Ashleigh Dempster, co-founder of our favorite new kids footwear line, opens up about balancing babies and career.
There’s a soft spot in our hearts for a great pair of sneakers. And as former men’s magazine editors, we’ve seen more than our fair share. But nothing prepared us for the world of toddler kicks, where sneakers usually fall into one of two categories: feels-good/durable/not-that-attractive or stylish/sleek/my-kid-would-never-actually-wear-those. Getting our little ones dressed can be a battle of wills, and guess who usually wins? Ashleigh Dempster knows that challenge well. Once her son Jasper was of walking age, she went on the hunt for shoes that were stylish and comfortable, and came up empty-handed. So the serial entrepreneur joined forces with her streetwear guru husband Matt George (think Stüssy, Ransom, Nomad and Goodfoot) and launched AKID Brand, a fashionable and functional collection of unisex kids sneakers that has us making room in our own closets for mommy sizes. In between trailblazing a whole new footwear category for our little ones, Dempster has her hands in several other projects (check out Waiola Coconut Water, mamas-to-be), while also raising her two gorgeous boys, Jasper (2.5) and Stone (6 months). Below she shares some scenes from AKID’s recent shoot for the summer collection, and lets us in on how she finds balance in her daily life. Tell us about AKID. Why did you start it and what makes it unique? It all came to be so naturally when Jasper was at an age where he started wearing shoes. My husband Matt and I quickly identified a gap in the marketplace for functional yet stylish children’s footwear. With his experience in the footwear world and my love for shoes, it was just a matter of time that we collaborated on a collection together. A lot of companies just take a traditional adult shoe and shrink it down for kids. With AKID, we make sure our shoes are built for sensitive skin. Children’s feet need to be able to sweat and breathe, so you will find a lot of leather-lined or breathable material in our shoes. Kids can easily go barefoot in them. No need for socks when you have a well-designed, well-made shoe. Where do you get inspiration for design? What's the new line all about? Matt and I find inspiration everywhere. From magazine spreads, art shows, traveling…the ideas are endless. In the new collection (some styles are online now, with more launching throughout the summer), you’ll see everything from pop-colored high tops to pony hair slip-ons. What are some other kids or baby brands that are getting it right? It’s a really exciting time, as there are so many incredible lines that are raising the bar in the kids fashion space. I am a huge fan of Nico Nico, Album di Famiglia, Mini Rodini and Ruff and Huddle, but I feel like I am stumbling across amazing new brands on a daily basis right now. Walk me through a typical day of work and kids. What’s your schedule like? I haven’t found my groove yet as Stone is still really little, but we’re working on it! My day starts at 5 a.m. with the baby. Jasper is up soon after that. I spend the early morning with the two of them until my nanny arrives. That’s my time to catch up on emails and sort out the rest of the day. From 10 a.m. onwards, it’s usually a combo of coffee meetings (I’m a big fan of in-person), work, running a few errands for the family and jetting home every few hours to check in on the baby. From 5 p.m. onwards, I always try to be home so that I can have dinner with the kids and put them to bed. After that it’s either a quiet night in getting caught up on work or a dinner out with friends. How has having kids impacted the kind of projects you want to take on or get involved in? I have become much more selective in the projects I get involved in after having kids. Anything I choose to do outside of the family is time away from my kids, so I want to make sure that I can actually commit and more importantly, deliver. How does being an entrepreneur compare with a typical 9-5 when you have kids? The number one benefit of working for yourself when having children is the flexibility. I feel so lucky to be able to plan my day around my kids. That being said though, you still need to work just as hard as any other job if you want it to be a success. How do you think becoming a mom has enhanced you as a business woman? Being a mom has forced me to become so much more organized. Pre-children, I was notoriously late and always burning the candle at both ends. Now if I want to get everything done in a day, I need to plan ahead, multi-task like a queen, and find time-saving tricks to get it all done and try and get some sleep! All of this has helped me be more productive in the workplace. Any sacrifices you’ve had to make from a business perspective now that you have kids? It’s always an ongoing juggle trying to do both well but in the end, my children are always number one. Is there such a thing as balance? What do you do that’s just for you? Finding balance is such an individual thing. I try and carve out some time each day for myself to help achieve the balance, whether that be coffee with a friend, a workout or just catching up with a friend on the phone. Who are some entrepreneurial moms you admire or want to emulate? I get so inspired by meeting other entrepreneurial moms, swapping stories, supporting each other, etc. One mom that I would love to have lunch with though is Jenna Lyons. She just seems to have it together! What kind of advice would you give to a new mom that’s trying to start or grow a business? Take your time, be patient and enjoy these two very exciting endeavors. It’s hard enough adjusting to being a new mom, so make sure you give yourself enough space to enjoy that aspect of your life first. Oh…and ask for help when you need it! What’s on your list of “to-dos” for the next year? Our focus right now is to establish AKID as a key player in the footwear industry. Baby steps for now, but I’m confident we can get there! Photography by Aleks Kocev. (Ashleigh with Jasper and Stone by Matt George.)