For many children it’s so uninteresting to wear a pair of shoes that look exactly the same as one another. Since children’s shoe company Chooze (www.choozeshoes.com) came along, children no longer have to wear boring shoes.
Sharon Blumberg (photo, right) founded Chooze because her now almost 5-year-old daughter never wanted to wear the same shoe on each foot, rather she’d mix-and-match choosing from all the shoes she owned. Blumberg brought her never-two-of-the-same pairs of shoes to Outdoor Retailer Summer Market and is coming back for seconds at Winter Market, this time showcasing the company’s winter boots, sneakers and high-tops.
“We had such a great time (at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market) and such a good response that we decided we had to come back,” Blumberg said. Greenspace (www.greenspacegroup.net) is designing the company’s booth and Blumberg said they have a better location this time around so she’s looking forward to the show. “Now I feel we are really going to be part of the show.”
Beyond its calling card of varied pair of footwear, Chooze defines its shoes with a thick, rubber sole that comes up over the toes and the heels. That's because kids, especially those running outdoors all day, are particularly hard on these areas of the shoes, Blumberg said.
After sucess at Summer Market, the Dallas, Texas-based shoe company officially launched in September 2011, but the idea was hatched shortly after Blumberg’s daughter started walking.
“As soon as she started walking she chose different shoes,” Blumberg explained. “I was just letting her mix-and-match her shoes and as an artist and a designer I thought it was a cute form of self-expression. People would see her and say, ‘That’s so great you let her do that.’ I was letting her be herself.”
Blumberg soon heard from other parents that their children also liked to mix-and-match different shoes and a light bulb went on in her head.
“There was something inspiring about empowering kids and empowering parents to allow their kids to be kids,” Blumberg said. Though Blumberg never had big dreams of being in the footwear industry, she decided to follow her instinct to create products to inspire kids’ creativity.
Like other business owners, Blumberg faced challenges getting Chooze up and running but she said she was able to overcome a lot of them because she found a good freelance shoe designer and manufacturer. She’s been to visit during production several times and said having a close relationship with the manufacturer is key, she said.
“We’re constantly evolving and trying to grow as a team,” Blumberg said. “So far, so good. I’ve been blessed.”
As 2011 draws to the close, the not yet one-year-old company has five full-time employees and various independent sales reps.
Blumberg said the best thing about running her own company is “the independence and really being able to make an impact. It’s been a fun growing and learning experience.”
Though Chooze is a for-profit business, the company has a “good returns” business model whereby, after a full year of business, it will invest 100 percent of its profits into programs that provide microloans and business education to women who seek to get out of poverty with a business idea in both Mexico and the United States.
“I think we have such an opportunity as a business to do something more than just make a profit,” Blumberg said. “It’s our responsibility if we’re making money to use that money for good. There is a whole trend in the business world to create social entrepreneurship and conscious capitalism and I didn’t want to start this business without having it be something to make a difference in the world and inspire kids to make a difference.”
Blumberg stressed the “good returns” model is not charity or donations, but microloans.
“We’re a for-profit company with a nonprofit heart,” Bumberg said, adding that she's already beginning to work with some micro loan programs like Chiapas International out of its hometown of Dallas.
And just because it’s a for-profit business doesn’t mean it doesn’t do some work with nonprofits. Recently Chooze teamed up with Soles4Soles on its microenterprise Create a Difference program where it sends donated shoes that are worn down to Haiti, where workers refurbish them to sell.
Chooze recently launched a kids’ designer challenge to design a new shoe for the Create a Difference program. Kids can draw two pieces of art (because no two shoes are the same) with crayons, pencils, markers or paint and submit it with an entry form to email@example.com. Find the entry form at www.choozeshoes.com. Winners will be recognized as the primary designer on the shoes that will be sold worldwide.
New products & future goals
New for fall 2012 are the company’s Speak Up Sneaker, Favorite Sneaker and Dig Boot collections, which all have the company’s signature rubber up over the heel and toe areas.
The Dig Boots (photo, right) are water resistant, vegan boots with faux fur lining and the sneaker series’ both look like Converse Chuck Taylors only the Favorite Sneakers are low tops and the Speak Up Sneakers are high tops.
Eventually, Blumberg said, she wants to get into kid’s apparel, handbags and accessories. But for now, she’s just focused on promoting what she already has.
“I hope I just get to meet more retailers to get excited about the collection,” Blumberg said, adding that she’s looking forward to seeing the great people she met last summer. “I was amazed by how so many people in the outdoor industry are just nice, fun, passionate, innovative people you want to hang out with. We were welcomed with open arms.”