Ambrose at WMCAT acquires I Am West Side T-shirt brand

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The custom screen-printing social enterprise of the West Michigan Arts + Technology Center acquired a T-shirt brand that supports afterschool education from the former Westside Collaborative.

Ambrose at WMCAT on Wednesday said that it acquired the apparel brand I Am West Side from the former Westside Collaborative via the founders of the brand, Bridge Street Ministries.

Ambrose, a custom design and screen-printing business embedded in the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) on Grand Rapids’ West Side, will now hand print the apparel and manage the supply to Grand Rapids’ West Side businesses.

Ambrose said it is committed to the original model of the brand and will donate over 15% of proceeds from the apparel to support educational opportunities for youth on the West Side.

“We are thrilled to be able to house the I Am West Side brand here at WMCAT,” said Juan Garcia, Ambrose at WMCAT manager. “We can live out that mission (to create a culture of opportunity in West Michigan) right outside our front doors with hyper-local community development work. I Am West Side is a banner that a diverse neighborhood can stand underneath and together take ownership of their community by making opportunity more readily accessible to the future generations that reside within our neighborhood.”

After I Am West Side started as an initiative in 2016 by Bridge Street Ministries, it evolved into a way for Grand Rapids residents to show their pride in what is often called “the best side of the river.”

Each garment features the phrase in either English, Spanish or Anishinaabemowin (the language of the Anishinaabe people who are indigenous to the area) — “I am West Side,” “Yo Soy West Side” and “West Side N’daaw,” respectively.

“Rooted in a desire to highlight the beautiful diversity of the people that make up the fabric of our West Side community, the proceeds of the initiative have always gone to support the development of the youth of our neighborhood,” said Ryan Waalkes, executive director at Bridge Street Ministries. “After I Am West Side outgrew our ministry, I am thrilled to see the initiative revived under the new ownership of Ambrose. I am confident that they will be able to carry out the original vision and grow it to be able to advance its mission and support youth in an even greater capacity.”

Along with the thousands of garments that Ambrose prints for its clients every year, this apparel holds a very special place personally and professionally for Garcia, who lives in the community with his wife, Emma Garcia, Access of West Michigan co-executive director, and their two children.

“West Siders are proud to be West Siders,” Garcia said. “As a transplant into this community myself, it is plain to see and feel the passion that lives on these streets. We are grateful to harness this passion and turn it into actionable energy back into our community.”

The T-shirts sell for $15. They can be purchased at these West Side businesses:

  • Bridge Street Market, 405 Seward Ave. NW
  • Posh Petals, 806 Bridge St. NW
  • West Grand Neighborhood Organization, 754 Leonard St. NW, #2
  • El Granjero Mexican Cuisine, 950 Bridge St. NW
  • Ambrose at WMCAT, wmcat.org

Ambrose is looking to expand the brand in the future to include additional languages, product offerings and new vendor locations. Those interested in learning more can follow @iamwestsidegr on Facebook and Instagram.

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