Mentorship Academy entrepreneur class has clothing project sewn up

Before the morning bell rings at Mentorship Academy, the teenage students who run Cavaggio Clothing gather around the conference table.

They meet for a quick rundown every day — their money in the bank, upcoming deadlines — during their first period entrepreneurship class.

For the past month they have been designing clothes, creating a business plan and even writing the advertising jingles for their clothing line, so far earning As in Mr. Toombs’ class. But to this group of 11 students, it is more than a grade.

“This is serious,” says Derrick Brooks, 16, the student company’s chief operating officer, who likes to wear a bow tie, matching pocket square and a blazer over his school uniform. “It’s a real business.”

Mentorship Academy is a charter school that focuses students toward one of two tracks: math, science and technology or the digital arts of filmmaking, video game design and digital media.

Every student takes the entrepreneurship class during their junior year, putting the skills they learn at the academy — website design, music and film production and visual arts — to practical use, says Chris Toombs, the teacher. Most don’t take it this seriously.

“They are a unique class,” he says.

Since the start of the semester, the students have applied their talents to the company. Some designed clothes or logos. Others wrote and recorded music for advertising spots or drew flyers to post around the school in a guerilla marketing campaign.

The brand grew from a class decision to design clothing, raise the money to produce it and then, hopefully, sell it around Mentorship Academy’s downtown campus.

“We have separate ideas, but we all come together,” says Daralyn Fulton, the 16-year-old chief financial officer of the group who runs the meeting, writing out an agenda on the white board.

They chose the name Cavaggio after some members of the team studied the 14th century Italian artist Caravaggio in art class. His persona as a brash, inventive, rebellious artist intrigued them, so they tweaked his name a little.

In their studies they learned that most successful companies start with one profitable item and then grow, says Payton Palmer, 17, the chief executive officer.

With Cavaggio, they are starting with a sweatshirt ordered to their specifications. They chose an image of a griffin — part lion, part eagle — and placed it above the brand’s name in a cursive script.

“We’re trying to make it fancy, but something you can wear on a T-shirt or a flat-bill hat,” Palmer says.

Eventually they want to sell clothes based on the work of Kyra Lawson, their 16-year-old designer, who has been a lover of fashion and art since she was small.

“I like bright colors, different shapes, retro and hip hop,” she says, showing off her sketches of women with pronounced hips wearing skirts and dresses of her design.

Her sources of inspiration range from singers and celebrities, such as Rihanna, to her childhood obsessions.

Some have polka dots and frills based on her favorite cartoon character, Minnie Mouse.

“Minnie Mouse is a child’s show,” she said, “but I want to make her style into something more modern.”

With flyers already canvassing the school and a website underway, the next step in their marketing plan is to take to the airwaves on student radio and over the speakers at the academy.

Seventeen-year-old Atreyu Johnson’s advertising jingle with its catchy hook was created in the school’s recording studio. Against the groove of a rhythm-and-blues track, Johnson and Fulton pitch the upcoming Cavaggio product.

“Those jeans set my world on fire,” Johnson sings.

“I’ll tell you where I got them,” Fulton replies, her voice rising “Cavaggio, Cavaggio.”

Their teacher, impressed by their hard work, wants the class to take Cavaggio beyond the junior year entrepreneurship course. Mentorship Academy students create a senior project, and he hopes the Cavaggio team will continue to develop the company.

“The goal is for the kids to not only be able to do this in my class now,” Toombs says, “but during senior year take this nationwide or global.”