When Kim Hill opened Radical Women, a boutique on Tompkins Avenue in Bed Stuy, she was in a predicament. The year prior, the single mom and independent business owner had started a wellness brand called Next of Kim and was finding it hard to store all the products at home. “I was sitting in a two-bedroom apartment right down the street,” she says. “I was going, ‘What am I going to do with all of this stuff?’”
A nearby commercial space belonging to a former attorney, stuffed with boxes up to the ceiling, opened up. Influenced by a recent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum that featured Latin American and Latina women artists and the community they built together, Hill and three other designers decided to collaborate on a store. “For myself, [the exhibition] resonated with how important it is to step out on faith when you have an idea,” Hill says. “But it is equally important to have a village of people that can help you actualize those visions and dreams.” The four founders would alternate days working and promote each other’s brands. “We watched our businesses flourish.”
Hill, a musician and one of the founding members of the group Black Eyed Peas, now occupies the spot herself, recently bringing in as a partner the actor and Bed Stuy resident Gbenga Akinnagbe, whose furniture and clothing line are available in the store. But for Hill, the space has grown into something she never expected. When women who were going through cancer treatments kept coming to the shop, looking for some of the products in her Next of Kim line to help them through radiation or chemotherapy, she realized Radical Women was becoming more than retail. “It started to become a safe space for people to come in and talk about extremely personal things,” she says, remembering being with her mother in similar places as a child and hearing the women talk about their lives. “It’s what got you through the day.”
What the boutique provides keeps expanding. Hill and Akinnagbe will soon launch a podcast called Radical Conversations, which aims to replicate the kind of discussions that routinely happen inside the store. More recently, Hill has brought on a series of young designers as interns—akin to the original idea for Radical Women, they will help out with the shop in exchange for having a platform to sell their products. “I’m watching their confidence grow,” she says about the young designers who now work with her.
What Hill is most proud of is being part of a community—commerce is only a small part of the equation. The conversations and the camaraderie are just as important. “It’s always more than just a store,” she says.
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Fall/Holiday 2019/20 issue of Brownstoner magazine.
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