Michael McCall's workspace is a tabletop in the corner of his downtown Schenectady apartment.
That's where he designs and manufactures the line of apparel that he sells through his website and Facebook and Instagram pages.
His company, Elevate & Conqr, creates clothing that aims to uplift; his logo, which is prominently featured on the company's hoodies, hats and shirts, is a lion with a scepter between its teeth. The motivational slogan "humble but hungry" appears on many of McCall's garments.
"I don't sell clothing," McCall, 24, told me. "I sell a state of mind. ... Anyone can slap a logo on something and sell it, but I want to inspire change."
It's a lofty and compelling vision, and McCall hopes to turn his small company, founded in 2015, into something bigger. Right now, though, he's a one-man operation: He designs his product, manufactures it, markets it, sells it and ships it.
Which isn't to say he doesn't have help.
McCall gets guidance and support from the Wolfpack Wealth Group, a Schenectady-based company that provides financial advice to individuals and small businesses.
I profiled the Wolfpack Wealth Group for the Daily Gazette's February Outlook section, but that article focused on the company's founders.
Their desire to help lower-income, minority Capital Region residents become successful entrepreneurs interested me enough that I decided to learn more about those efforts, and write a follow-up column.
Wolfpack co-founder Earl Page told me that his company has 15 small business clients, but hopes to add more to their roster.
"These are not corporations," Page explained. "These are little shops. We want to help them not struggle. Our focus is businesses that are between one and five years old."
A lack of business savvy and financial literacy can hinder the growth of small businesses, making it difficult for them to build business credit and successfully apply for loans.
Wolfpack's expertise helps its clients navigate those challenges and overcome them, allowing them to expand their businesses in ways that might once have seemed impossible.
Should the company realize its dream of helping hundreds of mom-and-pop businesses, the impact could be significant, as the Capital Region will only benefit from having more locally-owned businesses.
Sequon Young, 35, is another Wolfpack small business client.
Young owns Sayless Printing and Apparel, a company in the process of moving out of his apartment and into a storefront on Schenectady's Crane Street.
"The motivation of working for myself is not working for anybody," Young told me, when I met him for coffee. "I wanted to build up something I could pass on to my kids."
Among other things, Wolfpack taught Young the importance of keeping his business and personal finances separate. "They're teaching me how to be in business and how to build business capital," he said. "After I met with those guys, I wanted to be more professional."
Wolfpack's lessons are paying off.
"Sequon's business is growing fast," Page said. "When he first started, everything was in his living room. Now his living room is getting too small."
I caught a glimpse of Young's wares at a mixer for entrepreneurs hosted by Wolfpack, and I was impressed. Like McCall, Young makes clothing, and I especially liked his sweatshirts. These shirts, which come in a variety of colors, say "Welcome to HH," which stands for Hamilton Hill. Local street names are also printed on the shirts.
"People want to represent where they're from," Young said.
A certified personal trainer, McCall initially viewed Elevate & Conqr as little more than a marketing tool to promote his fitness work.
But he soon discovered that people were willing to buy the clothing he designed, and that it could be useful in other endeavors, such as his job as a juvenile detention counselor.
"I try to show the kids (in juvenile detention) that I came from the same environment they did and that you can do more than just sell drugs," McCall said.
"I had no background in fashion," McCall continued. "I had no background in business owning. I was always told I couldn't do things. I ran my idea (for Elevate & Conqr) by a couple people and they told me I couldn't do it."
McCall eventually found an enthusiastic supporter in the Wolfpack Wealth Group.
"They gave me ideas and advice on how to grow my brand," McCall said.
Before McCall started working with Wolfpack, he was outsourcing his apparel production. Wolfpack advised him to purchase a vinyl cutting machine and make the clothing himself, a move that enabled him to increase his profits by cutting costs.
"Sometimes I ask myself, 'Am I really making money or am I just making sales?'" McCall said. "The answer is, yes, I'm making money."
I enjoyed chatting with McCall and Young, and I hope their businesses continue to grow.
And I'm hoping that Wolfpack's efforts to cultivate this kind of talent continue to pay off, and we see more creative young entrepreneurs launching new products and opening up new shops.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]