Northern exposure

The Northern Grade pop-up market brings stylish, American-made menswear to Minneapolis

Grant Tillery

Mac McMillan considers his Northern Grade men’s pop-up market a happy, unintentional success.

“We did our first event and people showed up; brands were happy,” McMillan said. “Then we did another one and more people showed up, and brands were happy. It was one of those things where we didn’t have a plan, we just really wanted to have a good time and bring exposure to brands.”

Northern Grade began in Minneapolis in 2010 as a showcase of heritage Midwestern designers who were experiencing a renaissance at the time, when the urban lumberjack look hit the height of its popularity. The pop-up market hosted its first event outside of Minneapolis in 2012, and it now does a yearly circuit of shows across the United States. It’ll hit Minneapolis again this weekend.

McMillan said early shows featured about 10 vendors, but recent shows host upwards of 30 different purveyors, all featuring products made in America.

“The impetus of the idea came from Katherine [McMillan, Mac’s wife],” McMillan said. “When we moved back to Minneapolis, she didn’t realize that there were all these amazing brands located in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. A lot of people forgot about these brands or took it for granted that they’re based in Minnesota.”

McMillan moved to Brooklyn after the event’s inception to raise his two children and grow his businesses (the other being Pierrepont Hicks). Since then, Northern Grade has attained a national presence, and McMillan said the diversity of vendors has increased. The brands featured vary from show to show, and they represent all possible modes of style, no longer pandering solely to the ruff and gruff woodsman wannabe.

“We’ve definitely grown … in terms of making sure that we include all different types of style, whether it’s street wear, surf brands, tailored menswear,” McMillan said. “We still have heritage brands involved, but it’s important to us that it remains diverse. [Heritage brands have] been around forever. They’re not going anywhere.”

As Northern Grade’s profile rose, prominent menswear institutions took notice, including GQ.

“GQ approached us in 2013 about getting involved with a couple events,” McMillan said. “Of course, we were thrilled to be involved with them and have the GQ name associated with Northern Grade — not that Northern Grade wasn’t legitimate already.”

GQ sponsored two Northern Grade shows in 2014: one in New York and one in Los Angeles. While McMillan is glad the collaboration proved fruitful, some of his favorite cities to land the market in are smaller ones where a younger creative class is burgeoning.

“A lot these cities — like Nashville, Austin, Richmond — they have a common theme in population size,” McMillan said. “They’re usually heavy university towns. There’s a lot of creativity happening with food and fashion, and there’s always a tech component.”

Beyond increasing its scope, Northern Grade is launching its first women’s pop-up market in New York this December. The event is sponsored by the fashion website Fashionista and will feature many of the same brands popular at the menswear show, as well as clothiers breaking onto the scene.

“Menswear has embraced the whole ‘Made in the USA’ more [than women’s fashion], or so I thought,” McMillan said. “The reality is there’s a lot of women’s brands that are as passionate about it.”

Regardless of the customer, McMillan is committed to supporting companies that sell garments and goods that he would buy.

“That’s a problem for me,” McMillan said. “Every Northern Grade event, I want to walk around and buy everything.”

 

Northern Grade

When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Where: 811 Glenwood Ave., Minneapolis