Michelle Cadore is the Designer, CEO, and visionary behind YES I AM, Inc, which she established in 2016. From an early age, Michelle has always been passionately involved in entrepreneurship and inspiring others.
As a graduate of the Zicklin School of Business with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management, Michelle has built a career around helping others realize their personal, professional, and entrepreneurial goals. She spent three years in Public Administration as a Small Business Program Manager where she helped entrepreneurs expand their workforce. She now serves as an Assistant Director with the longest standing community-based organization in Brooklyn helping NYC residents to dream and do. A true renaissance woman, Michelle is also the Co-Owner and Managing Partner of a unique fashion boutique in the heart of DUMBO called DA SPOT NYC that houses 25+ independent minority owned fashion and creative brands. When Michelle is not grinding 24/7, she is spending time with family, traveling abroad and helping other small businesses.
Michelle is a big advocate for speaking positive words into your life and manifesting your goals into existence. She encourages others to stay inspired with the tagline “Brand Your Self.” Through YES I AM, Michelle plans to continue building a platform for others to be encouraged, share their own stories of triumph and own it! We spoke to Michelle about her work and being a creative.
Black Girls Create: What do you create?
I create inspirational and empowerment t-shirts. My brand is called YES I AM Clothing. I try to stick to positive messages that will keep people lifted. One of my sayings is “But, she didn’t quit though,” which I started using I try to figure out the next moves in my career and for my business. It’s really to keep myself motivated as well as others.
I’m also building an amazing network of creatives. I am the co-owner of a unique fashion boutique called Da Spot NYC (DA SPOT) alongside my mentor turned business partner Frantz Farnoille (FACE) of Frantzy Face Clothing. He was introduced to me by my good friend and fellow creative Victoria Coker of Black Web Fest and Colored Content. She thought he was the perfect person for me to connect with and learn. One year later, we opened DA SPOT, where we house 25+ independent and minority-owned creative brands including our own. We know how hard it is for indie designers to be seen, so our mission is to help these amazing brands gain more visibility by selling them in our shop and at the events where we vend. We have also combined spaces with our friend Tyler Jordan of C.A.N.V.A.S RAW Art Gallery, who highlights indie artists by providing the space for them to showcase their work. We are steadily building our network of minority creatives and professionals while building this amazing platform for creativity.
BGC: What made you get into apparel and creating your own brand?
I was actually working as a Program Manager for a City agency, giving funding to small businesses. I was going for a promotion, but when I got up the nerve to ask for the promotion, I was told “we’ll see who else is interested.” That was like a reality check for me, because I’d been doing this job for about two years, pretty much doing the role for which I was trying to interview, for free. I realized then that I needed to create my own opportunities.
That night I went home, feeling a little down. It was raining and I was standing on the corner, and a cab came by and splashed me from head to toe. I took that as a sign from the universe that I needed to get my stuff together. I reminded myself that I’d done amazing things before and that I would continue to do amazing things after. I am who I say I am.
That was when I realized I wanted to create something to inspire people. And that’s exactly what I did. I went home that night and I went to work, and the brand YES I AM was born. That was November 16, 2015.
I officially launched on July 17, 2016 with the help of FACE guiding me and preparing me. Having YES I AM and a new job in a higher position afforded me the opportunity to open Da Spot NYC. Starting my business and having my mentor — who eventually became my business partner — took me down the journey I think God meant for me. Sometimes you need to have that push and be in the place of discomfort. I find we grow when we’re not comfortable. We have to challenge ourselves. So I always look back at that job that said “no” and I say “thank you.” I appreciate the “no.” It was my “YES!”
BGC: What has been one of the top learning moments in starting your own business?
The top learning moment for me was to focus on what's important, ignore the noise and don't give everything your power, which is definitely easier said than done. I had this very interesting situation where I was accused of ripping off someone’s design, which I did not. I did my due diligence and still had no idea that these people’s brand even existed — even though they were part of similar networking circles. I had a lot of respect for these networking circles and in hindsight, a simple conversation would have led to collaboration and everyone would win. Before I knew it, in one weekend my name and my brand ended up being dragged all through the internet streets. I only found out because the good people around me actually alerted me with screenshots. Other professionals, some with brands, were coming onto my business platforms and leaving negative comments. Then, I received a cease and desist the morning I started my new job, with a high demand for monies. It was insane, slanderous, hurtful.
I wanted to defend my name, but my mentor urged me not to respond, and let my lawyer handle it. So that’s exactly what I did. Face asked me, “Do you want a T-shirt, or do you want a brand?” It reminded me to focus on what’s important. Four months later he stumbled across the [location for our] shop and we opened up our second business.
The experience taught me so many things: If you want to be wildly successful then you better have VERY thick skin. Be KIND to people, it is your Karma. Don’t jump to conclusions. Communicate and give people the benefit of the doubt. Handle things professionally and know where to spend your energy. Also, make sure you have a good team around you who will steer you away from negativity and help you stay focused on your growth.
BGC: Who is your audience?
My audience really started off as everybody, but I’ve noticed that as the years pass my core audience is mostly women of color. It’s expanding, but basically anyone who is seeking or identifies with the messages, who look for inspiration and motivation, they’re drawn to the brand. I just focus on delivering positive messages. But I definitely say women are the majority. We are the biggest buyers, so it’s no surprise.
BGC: Who or what inspires you to keep going?
My parents are my inspiration. My mom was a nurse for 40 years (she’s retired) and she has been a business woman on the side even through having her own career. I’ve seen her ambition and her resilience even as a widowed parent. I definitely get my fighting spirit from her. She was raised with very little in the island of Grenada by her loving grandparents who could barely read or write. They would go to the market to sell produce to provide for her schooling. She was able to travel to England at 17 to study nursing with barely any money. She eventually migrated to the states and was joined by my dad (also Guyanese-Grenadian) who was a Construction Worker and they invested in real estate together before starting their family. My dad passed away when I was eight years old and my brother was only two, but the love and ambition they had for each other and for their American dream keeps me inspired. They worked hard to provide a full life with opportunities for my brother and me and that is what keeps me going. It is all about continuing the legacy and building generational wealth for me. So I’m super proud to have built my own businesses and to have kept the legacy of my family going. They are my biggest inspiration and they know their hard work has paid off and I am creating my own way.
BGC: Why is it important as a Black person to create?
God bless the child that’s got her own. We as Black folks are inherently entrepreneurs. We had to build our own because we were not allowed to partake in that of others—and we still do. We are just as capable of success as anyone else. We just need access to the opportunities and if we can’t get them then we need to create them and help the next person gain access. Last year, I created a shirt called "Savage": "Keep the Seat. I Want the Whole Damn Table." It was in response to being repeatedly turned down for opportunities at the time.
I’m all about Black wealth and building our economy, being financially strong, and also creating that legacy. In fact, even my day job focuses on this mission. I want to leave a legacy and build generational wealth for my family. We all need to be focused on creating meaningful opportunities, access, and legacies so our children’s children can be financially empowered and successful.
BGC: How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
I have no idea. For the last two years I have literally run between a full time job — I’m an Assistant Director during the day, managing two teams — and then going to the shop and creating sometimes until 3am. And then I take care of my mom, and I have my personal life. It’s been a lot. I realized in the last two years that every time it comes to December, my body would crash. So this year I’ve made a vow to myself to put self care at the top of the list and make sure that I take pride in my appearance, in taking care of myself. I schedule in time to do the things that are important to me. I actually created a list for the summertime of like 35-40 things I want to do this summer, which includes everything from rock climbing and kayaking on the East River to hanging out with friends, having picnics, or whatever. And I’ve been crossing things off. And I’m dating, so I’m trying to schedule time and really balance. I’m actually super happy I’m at this point. This has by far been the best summer, the best year compared to the last two.
It can be really hard to take time for yourself. For one, I’m usually on autopilot. And for another, sometimes I think that if I focus on that, I’m taking away from my business, I’m not putting my all in. But I find that you can put your all in and then you’re dead, you’re gone. You’re not as rich if you’re not building those relationships around you and you’re not feeding the things that nurture you. If your business is gone tomorrow, what do you have left? It’s important to live a full life. I’m trying as best as I can little by little.
BGC: Any advice for young and new creators?
Fail. Fail and fail often. Get a mentor, because then you have someone to help guide you. But when you’re early on in the process, it’s better to learn the hard lessons then, rather than when you get bigger and your business is booming because it will probably be more costly. Don’t be afraid to do whatever it is you want to do. If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay, you find another way to do it. You have to be okay with trying and failing.
You also have to be okay with success. Everybody wants to be successful, but they’re afraid of when they actually have a level of success. Some people are afraid of jumping, they want it but they don’t want to jump. And I’m here to say do it. That was my biggest fear when I started, ironically. It was like, “what if people don’t like it?” When I made my first shirt and first “stranger” sale, I was like “OMG, they like it! This is real.” My mentor pushed me and now we push each other to think bigger. I look back now like what the hell was I afraid of? I can’t even imagine not starting another business just out of fear. Be bold enough and ready to jump and do it. Better to live passionately than not live at all.
BGC: If you had unlimited resources, what is something you would love to do?
I’m already writing it down, trying to manifest like millions of dollars. I definitely would love to see YES I AM as a store in different locations. And beyond just being clothing, the brand is a platform for inspiration and empowerment. So I want it to be on that level where anyone would go to YES I AM just for that dose of daily inspiration.
For Da Spot, we have the boutique side and we have a production space now as of February. We now print for brands and businesses and are continuously seeking ways to expand our offerings. Ideally I would love to have Da Spot NYC, Atlanta, L.A., London, Paris, South Africa, etc. and continue working with independent creatives and artists in these spaces. If I had the people and the money to really make it big, that would be the goal. With more space, human and financial capital, we will get there. We also believe in our social responsibility of giving back and teaching entrepreneurial creatives how to grow their own businesses so a brand consulting agency is in the works, too.
BGC: Future projects?
I have a few things brewing for the summer. In May, I partnered with MasterCard and Create and Cultivate for the amazing women’s conference Create and Cultivate NYC. I recently was featured in MasterCard’s Small Business Woman campaign, which was exciting. It’s festival season, so we are gearing up for some exciting events with We of Color at WeWork, PRIDEFEST NYC 2019, Airbnb, Ru Paul’s Drag Con, Afro Latina Festival, and Go Africa Carnival. We are also working within our creative circle and have the pleasure of working on the first Hella Brooklyn Block Party with the Black Pearl Market, collaborating with MANIFEAST for their brand’s first Tee for their second networking brunch series, and participating in the launch of the first Sankofa Culture and Arts Festival — all Black-owned brands.
I’m creating the Cadore Advisory Group, a consultancy business for budding and existing entrepreneurs. I love helping others grow their business and now it is time to finally make it official. I’ve also been writing a book called Ethan Does South Africa, which is loosely based on my experiences during my journey through South Africa where I traveled solo for my 31st birthday. It’s about a little boy, Ethan (named after my nephew), who is about 6 years old and is traveling with his little passport for the first time. I have a love for travel thanks to my mom and I want my nephew and future children to eventually have those same experiences. It’s important for our children to be exposed to different countries, languages, people, and customs to expand their horizons.
I love creating space for others to enjoy themselves and have an impactful experience, so I have built an informal networking group of entrepreneurs who, like me, need balance by doing fun activities that we would normally not carve out time to experience. Lastly, there is a Brooklyn-based summer festival in the works, but you just have to stay tuned to find out more!
You can find YES I AM, Inc. and Da Spot NYC online, but also in Dumbo, Brooklyn!