Ryerson groups help 10-year-old pitch business on Next Gen Den

Abi Smithson is just like any other 10-year-old. She goes to school. She’s a part of the Girl Guides of Canada. She plays on her trampoline. But something sets Abi apart from others her age: On Nov. 12, Abi pitched her business on the Next Gen Den, the youth version of Dragon’s Den.

She’s the CEO of her own company, Made by Abi Inc., and the designer of her own shoe line, the Love Sandal.

“Some people say, ‘oh my goodness, she’s only 10 – what’s she going to be doing when she’s 20?’” said Abi’s mother, Julie Smithson.

The concept of the Love Sandal began at a Girls Learning Code inventors camp that Abi attended in the summer of 2013. Abi noticed the artless tan lines that flip-flops left on her mom’s feet and was inspired to create a shoe that would leave a more flattering, heart-shaped tan line.


Abi Smithson posing for her company, The Love Sandal. (Courtesy The Love Sandal Facebook)

With the assistance of Ryerson’s Fashion Zone, the Digital Media Zone (DMZ), her parents and other various mentors, Abi was able to turn her idea into a real business.

“The Digital Media Zone exists to help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to market faster. Abi’s Love Sandal is no exception,” wrote Kristen Heredia, the DMZ’s media relations officer, in an e-mail. “Working with the zone allowed her to move faster, validate her market and launch the Love Sandal.”

With a team of people behind her, Abi has already designed two different styles of shoes – the Hippy Chick and the Beach Bum. Designers from Aldo Group guided her through the design process and helped her choose which colours and styles would be best for a 2015 line. Abi says having the opportunity to work with professionals was her favourite part.

Abi currently has an Indiegogo campaign set up for the Love Sandal. She is trying to raise $15,000 by Dec. 5. The campaign has currently raised over 30 per cent of its goal. The money will be used to place the Love Sandal’s first order with Aldo.

Ten per cent of the proceeds from the shoe line will be donated to SickKids Hospital.

Abi’s parents have consciously decided to make her business venture a valuable learning experience for Abi. The world has become a hands-on classroom for her. At such a young age, Abi has already had to make adult decisions from finding a lawyer to hiring and firing partners.

“She’s been able to have that exposure seeing businesses grow, including her own, from the start-up phase to right through,” said Smithson. “She’s a part of it all.”

The business is more than just a business – it’s influencing Abi’s life. Abi was allowed to get her first cell phone so she can better communicate with her parents and partners about her company.

“Conversations at home are now turning. We have our business chat once a day on where her company’s at and what she’s got going on and what she needs to do,” said Smithson. “It’s making her into a little businesswoman.”

Abi now has practice in public speaking, as well. She’s done interviews with media, including live segments, and has even spoken to a crowd of over 1,000 people.

The Love Sandal isn’t the only product that has stemmed from this experience. The DMZ and Ladies Learning Code is developing an online course for young entrepreneurs is being developed as Abi goes through her process. Each of Abi’s mentors will be contributing by writing a section of the course, as well as filming a one-hour video about their area of expertise.

Robert Ott, the chair of Ryerson’s School of Fashion, and Valerie Fox, the co-founder and executive producer of Ryerson’s DMZ, are two of Abi’s mentors who are set to contribute.

Next up, Abi will expand her design expertise into jewelry and clothing.

But she still dreams of being a dance choreographer.

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