That’s the conclusion 17-year-old Elijah McKnight came to two years ago when at just 15 he started his own shoe customization, restoration and cleaning business, Legendaire Customs.
It’s setting an inspiring example for the youth at the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus in Milo-Grogan where McKnight has been a member since he was 8 years old. As a self-described shy kid, McKnight found a safe haven in the club.
“I feel like the club really broke out my ability to talk to a lot of people and really boosted my self-esteem up because this is a place I can act goofy and be able to be myself,” he says.
Among the many roles the club has played in McKnight’s life, one of them is being a catalyst for the start of his shoe business. He would watch videos on YouTube of others customizing and restoring shoes and found the process fascinating.
He thought that he couldn’t wait to get older to be able to do something like that, then he realized, why wait?
“I can do it now, these supplies are affordable,” McKnight says.
Meanwhile the club had secured a summer job for him working at the Southside club.
“I used that money to start my own business,” McKnight says.
Legendaire Customs’ first customer came from the club. McKnight got more experience, did more research and has now worked his magic on an estimated 30 plus pairs of shoes. He fondly remembers one of his favorites – a pair of gold Jordan 6s for his younger brother that he labored over to remove every crease and chip of paint. Tennis shoes are the sweet spot, but he’s put his touch on everything from baby shoes for a wedding to more classic men’s shoes.
McKnight knows that outside of shoes, he’s learning an invaluable set of business-based skills – how to interact with people, set goals, write a business plan.
He’s found a mentor in Michael Schott, director of community development at Kaufman Development.
“He helped me come up with a lot of business strategies,” McKnight says.
The pair have worked through projections for Legendaire Customs. Schott helps McKnight break things down all the way from setting a goal for how many pairs he wants to do during a certain time frame, to calculating the hourly rate he makes at job done.
McKnight is a busy teen, playing football and wrapping up his senior year at Centennial High School. He says the shoe business doesn’t define his identity, but knows that he’s got a lot of younger club members looking up to him because of it.
“I love that,” McKnight says. “I don’t have to be a basketball or football player to, like, to be able to make it in life. You can do anything you want to do, anything. And that’s the mentality I had when I was doing shoes, why not start?”
McKnight plans to take that motivation to college next fall. It’s a seed the club helped to plant long ago.
“They’ve [the club] always educated us about college, even before we were teenagers, just setting that dream for us because a lot of people don’t really see past high school in these type of communities, especially in my community,” McKnight says.
He plans to study product development or fashion merchandising, building and expanding on his shoe interests. He wants the connection and the hands-on learning college provides.
Until then you can likely find McKnight at the club or finding a way to advocate for the Milo-Grogan community where he’s lived his whole life.
“My passion is community,” he says. “I love kids, I love seeing people, I love going to my community meetings.”
In his 17 years he’s seen the community start to change and grow in big ways. He sees less violence, and an artistic vibe that’s emerging with places like Milo Arts and the recently opened 934 Gallery. He’s also hopeful the new Rogue facility will bring a lot of jobs to the area.
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