Designing teen making splash with FishFlops

AugSept2011_CoverDesigning teen making 
splash with FishFlops

At just 13 years old, footwear designer and entrepreneur Madison (Maddie) Robinson is one of the youngest businesswomen in the greater Houston area.

FishFlops is the brand of children’s flip-flop sandals that were sparked by Maddie’s vivid imagination and her passion for drawing — a talent she has been cultivating since she was a toddler.

Her colorful cartoon sea creatures — with names like Shelly the turtle, Spinner the dolphin and C-Horse — are helping to make her FishFlops a popular gift shop item in seaside communities around the state — as well as in Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, and the Cayman Islands.

The idea for the design came when Maddie was eight years old and her family was living in Galveston.

“From the time Maddie was born, she was a little beach kid,” said Dan Robinson, her dad.

 

 

Following an afternoon in the sun, sand and waves, Maddie came home and drew the outline of a flip flop with a cartoon squid on it, and suddenly, the idea to produce and market an actual product began to churn like a Gulf hurricane in her dad’s mind.

Robinson took his daughter’s designs and launched a tentative marketing research mission — one that would ebb and flow over the next four years as he tested the waters.

According to him, it was Maddie’s persistent inquiries into how her fledgling business was advancing that prodded him forward.

Armed with only a few sample shoes and an otherwise empty table, Robinson found himself   almost out of his depth at a big trade show, where every other product marketer was equipped with elaborately decorated and well-stocked booths.

Resolving a trademark dispute and overcoming a language barrier with the overseas manufacturer  made for an uphill battle, Robinson said, but when 30,000 pairs of Fish Flops finally arrived via UPS, it was worth the wait.

“I was thinking, ‘What is taking so long for them to get here?’” Maddie said about the agony of anticipating the first delivery.

It took four years to get her first drawing to production and sales, but for Maddie, it was a very long time — a third of her life.

Now, with eight sales people dedicated Semenax to expanding the market for the product, FishFlops can be found in 36 stores across the United States, including the gift shop at Galveston’s Moody Gardens. More than 3,000 pairs have been sold to date, and other markets are being scouted and opened up gradually.

“I didn’t ever think they would actually go on the market,” Maddie said, “But to see them in shops and people buying them is really cool.”

Matching caps and t-shirts are also part of the FishFlops line, along with two books authored by Dan Robinson and illustrated with Maddie’s cartoon sea characters. All can be found at www.fishflops.com.

And, the young designer has other beachwear designs on her mind, as well.

The idea of having her own business was very exciting for Maddie when she was eight, nine and 10, but the enterprise lost its luster as she entered her pre-teen years, her father said. But, as word of the area’s youngest designer spread to local media and spawned awareness among her classmates, the project suddenly became “cool” again.

Maddie, who will enter the eighth grade at Hamilton Middle School in Cypress Fairbanks ISD this fall, told this reporter that her teachers have read some of her press clippings in class and that her friends admire her designs. Some of them even own pairs of FishFlops.

As well as being an accomplished artist, Maddie also plays the flute in the school band and runs track.

So, fashion design may or may not be an option for a career after college, said the young entrepreneur who has years to decide.

“I’m not sure if fashion design is something I want to do later on, but it’s something I want to do right now,”  said Maddie, who is currently leaning toward being a teacher (like her mother).

In the meantime, the swift sales of FishFlops are helping to add  to her college fund and are an early highlight on Maddie’s resume. This creative businesswoman also has some very simple, yet profound advice for others — young or old — who are trying to advance their dreams and business goals.

“Never give up,” said Maddie.

Deborah Quinn Hensel is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

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