Miracle McGlown really hopes Michelle Obama likes his gift. Oh … and Barack, too.

“I worked a long time creating a bag that fits her style of fashion and I figured what better time to gift it to her than Jan. 17 — her birthday and the day President Obama gave me clemency,” McGlown said.

The Flint native served 10 years in prison on a two-decade drug conviction before then-President Barack Obama commuted his sentence in 2017. Since his release, McGlown returned home, rebuilt his life, and found a new pride and purpose he’d never known before.

“I wanted to be the person when I got out that young people would look up to for all the right reasons,” said McGlown, now 42. “And believe it or not, I am in that stage of my life right now.”

With the help of family, friends, the community, and a wide range of entrepreneurial and economic development support groups in Flint, McGlown has turned a leather-working hobby in prison into a flourishing business specializing in bespoke handbags.

1: Eleven Leather Goods offers a large variety of premium purses, clutches, totes, duffels, and wallets for men and women — each designed and sewn by McGlown. The bags are available on his website and at the recently reopened Shops on Saginaw in downtown Flint.

The bags are getting rave reviews.

A female and male model walk a fashion show runway each holding a 1:Eleven leather carry-on and duffel bag. Inset photo is Miracle McGlown at his worktable cutting pieces of leather for his next leather bag.
From left to right: 1:Eleven designs featured during the 810 Fashion Show in downtown Flint. Miracle McGlown working on one of his handcrafted designs.

“You can tell that he puts time into his sourcing,” said Lee Grant Allen, co-founder of Bau-Hōuse, a Flint streetwear and art retailer. “He puts time into details and what it takes to construct his bags.”

McGlown began making leather goods in 2010 in a federal prison’s “hobby craft” program as gifts for friends and family but set it aside after his release to work full time for Flint’s street maintenance department.

He returned to it in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I started sewing again making designer face masks, but people kept asking about my bags,” he said. “I was making them, but it was a very slow process because I didn’t have the tools or materials I needed.”
The father of three dreamed of turning his hobby into a business but had no idea how.

That’s when McGlown met two people who would forever change his life: Tracy Joseph and Tyler Bailey. Joseph leads the Small Business Help Desk at the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance, a division of the Flint & Genesee Group, and Bailey is Deputy Director of Business Services for the City of Flint.

Both are experts in helping local entrepreneurs like McGlown take their ideas to the next level.

For McGlown, that meant connecting him with the right people and resources.

Joseph met with him and shared a regional directory of area organizations called the eTEAM offering services to local entrepreneurs.

Miracle McGlown sits at his sewing machine to sew pieces of orange leather together for his next leather bag.
Miracle McGlown during his Valentine’s Day pop-up at Bau-Hōuse.

“Flint & Genesee is home to a very strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, and Miracle has the grit that resource providers love to see,” Joseph said. “I work with hundreds of entrepreneurs in a given year, and Miracle is one of the best when it comes to tapping into local resources and utilizing them to their full capacity.”

One of the first resources McGlown turned to was the City of Flint’s Community Navigator Pilot Program, funded by the federal Small Business Association. The city joined with nine community partners over two years to provide free assistance with business plans, loan eligibility, accounting infrastructure, marketing, and more.

Flint was the only municipality in Michigan awarded the Navigator grant, which was a big boon to the city’s entrepreneurs and small business ecosystem, Bailey said.

“Miracle took great advantage of the different free resources we were able to afford him through this program such as a free membership at Factory Two, a fantastic community makerspace and one of the spokes in our hub,” Bailey said.

McGlown honed his leatherworking skills with the tools at Factory Two and still uses the large space to cut materials.

Joseph connected him with Moving Flint Forward, a grant program from the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance and funded by General Motors that supports revitalization efforts in Flint by strengthening local businesses.

In McGlown’s case, he used his grant funding to purchase materials for his bags and start trademarking his business. The funding also paid for tools and machines that allowed him to work on his craft from home after his usual workshop at Factory Two closed for the day.

“Those tools and machines made a huge difference in my life,” he said. “Now after I get home from my job with street maintenance, I can work all evening on my designs.”

In another serendipitous moment, McGlown met Comma Bookstore & Social Bookstore owner Egypt Otis, who introduced him to 100K Ideas, a nonprofit business incubator.

McGlown entered 100K’s Pitch for $K idea competition in July — taking first place and winning enough money to buy more tooling and business insurance for his growing company. Pitch for $K is designed to foster the entrepreneurial mindset in Flint and Genesee County and help bring ideas to life.

But 100K didn’t stop there.

After moving last summer into downtown Flint’s Dryden Building, it reopened Shops on Saginaw, a consignment-style store where local entrepreneurs sell their goods. In it, one of the first collections you’ll find is 1:Eleven.

“I can’t thank 100K enough for believing in me and allowing me to have their brick-and-mortar space to showcase my bags,” McGlown said. “Not to mention, they also helped me redesign my website so I could sell my bags online, too.”

McGlown also learned how to tweak his website (1elevenleather.com) and is experimenting with computer-aided design for his bags.

A collection of leather bags - a black and white collection of purse, clutch and wallet, a red large purse, a yellow cross body bag, and black hand bag are displayed on a table.

The support shown by local businesses and customers means the world to McGlown. He dreams of one day giving back to the community by teaching others the craft of leather working.

“I would love to have a building where you come in and I have all these tools and machines so Flint kids can envision a different kind of life for themselves and take their creativity to a whole new level,” he said.

“I want to give them a sense of hope and a belief in themselves that I never had growing up on the streets.”

For now, he’ll continue sewing his way toward a future brighter than he ever imagined.

And the handmade bag for the former first lady’s 60th birthday? He included a beautiful leather briefcase for President Obama and a thank-you card for granting him clemency.

“I want to show him what a person can really do if you give him a second chance,” McGlown said.