For the youths, by the youths.
Founded by mother-son duo Christina Cheng and her son Elijah, YUTE INC. is more than just a clothing brand. We caught up with the young entrepreneurs to learn how – at just 10 years old – Elijah came up with the idea for a business that would support the youth of his community (in more ways than one).
We love a mother & son duo! When did you guys first consider starting a business together?
Christina: I was 16 when I had Elijah and I always said it would be cool if we worked together in the future, but I was never going to force that idea. It wasn’t until Elijah was 10 when he said, “I think I want to start my own brand.” I was stoked. We started ideating, brainstorming, going back and forth on ideas. I’d ask him questions to understand where this idea stemmed from. I wanted to make sure it was him through and through. Then he said, “If I do this, I want to make sure I’m doing this for my friends and giving back to other kids, too.” And that right there was the root and core of what YUTE INC. is all about. For a 10-year-old (at the time) to think of others beyond himself and come up with a business idea that serves other youth – I was taken aback. I knew it could be special.
Tell us more in detail about YUTE INC.
YUTE: YUTE is a platform for the youth, by the youth — generating inspiration and opportunities for young people. As a brand, we create long-lasting essentials and seasonal pieces with a portion of proceeds invested into youth-focused programs, initiatives, and organizations. YUTE is also a creative agency, ensuring we ‘alley-oop’ opportunities to youth through partnerships and collaborations. With that being said, a portion of sales go towards the TCHC B3 program, future youth organization partnerships, and hiring youth per project.
What is the core vision of YUTE INC.?
YUTE: The vision of YUTE is youth creating transformative experiences where they are able to impact their communities while building with a brand that reflects their values, their culture, their stories, and overall taste. YUTE is more than a clothing brand — our ideology is rooted and inspired by philanthropy.
Every Yute purchase supports youth programs. Tell us more about this initiative!
YUTE: For our first collection, we have partnered with Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) to support their latest youth organization, known as Be.Build.Brand. (B3) — which offers mentorship and capacity-building opportunities to equip young tenants with the hard and soft skills needed to turn their ideas into viable business ventures. This initiative holds true to Elijah (our co-founder), as he’s also a youth who’s a creative entrepreneur.
YUTE is not tied down to any one organization, we want to ensure we give back to as many youth initiatives as we see fit. In June, we donated 25% of each sale towards Black Youth Helpline.
At YUTE, we will not sit idly, but rather take action collectively to demand equality, accountability and change. We will utilize our efforts to stand by the safety and growth of our BIPOC youth, helping make ripples in the reinvestment into education, community support, and children’s services and resources.
What was it like launching a business during COVID-19? Did you face any challenges or setbacks?
YUTE: We officially registered YUTE as an incorporation business in February 2018 but we didn’t actually announce or launch until December 2019 — worst timing! Launching a small start-up business during a global pandemic was a huge setback. It was (and still very much is) a heavy time on top of BLM. Financially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually — everyone was going through it. There was a large pause, but we knew we had to pick ourselves up amidst it all. We went back to the root of our business and started taking action to serve — donating to youth organizations, signing petitions, having the hard conversations, and remaining in quarantine. Although we faced challenges and setbacks, it was beneficial in the learning and unlearning on all levels.
Elijah, what’s your favourite thing about working with your mom?
Elijah: My favourite thing about working with my mom is the fact that I’m doing it with family. Since my mom and I are pretty close in age, this adds to our story of growing up together. It’s cool and unique. Even my friends say I’m lucky.
And Christina, what’s your favourite thing about working with your son?
Christina: My favourite thing about working with my son is seeing him grow and witnessing his ideas come to fruition. It’s a blessing being able to give him the opportunity to dream and support and invest in that. We’re both growing and learning together and it’s an honour to be in this journey with him. There are a lot of trial and errors but we see the vision and the possibilities. It’s been a test in being a single mom entrepreneur, but also a test in discipline on both our ends. That’s my favourite part – our story. YUTE INC. is essentially his and I want him to create for the greater good. Hire his friends, put on for other talented youth, encourage young creative entrepreneurs, do meaningful work, tell meaningful stories, connect the dots for others and flourish together.
Elijah, what advice would you give to someone who feels like they’re too young to start a business?
Elijah: My friends ask me this question a lot. I tell them not to be scared to put their ideas out there, especially if they’re passionate and serious about it. Start small and work your way up. You’ll never know unless you shoot your shot.
Christina, what advice would you give to a young working mom who wants to start a business?
Christina: I’ve said this before to many parents. Listen to your kids. Their ideas matter, their feelings matter, and it’s our job to do the work in understanding where that stems from because it stems from somewhere rooted within them. When Elijah was 10 with the idea, I weighed out options, I did the work, I saw his vision and I invested.
My advice to a young working mom who wants to start a business? Do what you would for your kids, for yourself. Never forget that kid inside you who dreamed and believed it wasn’t farfetched because it’s not. If you can envision it so vividly, it’s possible. Our kids are watching, so let’s pave the way. I’m not saying quit your secure job (or side hustles) just yet because you need that to fund your passion and provide for you and your child(ren). I still pick up jobs and clients because investing in your business(es) is expensive and worth it. Stay humble, stay grinding, stay hustling, stay praying, ideate action plans, gain as much experience as you can, talk to advisors. Do the most that will lead you in the right direction until you’re there. Trust the process. We’re all in this.