When Sharon Blumberg's daughter Ayla was just a tot, she preferred to wear a different shoe on each foot — and why not? Matching shoes are boring. While Blumberg wanted to foster her daughter's funky creativity in any way possible, she didn't want her daughter tripping over off-balance outsoles. So she searched for shoes with fun uppers that wouldn't lead to skinned knees. When she couldn't find any, she made her own — thus planting the first seeds of CHOOZE, the flourishing original apparel and accessory company that's passionate about instilling confidence in kids by celebrating the power of choice.
While Blumberg's daughter is undoubtedly cooler than Cinderella, her mother has become a fairy godmother, of sorts, for imaginative children everywhere. As she tells Romper, "I wanted to create a brand that focused on allowing kids to express their creative spirit, and empowering parents to give their kids the freedom to do so." Blumberg, who is one of Romper's 2017 Made It Award honorees, believes that whenever kids tap into their abundant creativity, their confidence gets a boost. And such healthy originality isn't limited to fashion or the arts, either:
"A creative solution to any problem in any sport, art, or career gives kids the confidence that their contribution matters. The more we can focus on building girls up to express their creativity and find their voice, the more we see that girls can have a big impact on society at large."
For girls and boys, there's a lot of sameness in this world. CHOOZE's quirky aesthetic encourages kids to embrace diversity and accept themselves for who they are — a much-needed missive for any child. But Blumberg also believes in harnessing our individuality for the greater social good. With this aim in mind, CHOOZE donates a percentage of its profits to one of five organizations — an initiative called CHOOZE YOUR CAUSE. Kids are encouraged to select the charity that speaks to them (along with their ultra-chic Spree Dress in Flare).
With CHOOZE YOUR CAUSE, kids can help fund birthday parties for homeless children, build playgrounds in low-income neighborhoods, provide toys and books to kids in hospitals, and more. "My vision for every purchase is that parents will sit with their kids and allow them to 'chooze' their favorite styles, and then be involved in selecting a cause in which they feel passionate," says Blumberg, who highlights charities that make a tangible impression on the lives of kids in need. Currently, CHOOZE also supports relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey through the American Red Cross.
"From the very beginning, I knew I wanted CHOOZE to represent the impact that we can all make on our world," says Blumberg. "It is so important to me that we teach kids that their choices can make a difference, even when they are small."
Of course, starting a business is no fairytale, and unlike Jack's beanstalk, Blumberg's company didn't grow up overnight. "Getting CHOOZE off the ground has been the hardest thing I have ever done," she tells Romper. It's also been the most rewarding. In the early days, she researched, learned, and networked with people she knew could help. Most importantly, she never gave up. She likens running a business to parenting — every day and every stage brings "a new set of obstacles to overcome."
"I wanted to create a brand that focused on allowing kids to express their creative spirit, and empowering parents to give their kids the freedom to do so."
All of CHOOZE's designs are manufactured "in-house," making them entirely unique. To me, the clothes look like childhood embodied, in all its dazzling exuberance. Blumberg finds inspiration everywhere: in nature and a child's art, in historic patterns from the world over. "We work very hard to create our signature, creatively-coordinated prints and you will not see our designs anywhere else," Blumberg explains. "Every design starts with a simple sketch and then develops from there."
Romper couldn't let Blumberg go without asking how she juggles running a business with raising her kids. She tells Romper that her kids are always her first priority (her daughter is also CHOOZE's biggest fan). Blumberg picks her kids up from school, spends the evenings with them, and always makes herself available when they need her most. Meanwhile, she's selling CHOOZE shoes at Zappo's and skater dresses at Nordstrom's. It's not a magic trick — she tries hard to strike a balance, working odd hours and making them count. Still, Blumberg doesn't sugar coat anything (aside from her adorable cupcake-themed dresses).
"Being a mom and a business-owner requires an insane amount of patience, dedication and passion. I would be lying if I didn't share that I am often overwhelmed, but I have learned how to manage it."
And the pay-off is huge: "Every time I see a child wearing our products, whether it's on an Instagram post or out in the streets, it brings such a deep sense of pride and joy. And it does not get old!"
Blumberg's advice for moms second-acting as entrepreneurs? Make time for self-care, whether it's attending a yoga class or taking a long walk. "We cannot be everything to everyone, especially if we don't take care of ourselves." Blumberg firmly believes that moms have a special role to play. Kids watch and learn from every move their parents make, so why not get involved? Whether it's helping at your local food pantry, tackling global issues, or starting a kid-empowering business, there are limitless ways to do good in the world.
If the shoe fits, wear it.
To get to know Blumberg better, check out her Romper Screenshot below:
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