Women in Business Q&A: Madison Robinson, Founder, FishFlops

05/25/2015 11:05 am ET | Updated May 25, 2016

Madison Nicole Robinson is a 17 year old designer best known as the creator of FishFlops®, a popular line of footwear for kids and young adults. Madison was born on Galveston Island, Texas and spent many days on Galveston beaches with her family. Inspired by her surroundings, she created a series of charming sea characters brought to life in her drawings. In 2006, at the age of 8, Madison drew an outline of a flip flop on paper and added her sea characters. She took the drawings to her dad and said, "Look dad, FishFlops®!" Her father had a passion for the apparel industry and thought the name was catchy so he purchased the domain name that day.

Madison's message is be creative, work hard, give back, keep a positive attitude, and have fun with a smile! She believes that one can become successful in America if you have a good idea and you have a "never quit attitude". Madison wants to inspire others to pursue their dreams and to believe they are achievable.

Madison has donated over 20,000 pairs of FishFlops® to various charities including- Snowball Express Military Charity, Shoes for Orphan Souls, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Children's Hospital, Cy-Hope and many others. Her FishFlops® have impacted lives around the world in places like Costa Rica and Africa.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was born on Galveston Island, Texas and grew up loving the beach. My family took me fishing, swimming, and beach combing all the time. Since I loved to draw and color, in 2006 at the age of 8, I made an outline of a flip flop, my favorite shoes, and added my sea creatures. I took the drawings to my dad and said, "Hey, look dad, FishFlops®!" I thought the name was catchy and so did my dad, he got excited and purchased the domain name that day. The process of refining my product and bringing FishFlops® to market took several years. I learned patience and persistence. I have had opportunities to learn the business with the help of my dad. Growing a business has given me confidence in the classroom and among my peers. I've been able to share my story of persistence through public speaking events that I hope will inspire others.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at FishFlops®?
Creating FishFlops® and working in the business has been my only job. FishFlops® has allowed me to grow in my professional career.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at FishFlops®?
Receiving my first shipment of FishFlops® and seeing them on the wall in Nordstrom was exciting for me. Speaking at a Junior Achievement Conference to 8,000 eighth graders about the FishFlops® business was very rewarding. Donating FishFlops® to hospitals, military families, and to needy kids around the world is important to me. Watching kids smile and get excited when they put on a pair of FishFlops® is the best! I work closely with Shoes for Orphan Souls who helps distribute FishFlops® around the world. What I find most rewarding is encouraging and working with children. I want to do my part in life and make a difference. I do my best to use my success to help inspire others and help children through charity work.

Scheduling travel to tradeshows, interviews, and special events so that it does not interfere with my school work is challenging. I am on my high school dance team, so I cannot miss many practices.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking to start their own business, particularly at a young age?
My advice is to have a dream and to act on your own creativity. Surround yourself with those that believe in you. Work hard, stay focused, have fun during your journey and make sure your education comes first. You will have ups and downs but focus on the small wins while having fun. I would have to tell teens, kids, or people of any age that to be an entrepreneur you have to take the first step on your own, be patient, persistent, and to never give up. If you have an idea that you love and can see the possibilities, then go for it! You never know where it will take you and how you will be able to help others with what you've done. I would tell them to write down their idea, share the information with family and friends and get their opinions. Be open to suggestions. Be patient because it can be a long process but eventually things can start to happen. Make sure you balance your time and enjoy life while working.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
My school activities and studies always come first but I spend some time each day working on the business. My dad gives me daily updates and I read emails on a regular basis. I create the designs, approve the samples, and attend tradeshows where I interact with the store buyers. I have been traveling and attending meetings, charity events, and public appearances. My friends and family support me and my business. I always find time for them but sometimes I have to sacrifice fun for business. But then again, business is fun too.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My dad is a great teacher and I learn from him on a daily basis. He teaches me the importance of hard work and working towards a goal. I continue to learn a lot about business and giving back to others from him. He understands I need the balance between being involved in the business and still being a teenager.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
My role models are my parents and grandparents. My mom teaches elementary school and enjoys working with children. She writes small notes on student's papers and the kids really like them. My dad works hard to help me with my business and taught me the importance of staying committed to your goal and being kind to others along the way. My grandmother would right me notes in greeting cards and I really enjoyed reading them. I look forward to getting mail from her. She inspired me to be creative when we spent time drawing, coloring and baking when I was young, and every year for my birthday she would give me a new swimsuit so I would be ready for summer and the beach.

What do you want FishFlops® to accomplish in the next year?
We plan to expand the FishFlops® collection beyond flip flops into other types of footwear showcasing our characters, happiness, and playfulness. We hope FishFlops® inspires creativity in others and encourages an entrepreneurial spirit.

I will launch my Madison Nicole™ collection in spring 2016 that will reflect my personal sense of style with shoes that relate to young contemporary consumers of all ages. I enjoy fashion and the energy created around designing and interacting with customers. Madison Nicole™ is a young contemporary brand. As I get older I want to design to and for people my age. We will produce flats, sandals, wedges, high heels, and riding boots. I want to bring a free spirit style and entrepreneurial attitude to each shoe.