Brand Architect and Youth Adviser Michael Cordero
Michael Cordero, age 24 and Brand Architect of 1 SOUL DESIGNS, sees people and community as his strongest assets before income or financial gain. Launching this independent t-shirt brand in 2004, Michael first turned his classroom hobby into a small business venture at the local flea market. Now three years later, he, and business partner Randy Quiles, works with vendors on both coasts and in the international market as well. His motivation lays in the youth and community around him and how his designs will contribute to their education and uplift. Creating a Youth Apprenticeship program in addition to creating phenomenal fashions, Michael takes time to help New York’s high school students development creative skills and business know-how. Learn more in this week’s Young & Professional Profile about how Michael and 1 SOUL DESIGNS will enhance your wardrobe and an overall feeling of unity and pride.
1 SOUL DESIGNS
Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn, New York (same number, same hood, same crib)
Fashion Institute of Technology
Long Island University
About the company
1SOULDESIGNS is a very Grassroots independent t-shirt brand that serves the people.
1SOUL is our forum for raising consciousness in the community. We have funneled profits into youth development projects and social conscious efforts in the form of cultural exchange programs, mural tours, workshops, fashion shows and film screenings.
We have worked with communities in NYC, San Francisco, Cuba, Vieques (PR), Mexico and Guatemala.
Whether it be visual art, music, performance art or literary, 1SOUL believes there’s a social responsibility that comes with every art form. It is for this reason we have dedicated our work to the uplifting of our community, our peers, and the youth, not only through our designs, but also through 1SOUL’s mission to promote social awareness and influence social participation.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Along with my partner Randy Quiles, we share responsibilities in all areas including, desiging, promoting, and production. We also package and ship everything ourselves.
Most notable milestones
Seeing Sean Paul rocking one of our Custom Blazers on a cover of a magazine, and seeing one of our Tees on R&B star Mario when he was on BET.
Also we recently started our 1SOUL Youth Apprenticeship program where we take on high school students and they learn how to build their own brand and make their own t-shirts.
What’s the niche?
We put community first, not profit. Because if the community prospers, so do we and that is our reward. I think of 1SOUL more as a resource for people than just another company that sells t-shirts. No other brands are as hands on as me and Randy and nobody else is so involved with the community, also doing youth apprenticeships and workshops in other countries. I really think thats what makes us stand out.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Being an artist and a business man at the same time.
What’s in store for the future?
We are about to open a new concept shop in Williamsburg Brooklyn called FRESTHETIC. Check out www.fresthetic.com for more info. 560 Grand St., Brooklyn, NY; come by if you are in the area.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
Ignore trends. It sounds ridiculous, but it actually works. You can’t conform your work. People can tell.
Guiding principle in life
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community … Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
– Cesar Chavez
Goal yet to be achieved
Best practical advice
Experience is the best education.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
There have been too many supportive words from friends and family. It fuels our drive. I don’t think there is enough space on here for that.
Kahlil and Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi are kind of the closest thing to mentors I have, and they probably don’t even know it. Well, I guess now they will. But they really taught me about the conscious hustle, and grassroots organizing. When I went on this Cultural Exchange tour they put together in 2004 called Libertad, in Puerto Rico. We went on this crazy tour of the Island and Vieques doing community work and shows. And they really put it together with nothing, just a whole lot of love for the communities they were working in. It was really successful, just a bunch of artists from different background and different arts, traveling around together living together, doing murals, concerts and workshops. They really led me to what direction I wanted to take my brand, it was kind of inspired by that. I went on that trip at just the right time. So the cat’s out of the bag I guess.
What motivated you to get started?
What didn’t, is the question. I really felt there was too much going on and nobody was reflecting it enough in terms of social and cultural issues. I was designing these tight designs in my silk screening class, and my professor was always telling me to get out and sell at flea markets. So i did it, got a good response from the people and just progressed with it.
Like best about what you do?
The love from the people.
Like least about what you do?
The business side and needing funding.
Why did you choose to go into t-shirt design as opposed to film or some other medium?
I just kind of fell into it when i was in college. I was in a fashion school, taking graphic design, so it was kind of inevitable. I feel like everyone loves to wear what they care about, and we talk about a lot of stuff people care about. A t-shirt is the best place to promote those ideas.
What other organizations do you and your company work with, and what do you guys do together?
We work with an art collective called Trust Your Struggle out of the Bay Area and New York and do some art shows, mural tours and help out with their apparel production. Also I work with Clenched Fist Productions on brand development. They brought you “INVENTOS:Hip Hop Cubano” and the upcoming “HOMEGROWN: Hip Life in Ghana.” Also, we print t-shirts for this organization called Dance for Peace, where they travel to countries in Africa and teach kids how to dance and then enter some of them in these international dance competitions.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Comic Book Artist
What was your first job?
File clerk at my pop’s Architect Firm.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Traveling, B-ballin, movie fanatic…
Person most interested in meeting?
Don Pedro Albizu Campos so he can tell me how to continue his dream.
I think I will meet him in the after life.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- My capoeira Name is “Caramujo.”
- Never on time (this interview is probably late).
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- The People
- The People
- The People
Favorite book or album?
“Party Music” by The Coup
What was the first shirt you designed?
“Hip Hop Was Fun” tee, I called it the R.I.P tee.
It had Jam Mastrer Jay, Pac, and Biggie on it and said “Hip Hop was Fun.”
How are you and your company involved in the local community?
We run youth apprenticeships in our shop with local high schools, and I also do After School Programs Teaching kids how to screenprint and make their own t-shirts.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We just opened a shop in Brooklyn, NY, a new concept shop from the people behind 1SOULDESIGNS, REBELUTION & E.Soto. Providing the community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn a fresh venue to experience a new inspiration in grassroots/independent artistry. As a part-time Gallery/Retail/Print shop, FRESTHETIC aims to serve the people with a new shopping experience and services aimed at helping the prosperity and progress of the Brooklyn community.
Check out fresthetic.com for more details.
Interview by Victor Corral
Introduction by Sara Ortega
Edited by Valerie Enriquez