Preston Hollow fashion label is all about letting kids Chooze
Ayla Blumberg did not set out to inspire a children’s clothing and accessory line. How could she? She was only 2, and just wanted to wear the shoes that made her toddler self smile.
“She would always just instinctively grab two different shoes,” her mom, Sharon Blumberg, remembers. “People would say, ‘It’s so great that you let her do that.’ I was just letting her be herself.”
That was until Ayla’s affinity for different shoes started to make her wobble — a sneaker on one foot and a party shoe on the other just didn’t offer proper support for a growing child. So Sharon scoured children’s footwear, in stores and online, looking for something that would supplement Ayla’s unique sense of style, but there was nothing.
“So I came home one day and said, ‘I want to start a children’s shoe line,’ ” Sharon laughs.
While the family had no direct retail experience, they did have the skills needed to get a brand up and running. She comes from a creative background as an interior designer, and would handle the vision for brightly colored and lightly mismatched shoes.
“I knew the mismatch sock trend had just taken off,” she says. More than that, she wanted to make a brand that would encourage self-expression.
“We’re here to inspire creativity and confidence in children,” says her husband, Marc.
He comes from a background in internet marketing and went to work researching what it would take to get a shoe brand off the ground. Turns out, if you’re super motivated, you can launch quickly — less than a year later they were unveiling their first Chooze Shoes line at MAGIC, an apparel and accessories showcase in Las Vegas.
The couple knew they wanted to do something to give back with their brand, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good for business. Brands with a social conscience like Whole Foods and The Container Store attract the type of clients, and retailers, that the Blumbergs sought.
They listed their newly found business with Milaap USA, a crowd-funding company that provides micro-loans to women in developing nations, allowing them to build their own industry. A portion of Chooze Shoes’ annual profit automatically goes to Milaap, which provides micro-financing to independent business owners all over the world.
“We get all that money back, it’s a loan,” Marc explains.
Sharon adds, “It’s like a hand up, not a hand out. Really, the goal is to help people realize their potential.”
The too-cute product backed by a solid message made the brand attractive to major retailers, who quickly agreed to push out the line. The brick-and-mortar retailers they were most interested in, Stride Rite, Whole Earth Provision Co. and Nordstrom, picked up the line, as did online giants Zappos and Amazon.
From there, the brand caught like wildfire. It has been featured everywhere from US Weekly to Parent & Child magazine and the Blumbergs even made an appearance on “The Today Show,” all while adding to the line.
The mismatched shoes were soon followed by leggings, dresses, hoodies and backpacks. All are made with different but complementary fabrics that pull in the same color schemes in different patterns. All of the patterns are designed in-house by Sharon and the company’s art director Mallory Hill, but nothing goes to market without Ayla’s stamp of approval.
“She has a say in just about everything,” Sharon says. The now 9-year-old texts Hill to remind her to send over new designs, and offers thoughtful feedback from their key demographic: kids.
“She really has a vision,” Sharon says, explaining how Ayla studied and studied a pattern she didn’t love until she finally figured out what was wrong. “It had a white background; she told Mallory [Hill] it should be purple. She was right.”
Beyond offering design critiques, Ayla is also the Chooze Tester, a title she bestowed upon herself. But one she has definitely earned. Ayla wears every product before it hits market, making sure the shoes and clothing are ready for play.
“She’s able to test the product at every stage,” Sharon says. “She’s gotten a few blisters to figure out if shoes need to be tweaked.”
After releasing their newest line of designs this summer, Sharon has plans to open the brand to a whole new demographic of customers: adult women. The demand for a more mature version of their eclectic and colorful dresses and yoga pants is there, so the business will continue to grow.
They keep it all close to home, however. With their business headquartered in Preston Hollow, their flexible schedules allow them plenty of time with their kids, which, in addition to Ayla, include Sam, 14, and Ari, 12.
“It’s amazing that they can see how if you establish a goal, you can achieve it,” Marc says.