The first time I came across Kimberly Drew was when she interviewed Solange for a Reebok event in Palm Springs, smack-dab in the middle of a hot day during Coachella. You wouldn't have thought the heatwave outside even phased Drew as she conducted such a smart and enlightening talk with the singer on style and her album, "A Seat at the Table." And while Drew already boasts a large online presence as @museummammy, it's admirable how she always uses her growing platform to inspire creativity and advocacy.
Drew's usual nine-to-five routine involves managing the social media accounts of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the rest of her time spent showcasing Black artists on her seven-year-old blog, Black Contemporary Artists; Drew also travels across the country to both curate and host panels, discussions and talks that cover art, diversity and culture. Finally, Drew is working on a book project with The New York Times's Jenna Wortham called "Black Futures," which has allowed her to travel the globe for research. Though, the creative pressure of a finite published piece is starting to get to her: "On the blog, I never felt that I would miss someone because there's always an opportunity to publish," says Drew. "But with the book, it's so final. We'll file it and that's what it will be and with hopes, we'll have volumes, but there's really a solidness to it."
Drew linked up with Solange once again for a campaign with Mercedes-Benz titled "We Wonder," joining a group of creative minds that celebrate innovation and the future, including Slick Woods, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony, Hypebeast's Kevin Ma and art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
"It was so funny because the night before we did the Manifesto Day [shoot], we had dinner," remembers Drew. "I was seated next to Hans Ulrich, and it was so nice to just meet someone who's so generous and learn why and how he does the things that he does. And then after dinner, I hung out with Slick and we went out to The Box."
At SXSW 2018 in Austin, Drew gathered a special group of panelists — Glamour's new Editor-in-Chief Samantha Barry, disability advocate Mama Cāx and inclusive design activist Christina Annika Mallon — to talk about influencers' personal responsibility through the lens of equity at the Me Convention with Mercedes-Benz. "These are all individuals who think collectively, think about the communities that they represent, think about ways they're putting energy out into the world and the responsibility that comes along with that," says Drew. "I think about equity as a way of saying, 'Where did we start, what did we start with and how has that taken us forward?'"
Before her panel on Sunday, we sat down with Drew to learn more about her personal style, using fashion as a form of activism and why we need to celebrate fashion historians more.
How would you describe your personal style?
I'm very much a person who is responsive to environment and responsive to my calendar. So if I'm going to a workout class after work, I think about that. I'm a practical dresser. And then it gets more exciting when I travel because whenever I go to a place, I try to get something from there, whether it's supporting a local designer or going to a thrift store because I feel like thrift stores are a microcosm of any community. And so I guide it that way and then it's just practical, like, do I need sneakers?
What's something you bought on one of your recent travels?
I was in Johannesburg for New Year's and I was with my friend who lives there, and she was like, 'Oh, let's go to this pop-up. It'll be super-cute.' We went and I realized it's this brand I've been following for years called Selfi. It's these young women and they're actually in Cape Town, but I was like, 'This is the triangulation of all the things I care about: Locally-sourced fabrics, supporting women businesses, supporting Black women businesses.' It was all the things at once and there was champagne. I was like, 'This is the dream!' And I got a dress and a jacket.
Are there any shops in New York that you'd suggest to someone who's visiting?
I love Sincerely, Tommy. Kai [Avent-deLeon] is so great and has such a beautiful set of people around her. The curation that she does in the shop is really brilliant. I honestly don't do a lot of shopping at home, which is silly because it's New York. Locally, if people are staying in Bed-Stuy, I try to tell them to go to Sincerely, Tommy.
At SXSW, you made sure your stylist pulled Black designers for your looks. Do you use fashion as a form of activism?
It's interesting because I do not think about it as activism, but in many ways, it kind of is. I think activism is pointing to a thing, simply. For the longest [time], I thought activism was tying yourself to a tree, you know? These really big, broad acts, but sometimes, it can be the littlest, tiniest things. For all of the things that I'm doing, I'm always trying to think about how to support Black artists all over the place. And as I lean more from the fashion world, I want to bring that politic to it, so this [dress] is William Okpo. Being able to have that brought to the table, and just challenging stylists to think about who the people are that they present. It's not just about the trends. Who are these people? How was this made? Where was this made? But those are the questions I ask all of the time, especially because within the lens of social media, the clothes that I pick are a statement whether I like it or not. I want to make sure that that message is really clear and really thoughtful.
You were one of the models at the PH5 presentation during New York Fashion Week this season. How was that experience?
It was great. [Founder Wei Lin and designer Mijia Zhang] are so brilliant and so kind. If you watch the way that they communicate their brand, they have models in the factory with the people and telling the stories of the person who's stitching the garment, the person who's doing this to the garment, which is so — Chromat does that, as well — but just really thinking about, end-to-end, how things are produced. It's important to be accountable of how things are made and who are the people that are making these things.
You're a huge advocate for diversity and inclusivity in the art world. How do you think that can apply that to the fashion world, too?
One of the things that I think fashion needs that art has is more of a pronounced respect for history. There are some amazing fashion historians, but fashion history as a discourse hasn't really gotten the recognition I feel like it deserves. There's so much that we can learn from the past and the way things were made, even learning house culture outside of just the historians who were housed within these particular brands. Really looking retrospectively about how fashion is in relationship with important world moments. What happens to fashion in war? What happens to fashion in economic shifts and changes? So that we can see what happens production-wise and all of these other things flower out to really tell us what was going on as a civilization. That's probably one of the biggest things that I think fashion should do more of, and I think there are some really incredible journalists, but there needs to be a celebration of the historians, conservators and all of those people.
And then just thought leaders in fashion getting more and more of a platform, but also at the same time, their garments being celebrated, as well. Because I think sometimes in fashion, they're like, 'This is the cause!' And then it's like: What. Are. The. Garments?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Disclosure: Mercedes-Benz paid for my travel and accommodations to attend and cover the event.