Kaleb Grant is Threading the Needle: Prairie View to Parsons

When you're used to losing a lot of the time, losing people, losing things that should have been yours, or just feeling like a loser, you don't know how to accept the wins.

Kaleb C. Grant shares his small-town beginnings, how he found himself in fashion, and where design is taking him next. It all started with a sewing machine.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jamie: Hey Kaleb! We're excited to talk and learn more about you. Let's dive in. Who is Kaleb?

Kaleb Grant: I'm from Beaumont, Texas; it's a real small town. My dad passed away when I was in high school, and I was numb after that. I didn't know how it made me feel for a while. So when I was graduating high school, I asked myself, "Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?" And the day of graduation, I said, "I'm gonna go to Prairie View." It's right down the street, like two and a half hours away from where I grew up. I came in as a political science and criminal justice major. I thought I wanted to get Black people out of jail because it is disheartening to see. But it didn't stick.

Jared: So, political science and criminal justice didn't stick. How did you decide to pivot to marketing and design?

Kaleb Grant: I grew up under my grandparents, who went to church often. And y'all know how strong the Black church is. I was going to church all the time and saw everybody look so good every Sunday. My grandmother, who helped raise me, was always put together. And I think she just instilled in me ‘never leave the house looking a mess’. Even if it was a bad day and you have to wear sweats, make sure the sweats have some color. And I kept that with me. I decided to switch my major from political science to marketing because I thought I wanted to do creative direction for magazines. I got into a group on campus called On The Yard magazine. They gave me access to photographers and stylists, stuff that I knew nothing about coming from a small town. When I signed up for that group in 2019, I just took off. Coming to Prairie View gave me the freedom to express myself and rethink who I thought I could be.

Jamie: Shoutout grandma for giving you the design bug early on. Why did you say things took off for you in 2019?

Kaleb Grant: So that's when I bought a sewing machine and started tailoring my own clothes. At first, I was messing people's stuff up. I was putting stuff out that “looked a mess”. I had a show in 2019 on December 6th, my dad's birthday. I decided to have it that day because all the anguish, abandonment, and pain left me confused and figuring my way out. Some people have a dad and strong parental figures to push them to where they're going to go. With me missing that, I had to figure it out for myself. But I also wanted to take what I could from my short-lived experience with him and make something of it. Having my show on that day just represented something new.

Jared: That's amazing. How did the show turn out?

Kaleb Grant: So the show wasn't that good. It wasn't. It got shut down. But if I didn't push the line, who would do it? I'm not scared to try to do something that I know will mean something. After the show, I was unsure if I wanted to do it anymore.

Jamie: Well, it looks like that wasn't a permanent setback. What did you do next?

Kaleb: You're right; I got back into it. I launched my "REVIVE" campaign after that. It was a six-piece collection I had made that year, in 2020. I was working hard because I wanted to get into design school. This past March, a couple of weeks before my birthday, I got accepted into the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles. They looked at my resume and portfolio, and they saw something in me. In a phone interview, the interviewer said, "I see great potential in you." On March 30th, 2022, I got accepted into the Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York City. I was so excited. When you're used to losing a lot of the time, losing people, losing things that should have been yours, or just feeling like a loser, you don't know how to accept the wins. And I feel like these are two major wins. I'm trying to understand and appreciate the fact that I'm going somewhere.

Jamie: I appreciate you sharing so much of your personal life story, the rises and falls. What other projects have you completed since you started your creative journey?

Kaleb Grant: I had my first show called "Phases of the Woman" in 2019. That was a six-piece collection followed by the REVIVE campaign, filmed in Houston's Museum of Fine Art in 2020. I also hosted my first ever art show and competition called "Headliner" in November 2021. I try to do one project a year to give my all to it and make sure that I'm making something that's authentic. One of my most significant accomplishments is creating my own jeans called "Infinity Denim" under my brand name, Westmoreland. That's the street I grew up on. Infinity Denim represents the fact that jeans last a lifetime if we can take care of them. I started distressing and adding different patchworks that you wouldn't be able to get anywhere else. One of my pieces also was worn by a notable stylist from the Houston area named Nia Lewis. She booked a coat I designed for her New York Fashion Week trip. I couldn't believe it.

Jared: I'm going to take it back to Prairie View for a second. How did Prairie View influence your creative process and your interests?

Kaleb Grant: Prairie View was one of the best decisions I've made. There are so many different people here, many different walks of life — and we're all Black. Growing up, I thought all Black people had the same experience, but we actually don't. We have so many different versions of ourselves up here, and it's beautiful to see. When I got to school, I saw how unafraid people were to be themselves when it comes to expressing themselves through clothes or making music. I was always scared to be seen back home. But when I got here, I realized that it wasn't such a bad thing. That's what Prairie View helped me with.

Jared: What do you think is the next step for you? You've got into some of the top schools in your field. What's next?

Kaleb Grant: I want to start making things within menswear that represent the fluidity and the understanding that we can all be different versions of men. People think that when you dress a certain way, as a man, you're less masculine or that you're less likely to handle business. And I feel like I handle business in anything I do. I want to work on building that gender-bender style. I want to get into menswear because a lot of stuff I've done in the past has been women's wear and jeans. I love to stand out because if I don't do it, then who will?

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