New streetwear, sneakers business in Buckham Alley hosting first pop-up event on Juneteenth

FLINT, Michigan -- Flint native Lee Grant Allen’s new store, SŌL Collaborative, is not open yet, but he’s hosting his first pop-up event in the space located next to The Loft in Buckham Alley on June 19. The significance of the date is not lost on him.

“My very first event is on Juneteenth, and I just get a little emotional about it,” Allen said. “Juneteenth is such a huge moment for African-Americans and liberation. To have my very first event on that day, I’m almost at a loss for words. I really feel like this is the best way to show my ancestors, who have fought and given and done more than I can ever explain, how much I appreciate them. It’s my way to give back to them.”

The pop-up event will be from 1-6 p.m. on June 19 and include some sneaker resellers, fashion designers, vendors, music, and more. Flint artist Errin G. Whitaker will also be doing a live demonstration. The event will complement the Black Buckham Juneteenth Festival from 1-9 p.m. in Buckham Alley. That event will also have live music, food, art, children’s activities (including from Sloan Museum), and more.

“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be interactive,” Allen said. 

The space was formerly occupied by Sutorial, a boot and shoe maker. Allen and business partners Antonio Forte and Alex Kadie plan to fully open SŌL Collaborative around September. 

The store will feature streetwear, fashion, and sneakers. Allen also envisions the space being a hub where young aspiring designers and clothes manufacturers can learn about the business of fashion.

“There’s so many young local entrepreneurs,” Allen said. “They are rising up in the ranks, but don't have a place to showcase their clothes. And that's what is going to be so important about this space here. I remember growing up, wanting to design clothes, wanting to design sneakers, but never really thought of having the space to sell my stuff out of. I never really had a mentor, either, in that creative space. So that’s what I want this store to be about. I want to provide mentorship to the local entrepreneurs and designers and have a program to allow them to display their clothes here and also get mentorship in all areas of the business behind the scenes.”

Allen grew up on Flint’s northside and went to Selby Elementary. He graduated from Carman-Ainsworth Schools and got his bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan-Flint. He later earned a master’s degree and, for a while, lived out of state in Cleveland and Chicago. He worked as a business analyst for General Motors.

Fashion has always been a passion of his, though. He worked for apparel stores at the Genesee Valley Center as a teenager, and has long thought about having his own business.

“It is something that I've always wanted to do ever since I was young,” he said. “I had a passion for sneakers, had a passion for apparel. And it's just kinda ironic that the first spot that I found and the first spot that I fell in love with, it was already doing boots and shoes (at Sutorial).”

Along with wanting to own his own business, Allen has also always wanted to give back to Flint. When the space in Buckham Alley became available, he jumped at the opportunity to build something in his hometown.

“I love the building, it has a lot of nostalgia here and a Flint vibe with the brick and the wood flooring,” Allen said. “Flint really raised me. I always wanted to give back to the city that has given me so much.”

Allen grew up in Flint during a time when fashion shows throughout the city were commonplace. He hopes his store, along with the city’s thriving creative scene, can help bring that back. 

“It (the store) plays to the vibe and the direction the city is going really well,” Allen said. “One is entrepreneurship, but also fashion is really coming back on the scene. This (the store) fits perfectly with the trend the city already has going. And then you’ve got the alleys. Anyone from Flint knows that if you’re downtown and there’s an event, they know it’s in one of the alleys. So it’s just like the perfect puzzle piece to fit into that. I’m happy to be a part of it in any way so I can help press the city forward.”

For information about SŌL Collaborative or to connect with them, follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.