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Meet Yolanda Graves of Above The Clouds & BillyJean’s

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yolanda Graves.

Hi Yolanda, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
So in 2013, while I was in my business entrepreneurship class, I started doodling while taking notes and the original logo was made.

A cloud with the letters ATC inside and a halo above the cloud. Absolutely no idea what made me draw that, I now know that was a download. Fast forward a few years later 2016 or 2017, I was cleaning out my room and getting rid of old textbooks, notebooks, etc.

From school and somehow I found that doodle and took a picture on my phone. At this point, it still was a doodle and had no meaning but I liked it and wanted to do something with it. In 2018, I found the picture again while deleting photos trying to make space in my phone and examined the picture and that was when Above the Clouds hit me out of nowhere to represent the ATC in the cloud. Now I’m like I got a name what can I do with this?

I’ve always loved fashion and one of my goals was to start a clothing brand and that’s what I decided to do with the doodle. I started planning my brand out still without meaning or what Above the Clouds would represent. I had my idea so I started telling the people closest to me what I wanted to do and when I explained the story of the doodle and it’s being drawn 5 years prior they were excited to see what would come from it. My brother Chris loved my vision so much that he decided he was going to be my manager on the spot and he wanted 15% (lol).

In June of 2018, I lost my brother Chris and later that year in October, my cousin Jaylen who was more like a brother than a cousin. This is when “Above the Clouds” began to make sense. I started writing about what ATC meant and wanted to share it with others that could relate. In 2019, I started writing ideas for the brand and presented them to my mom and she was on board, the bizarre story clicked for her as well and made the story of the doodle that more significant.

This time my mom told me this is going to be big you need to trademark that. But first I needed my doodle digitized into a logo, after several tries I knew it was the one when I saw it. I showed my mom what was created and she got emotional, that was my confirmation. In October 2019, I lost my Grandmother, and on April 30th of 2020, I lost my best friend, my mother. The brand at this point was clear as day and I had to act on it. After my mom died I threw myself into the brand, it’s what kept me sane and quite frankly, alive.

I don’t know what I would have done without having it to put all my emotions and energy into. Also shoutout to Alexis for encouraging, supporting, and pushing me every step of the way. In 2021, I launched my brand officially on April 30th a year after my mom passed, I wanted something to celebrate rather than just mourn on that day.

ATC was made to honor those lost and represents staying above any negative influence or situation by overcoming it and not letting life’s tragedies or misfortunes bring you down, the crown above the cloud represents that those lost are now royalty living Above the Clouds. In a world full of chaos choose to live above. I have had 2 collections so far and will be launching my new collection this year on the anniversary, of April 30th at a 1-year anniversary pop-up in Raleigh.

I also have a catering business BillyJean’s that I co-own with my dad. Which is actually named after him, Billy, and my mother Jean. After my mom died and the pandemic hit full swing, we decided to sell plates that took on a life of their own. It grew to people wanting more than we could serve up with the pandemic going on.

My father is a chef and catered ever since I could remember, so I grew up watching him cook and started myself when I could reach the stove, I eventually was allowed to make certain dishes at family gatherings, and soon after, I was making full meals and my own creations.

It has always been my father’s dream of having his own restaurant so when my mom passed I wanted to make that happen so I decided to try professionally. We are in the process of starting a food truck.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
A smooth road… absolutely not.

The most challenging thing for me has been mental. Staying motivated through grief and still trying to pursue this dream is bittersweet because they will never get to see it in the flesh. I have learned that mental health is an important thing to take care of.

Some days are harder than others but I have to shake it off and pray through it because I know this was meant to be, it’s too bizarre a story not to be.

We’ve been impressed with Above the Clouds & BillyJean’s, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
As a full-time entrepreneur, of a clothing brand and catering company motivation, is key. BillyJean’s is known for soul food but more famously my mac and cheese is referred to by many as mac n crack.

The food we prepare is made with love. Interestingly enough, I have the same method for ATC. My clothing brand is unique and has so much meaning behind it and applies to many and can be interpreted in many ways. Above the Clouds are luxury streetwear and lifestyle brand.

I think my story is what sets me apart, I do what I do from love and passion it’s what fuels me. I don’t have anything I’m most proud of specifically, I’m just proud of myself.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
DD Hockaday

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1 Comment

  1. Ethel Chiles

    May 13, 2022 at 10:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. I am so proud of my niece.

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