Shai (pronounced “shy”) Maeweather runs WI$E Clothing, a custom clothing line he describes as urban street wear. Maeweather, 20, is a 2013 graduate of Cicero-North Syracuse High School, where he participated in the BOCES program. He is the creative director and designer. His girlfriend of two years, Sara Nestor, helps with the business by modeling the clothing, designing products and marketing. The couple lives in Liverpool.
How did you start this business?
I started off as a DJ. I went to BOCES, and I got into graphic design because I wanted to create covers for the CDs I was making. People started hitting me to make fliers and business cards. I got an idea for a clothing line.
Tell me about the logo, and the meaning of the eye and the pyramid.
I used it to catch people’s eye but not make it a negative, like the illuminati. I wanted to turn it into something positive. WI$E means “We Inspire Smart Envisions.” WI$E is creating with something small and making it positive.
What does the dollar sign mean?
You don’t have to wear something so extraordinary to be rich. I could make something small and make it rich. I take a plain T-shirt and make it more meaningful. I used it to catch people’s eye and to say, “You don’t have to work for someone else and make their dreams come true. You can make your own dreams come true.”
Do you use the dollar sign ironically?
I kind of use it to mock it, in a way. You don’t have to be a big business to grow wise, and you don’t need a lot of cash to grow wise. I grew up thinking the only way to work is to work for someone else. I don’t believe that.
You call yourself an art-trepreneur. How is that different from an entrepreneur?
It’s about art and putting something artful into my work and making it bigger. I’m always trying to make the line bigger. I’m adding posters and prints and stickers and buttons.
What’s your most popular item?
The hoodie. Always the hoodie.
Who is your customer?
A lot are not in Syracuse. Some are goth, some are not goth. Some are in the good parts of Syracuse, and some are in the not-so-good parts of Syracuse. I want to make a rare line that I can sell online. A lot of our customers are in the UK. It’s something you can wear anyplace. I know a lot of customers don’t have a lot of money but want to look nice.
Are you making a profit?
Some months we make a good amount of profit. Life as an art-trepreneur, you got to bargain with people. It’s mainly not about the profit.
Do you have to work another job to support yourself?
I work at FedEx. I wanted to know how my product was handled.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
I see the business moving past Syracuse. My dream is to push it to New York City. I’m going to work with rappers here in Syracuse. If they want merchandise, I help them out. We got JoJo Simmons (son of Rev Run of Run-DMC) to wear our brand. My goal is to build this up in Syracuse before I take my talent elsewhere.
Tell me more about your artistic vision.
People look down on Syracuse. I try to use the assets in Syracuse. I like the graffiti on the West Side, so I use it in the background of my photos of merchandise. We use abandoned houses to promote our line, to mock society, in a way. I want to make Syracuse big. I want people to know the idea came from Syracuse.
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Renée K. Gadoua is a freelance writer and editor based in Manlius. Follow her on Twitter @ReneeKGadoua.