Written and styled by Tracy James
Photography by Chuck St. John
“New York. Birmingham. Bologna.” These are three cities you would not normally expect to see grouped together, yet they encircle the logo for Birmingham’s newest upscale men’s boutique, Alchemy 213, located in downtown Birmingham. Owner Ace Graham, 32, explains the connection. His business partner, Nelz, lives in New York City, and until recently, Graham lived in Bologna, Italy. There he served as a business consultant, helping fashion brands insert their product into the U.S. market. Before this life-shaping European experience, Graham grew up in a military family and lived all over the country. His love for fashion began early. At age 14, Graham worked at Kids Footlocker without pay until he was old enough to get a work permit. By the time he was 15, he estimates he owned at least 50 pairs of sneakers.
Like the high-end city streetwear the boutique carries, which includes but is in no way restricted to limited-edition sneakers, the space—with its high ceilings and exposed brick walls—has an urban, hip feel that is unique to Birmingham. After extensive renovations to the 20th Street venue, Alchemy 213 opened last September. Graham admits to being about two years early on the project in terms of the surrounding area’s development, but he felt strongly about being downtown. As for the name that is prominently displayed in many areas of the store, Graham says, “We named the store Alchemy not because of its traditional definition of transmuting metal to gold, but in effort to transmute our lives—in which many people saw no value —into something more precious than gold. Through Alchemy we have the ability to effect change in the lives we come in contact with, and that for many people fosters their own sense of alchemy.”
If that sounds like a lofty goal, it is. Alchemy seeks to be more than just a retailer that carries a man’s favorite denim and designers found nowhere else in the state (often, nowhere else in the country except NYC and LA). Graham and his team want to be a platform for everything that is cool. “It’s for us to display things that we love,” Graham says. “We want to be a platform for someone that makes great jewelry or tea or whatever it is that you do. If it’s dope and it fits with what we are doing, we want to be a platform for that.”
In addition, Alchemy collaborates on a community event each month, from artistic to philanthropic endeavors. October’s event was hosting an Energy Zone along the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure route, part of their #AlchemyCares initiative. “Alchemy wouldn’t exist without the support of others,” says Graham, who, incidentally, employs as the store’s painter a homeless man from 7th Avenue South and as the cleaning lady, a resident of First Light shelter around the corner. “We have a duty to give back and enhance our community.,” Graham says. “Philanthropic endeavors are amongst our company’s core values.”
Upon my first visit to Alchemy 213, I loved the fact that every item I picked up had a story behind it. Like the deliciously scented 100 percent soy luxury candle that, come to find out, is produced in-house via Graham’s design company, Acasa, which means “always at home.” With scents blended in Italy, they present three varieties per season. Eventually Acasa will offer exotic leather goods as well. The majority of Alchemy’s merchandise is internationally sourced, and I was fascinated by Graham’s brand knowledge. Some of the lines that make Alchemy special include:
Stampd-Founded in 2011 by Chris Stamp, the west coast “avantstreet” lifestyle brand represents contemporary luxury that has evolved past street-wear while retaining its iconic styling cues. In 2015, the brand was awarded Best New Men’s Wear Designer in America by GQ.
EFM-Design house EFM (Engineered for Motion) integrates sophisticated design, applied technologies, and innovative features, pushing comfort and urban minimalist aesthetics to new levels. From innovative fabrics to complex garment dyeing, sonically welded seams to hard shell membranes, EFM continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in luxury menswear.
Nudie Jeans-This Swedish denim label is changing the ownership model for jeans and providing benchmark stewardship for transparency. Not only does the company use organic materials and fair labor, but each pair of jeans also comes with a lifetime warranty and free repair service.
Off-White-At the helm of this hot streetwear brand is Virgil Abloh, Kanye West’s creative-director-turned-
Nike Official Boutique-Alchemy 213 is one of 100 official Nike boutiques in the country, meaning they receive the company’s highest end and limited edition merchandise. When it comes to Nike, Alchemy stocks some women’s sizes as well (I’ve got my eye on a pair of woven grey suede Mayflys) and caters not just to sportsmen. True to Nike’s motto, Graham says, “There’s an athlete in each of us.”
JayZ Capsule Collection-To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the hip-hop mogul’s fist album, Reasonable Doubt, 14 stores in the United States, of which Alchemy is one, will receive a capsule collection inspired by this classic album.
Needless to say, it comes as no surprise that Graham says, “We don’t randomly pick anything.” Stop by the 20th Street boutique to hear the stories for yourself from the incredibly knowledgeable and friendly team at Alchemy 213, the kind of progressive business our city needs.