A pandemic, then a pivot. Now this Black entrepreneur is empowering others

February 8, 2022 | By Sophie Hares

Designer Michelle Cadore creates clothing that represent a sort of mantra or commitment to the universe. One camo-style jacket proclaims, “I’m Only Accepting Good Vibes and Money.” Another features the slogan “But, She Didn’t Quit Though ...”

Those quotes reflect the hustle and hard work that have not only gotten Cadore through the pandemic but helped her thrive. Over the past year, her Brooklyn-based clothing business has flourished. She’s enjoyed a flurry of sales, with orders pouring in from California to Ireland, and at the same time she’s been able to showcase the works of other Black designers and entrepreneurs at DA SPOT NYC, her 1,000-square-foot boutique.

Cadore even became something of a celebrity when she was featured in a national Mastercard commercial alongside singer-songwriter Jennifer Hudson elevating Black women-owned businesses as part of its Strivers Initiative

While Black entrepreneurship initially struggled at the beginning of the pandemic, it surged during 2021 when the number of Black-owned businesses grew 38%, far outpacing entrepreneurship among other American racial or ethnic groups, and Cadore’s experience over the past two years reflected that ride.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when New York City (and much of the world) locked down, DA SPOT NYC was forced to close for six months and Cadore struggled to secure vital loans to keep the shop afloat.

But she didn’t give up. Instead Cadore began looking for fresh ways to redesign and grow her business. “You have to be able to roll with the highs and the lows, be creative, think outside the box and face the challenges to keep your business alive,” says Cadore, who left her government job to serve as an assistant director for a nonprofit in Brooklyn while expanding her Yes I Am, Inc. label in 2016.

“You have to be able to roll with the highs and the lows, be creative, think outside the box and face the challenges to keep your business alive."
Michelle Cadore

She worked to raise funding for her business by signing up for competitions and applying for grants. She found some relief with a $10,000 grant from Black-owned wine company McBride Sisters that came with $20,000 in Facebook ad credits, and another $10,000 grant from the 1010 Wins Small Business Pitch competition, and loans via the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster and Payment Protection programs.

Participating in investment bank Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program helped her focus on growth opportunities for her boutique and make valuable contacts. 

She also took advantage of Mastercard’s Digital Doors Program which, during the darkest days, enabled her to build a robust e-commerce platform. Through its Small Business Digital Readiness Diagnostic, she could analyze her e-commerce strategy and find tools to help boost online sales.

For instance, Salesforce Essential management and Intuit’s QuickBooks both helped her streamline her finances and drill into customer and sales data to get a bigger bang for her online marketing spend. Following the launch of the Strivers Initiative, her website traffic rose 735% and YES I AM sales increased 1,400%. 

With half her business now online and sales rising, her company is well insulated against seasonal slowdowns and unexpected bumps, such as the recent Omicron variant outbreak, she says. “If I don't put product in the store, I know that I'm going to make sales online, so I will still reach my audience.”

She’s also diversifying her business by adding custom clothing printing and negotiating to place the ‘bklyn-ish apparel line she developed with her partners into iconic retail stores.

As her business flourishes, Cadore remains committed to sharing her knowledge and experience with local entrepreneurs by running workshops and one-on-one consulting, sharing tips on growth strategies, marketing and how to tap the growing number of grants for Black-owned businesses. 

The weekend of February 26th, DA SPOT NYC will host more than 50 artists and emerging brands at its second annual Black Creatives + Culture Market (BCC) to mark Black History Month. Later in the year, she’ll celebrate Juneteenth holiday with a special BCC edition with vendors, a curated art galley, live musical performances, pitch competition, sneaker design competition, and panels on business, NFTs and beauty at DA SPOT NYC at City Point BKLYN, where her store is located. She dreams of one day opening DA SPOTs in cities from Atlanta to Accra. 

“We sell clothing, yes, but it’s really about giving emerging artists the chance to gain visibility, gain economic opportunities, be part of a collaborative community and build legacy and generational wealth ,” says Cadore, who runs the store with her mentor Frantz “FACE” Farnoile and fellow creative, Tyler Jordan.

By joining Mastercard’s Strivers Initiative, she is able to tell her story and help give other women of color the confidence and support needed to launch their nascent businesses. 

She tells women of color: “Don’t let anything or anyone stop you from achieving your dreams. Keep taking up space and shatter glass ceilings” Sharing a favorite quote of her mother’s, she says, “Just reach for the moon, if you don’t hit the moon, you’ll fall among the stars.”

Sophie Hares, Contributor