Michelle Cadore is the creative, serial entrepreneur behind the YES I AM brand that Jennifer Hudson crooned about for Mastercard and sported all over social this March. The New Yorker has been building the women’s apparel line for almost five years and is just now beginning to see the fruits of her labor. She shares how being overlooked for a promotion helped realize that her promising career was turning into a dead end job. From there, she decided to draw on her family’s entrepreneurial roots to create a creative clearinghouse for underrepresented art and apparel brands like her own.
Have you always known you would be an entrepreneur?
I am a Brooklyn-native and first-generation Caribbean-American from Grenada. I come from a long line of hard workers and entrepreneurs dating as far back as my great grandparents, who were farmers. They would often sell their goods in the local market. My paternal grandparents owned a bakery. My parents worked full-time as a nurse and a construction foreman in NYC, but together they also built a mini real estate empire just a few years after migrating to the United States. Coming from a bloodline of people who made their own way inspires me to follow in their footsteps.
I know that Yes I Am is your clothing brand, but that it is part of a larger line of Black-owned brands you feature in your Brooklyn-based showroom called Da Spot. Share more about both businesses, how they started and how they are intertwined?
Back in 2016 I hit a glass ceiling in my career. I was managing a program by myself when I saw a Director role open above me. When I expressed interest in the role, I was told, “we’ll see who else is interested.” Turns out, the decision-makers were not even considering me. Instead, they expected me to train the person who would take on the role. I decided that night that I AM who I say I AM and I was no longer leaving my future in the hands of others. I had to remind myself of my past accomplishments and my potential if I wanted to empower others to know their worth and create their greatest story. Yes I AM Clothing was born from that experience. I told my friend Victoria Coker of Black Web Fest that I wanted to launch my own clothing brand and she connected me to another independent fashion creative – “FACE” of Frantzy Face Clothing.
When we met, I told him that he was going to be my mentor. We became friends and started dreaming about opening a boutique for indie creatives of color. One year later, we became business partners after FACE stumbled across an empty storefront that would eventually become DA SPOT NYC. We started in a 100 square foot space with just three brands in the shop and within six months we housed 25 brands. As indie creatives of color, we already knew how difficult it was for emerging Black and POC brands to get their work seen and sold, so we decided to create a platform to close the exposure gap for them.
How did your brands come to partner with MasterCard and Jennifer Hudson?
After almost two and half years of hard work growing both YES I AM and DA SPOT, my clothing brand was asked to participate in a vendor market for the Create and Cultivate Conference, sponsored by Mastercard. That experience was a game changer—we got on Mastercard’s radar and they have continued to show support. We were featured in a social media campaign and a national television commercial starring Jennifer Hudson, which has been on heavy rotation, especially during the Golden Globes, Oscars, and Grammys.
DA SPOT has since housed over fifty emerging creative brands. We moved from our original retail space in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn to a 1000 square foot retail space in an iconic center in City Point. We have expanded to house an art gallery called C.A.N.V.A.S. (Creating A New View Around Society) led by our Dumbo neighbor turned Partner, Tyler Jordan. We also launched an annual festival called Dear Summer Vibes to celebrate creative culture and we recently hosted a successful Marketplace called Black Creatives and Culture Market. The success of our latest market led to an ongoing partnership to curate a second rotating gallery.
Without the support of our community, we wouldn’t have been able to expand so quickly and in so many different creative directions. Since moving locations in Fall 2019, our sales increased significantly. We were able to secure emergency funding due to the pandemic and have been fortunate enough to weather through our fourth year in business.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?
Our boutique was closed for six months due to government mandates. DA SPOT is self-funded and it is difficult enough for small business owners to secure capital during regular circumstances. Historically, it has been even more difficult for minority-owned businesses to secure funding. Thankfully, I was able to obtain emergency funding for our boutique. Also, we’ve built a solid community of supporters for our mission, so we continued to see increased traction from online sales until we were able to fully reopen our store. In fact, by revamping our website and directing marketing towards e-commerce, our online sales increased from being 5% of our total revenue to 50% since the pandemic.
As a creative, running a business isn’t always the most motivating part of the work. How have you managed to stay inspired throughout this difficult year of racial reckoning, COVID-19, and economic instability?
Being in a position to create space for people of color, seeing our fellow creatives grow, and having such a solid community have been significant motivators. My partner and I recognize that we’ve created something special with DA SPOT, it’s an empowering movement for our culture. Our platform inspires everyone who dared to dream and create their own lane. People love what we do and what it represents. Sometimes they may not have intended to purchase anything, but after visiting our space they will support in some way – buying something, endorsing us with word-of-mouth, or tagging us in their social media. We are a beacon for hidden creatives and we keep one another accountable for thriving.
Nafeesah is a freelance writer and independent researcher with a particular interest in literature, gender identity, and diaspora studies within the global South. She graduated cum laude from Barnard College in 2006, earned a Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University in 2009, and completed the postgraduate program in Folklore & Cultural Studies at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in India in 2013. Nafeesah received her Ph.D. in Forced Migration from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 2019.