? Is it scary? Have you ever been shot before?’ crazy stuff,” says Grullon. “I didn’t go out of state, but it felt like I did.”
Grullon tried his best to fit in, even at one point contemplating buying a leather jacket and skinny jeans to fit into the ‘hipster vibes’ his classmates were sporting. Instead, he decided to not just embrace his hometown, but change people’s narrative of his beloved borough.
“People know the Bronx because of the stigma, preconceptions because of the media — just all the things in the news, the shootings, the movies. It [taints] the image of the Bronx,” he says. “I truly believe the Bronx is the most beautiful place on earth, but Black and Brown, disenfranchised communities, immigrant communities, have not been helped or given the right resources to flourish to make it happen.”
In each assignment at SVA, Grullon would use the Bronx as a subject and highlight it positively. He noticed the confidence his classmates had in their success — it was as if they knew they were going to make it, and make it big. He didn’t see this same mentality from his neighbors in the Bronx.
“I was seeing those different types of energies. I thought, ‘What is it?’ We are just as talented, we are just as skilled. But it was a mindset. It was about stepping outside the box and saying, ‘I can do this. I am worthy. I am beautiful. I am amazing,’ and then making it happen,” he says. “A lot of the time, we don’t believe in ourselves.”
Grullon wanted to create a brand that would represent an authentic Bronx experience to change the narrative of his home to outsiders and empower those who lived there. A Bronxite, according to Grullon, is a survivor. They are ambitious, hard working and want their voices to be heard. Taking that as inspiration, he created Bronx Native.
In 2017, Grullon’s first products were T-shirts that represented the Bronx. One of the first designs featured a black tee with white letters that said “The Bronx” on the back is a hand drawn map of the Bronx and its neighborhoods by Grullon. Grullon’s merchandise proved popular, and he was eventually able to open what he thought would be a pop-up shop on Lincoln Avenue in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. Bronx Native eventually made that location its permanent home.
“It’s not about putting out a shirt with a cool design. It’s about telling a story through the shirt. It’s about empowering and making a call to action— having substance,” Grullon says. “I design with a cause, with a mission.”
Grullon continues to sell those tees, in addition to other clothing, totes and hats — all of them designed to center the Bronx. For example, some hats bear the Bronx flag (each borough has its own flag), which contains a Latin saying: Ne Cede Malis, which means yield not to evil.
There is also a white tee that says ‘I Love The Bronx’ in blue and orange bubble letters, each designed by a child. The shirt represents the stories of the borough’s youngest minds. This cohort of children was featured in a documentary called “Change the Narrative,” produced by Bronx Native. They each told their “story” as they designed the bubble letters.
Another tee is gray and frayed, with a small tenement building where a shirt pocket would be. On the back, there is an enlarged version of the building. It looks like the buildings where many Bronx natives grew up. Even though the Bronx is changing, the shirt pays homage to the “old Bronx.”
Non-clothing items are also sold at Bronx Native, like thick gold hoops made famous by Black and Brown women in the Bronx. You’ll also find a set of press-on nails with eccentric Bronx designs such as the famous Yankee logo, circles of the 4,5 and 6 trains, and the iconic “yerr” a slang greeting popularized by New Yorkers. reminiscent of the long acrylic nails also made popular by women in the Bronx.
“We want to educate the audience and create things with substance. We want to sell things with meaning behind them, not just put it together because it looks cool,” Grullon says.
Bronx Native is a brand that wants to empower the Bronx in every way and goes beyond retail to help its community. For example, Bronx Native partners with 1200 Solutions Food Distribution to give out fresh produce to families in need outside the shop each month, its part of Bronx Native’s nonprofit branch called, Change the Narrative, and anyone can show up. Bronx Native also had a recording studio and production space for creatives to unleash their musical talents. Grullon ensures that everything Bronx Native does is for the good of the community.
After all, he owes the community so much. During the pandemic, business was tough and the second Bronx Native location in Hunts Point closed down. The original store was also on the verge of closing, but a GoFundMe was started and the community raised enough money to keep the store afloat.
“For me, it’s like the rose coming out of the concrete, a phoenix rising from the ashes. We are out here making it happen and being creative,” he says.
Grullon wants as many people as possible to see the Bronx for all its talent and creativity. There will be another documentary coming out, new merch collections, open mics and much more.
“The Bronx is New York City, and New York City is the best city in the world. We are one. The energy [in the Bronx], the drive, the people are unmatched,” he says. “I want people to know that the Bronx is here and the Bronx is up — come visit if you haven’t.”
Stay updated on upcoming events and news by following Bronx Native on Instagram. Shop for merchandise via its online shop or in-person at 127 Lincoln Ave. in the Bronx, of course.