Tina HambleyToday’s featured mom took her passion for fashion (she has a degree in Fashion from UT), blended it with the lessons she learned from her kids, and mixed in a good dose of business know-how. The result is a custom shoe company that lets tween  girls find shoes that work for their age…or even design their own shoes.  And for Austin native Tina Hambley, the result was even more than she expected.

I chatted with Tina the other day, and I loved learning about how this creative mom came up with her idea and what her  her business, Valentina, means to her and her family.

What were you doing before you were inspired to start this business?

I grew up in a creative household, with a mom who was an artist herself. I graduated from UT with a degree in Fashion, then worked in the industry. After that, I worked for a software company doing design work. But I always wanted to return to my first love…fashion. This company IS me doing what I love best.

How did you decide on the age group for your company? Why not shoes for adults or teens?

As girls reach their tween years, say between 8 and 12,  it gets harder and harder to find age-appropriate shoes and clothes that fit them. They grow out of kids sizes, but the adult things are too mature. Especially the shoes. I wanted give them a chance to have shoes that were right for their age, instead of just their shoe size.

So I looked for shoes girls would like, but in styles that didn’t look too grown up. I spent a lot of time sourcing the shoes to get them right for that vision. It’s a niche, I think. I don’t think any other shoe company is focusing on this age group. Kids, yes. But not tweens.

I see you have a new project going, where girls can design their own shoes. What inspired you to start this new design-your-own project for Valentina?

My inspiration came from my daughter’s artwork. Well, actually both of my kids’ artwork. I have a son who’s 9 and a daughter who’s 11,decorated Valentina shoes and they’re both amazingly creative. So it was their artwork that inspired me.

It was so colorful. And my daughter was especially proud of her creations. Creating her own designs seemed to empower her. I wanted a way to share that empowerment and encourage other girls to express themselves, and share their creations.  Shoes seemed like a natural choice.

And the artwork just fit in with that. It’s an expression of who they are right now, at this age. Girls at that age need to feel like they can create something worth sharing.

It’s a challenge having kids and a business. How has Valentina impacted your family?

Well, of course there are the hours.  And the stress. I spent two years researching the industry and working on plans for Valentina before I launched the company. We ran focus groups, and there was travel time, too. All of that was hard, but we did a lot of it together.

When we launched in 2011, my daughter was 9 and my son was 7. So they’ve grown up seeing me face challenges, overcome obstacles.  They watched me build a business from scratch. And we’ve celebrated the milestones together. They’ve learned that in business, sometimes things go well, and sometimes they don’t. I think that’s all helping them develop their own creativity. It’s very empowering

Do you have any plans to expand into a boys’ line of shoes as well?

Yes! I would love to have a boys line, too! That’s something we’ve talked about, and plan for in the future.

What’s on your plate right now? 

We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the create-your-own design launch. If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a way for small businesses to get funding from small donors who believe in what they’re doing.  Everyone chips in a few dollars, and new ideas come to life. We want to use these new shoes to empower girls, so instead of someone else saying what’s a fashionable  design, they get to decide.  But we only have 18 days left on our campaign, so we’re down to some serious nail-biting!

How can people reach you and learn more about your projects or Valentina?

Probably the best place to start is on our Valentina website. We have all our social media links there, too, so you can see what we’re up to.