Able Made Founder Is Motivated By 'Victory' To Help Kids
Suzanne McKenize is the founder and CEO of Able Made, a brand dedicated to an active lifestyle and healthy living with proceeds supporting the Ucal McKenzie Breakaway Foundation.
Anthony Price interviewed Suzanne over the telephone on November 11, 2021. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What are you working on now?
A big part of my work is sharing our heritage story and introducing consumers to the brand. We launched our pop-up retail experience in the Soho neighborhood in New York City during October. As an active lifestyle brand, we've done well with socks and accessories,
I started Able Made to empower city-youth health through the foundation I founded. I'm thrilled about the work and its positive impact.
What inspires you?
Creativity inspires me and stories of resilience. Being an entrepreneur is not easy. One of the best pieces of advice I got from a fellow entrepreneur is, manage your emotions. One day you could have a great day and the next day could be full of a set of challenges with highs and lows. You have to be able to be steady, and don't get discouraged when things aren't going so well.
Manage your emotions and celebrate your wins, but at the same time stay focused on the challenges ahead.
There’s no stopping the future. What excites you about the future?
For my team, we've been heads down since April repositioning the brand, which is going to start revealing itself in the coming weeks. The future entails a lot of hard work and the direct positive outcomes from our efforts.
We started Able Made with many collaborations, and now the emphasis is on expressing our brand on its own. We're excited about what's next and how we will build the brand.
I want the playing field to be fair and level.
If you could solve one problem, what would it be?
I'm going to break the rules and give you two answers.
First, I want to see the empowerment of our next set of leaders. I want the playing field to be fair and level. This is the work we do through the Ucal McKenzie Breakaway Foundation. We empower city youth and give them tools that they can use on and off the field. It starts at our soccer camps with education on nutrition, health, financial literacy, and other topics. I want the next generation to feel that everybody has a shot at achieving their dreams and making the world a better place.
Second, I want to become an angel investor based on my personal experience raising capital, I've heard horror stories from women and people of color. I want to change the dialogue and change the status quo on access to capital, and make sure that ideas that matter and ideas that are going to create healthy communities can be executed and funded.
How do you define success?
I am a designer by trade and started my career in advertising. I have a high expectation of quality. I have a designer's eye, so the details matter. I push the design of our products, from our socks to our bags to our apparel, to be the best that they can be.
The integrity in the design detail is important to me, and I go to the extreme to get the best quality. I drive my designers crazy when I say no to plastic or request more sustainable materials. I hold on to the integrity of our mission in being earth-friendly, and at the same time fair to people in the manufacturing process.
What's one thing you want people to know about you?
I'm determined and resilient. I've had a lot of challenges in my life and I'm fortunate to come from a strong family and have great friends and a healthy network of support.
I have what I like to call an athlete's mindset. I grew up playing three sports, and I am definitely a fall down seven times, get up eight kind of person. I don't stop. I've learned that about myself as an adult and moving into a more mature version of my self.
I know my resiliency is something that sets me apart and is something that I'm proud of. But I had to build it over time through the difficult challenges I've experienced.
I want to see Able Made thrive.
There's so much going on in the world. What's on your mind?
Building a better business. I want to see Able Made thrive. There's no question I can execute an idea or a strategy with my team. I'm laser-focused on our goals, and what we want to achieve in the next 12 to 24 months.
I'm focused on building the business in the way that I know that it can grow. But I need to raise working capital to scale.
In time, the growing business will support the Ucal McKenzie Breakaway Foundation. We're in two markets, Boston and Hartford, and hoping to potentially grow into a third with New York City, based on funding.
What keeps you up at night?
The ability to execute based on our resources. I think any entrepreneur starting out or growing their business is always concerned about being able to keep up with momentum if they've been lucky enough to build it.
We've been fortunate in terms of success and building relationships and having what I like to call "street credibility" with our partnerships with Puma, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA), the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CDFA) and others. We partnered with big brands and are excited to fuel momentum moving forward.
What are you most proud of?
Most definitely the foundation that we've built. When I have a hard day and I'm working through the business end of Able Made, I'll think about the foundation I built--that's the reason I launched the business. I can look at the photos or the videos of the foundation and reflect on the stories of the kids.
One of the kids lost his friend to gun violence in Hartford, and he still came to the camp, just to have a safe place to be.
I worked at the camps, and hearing the stories from the kids is really impactful. I'm getting goosebumps and tearing up a little bit right now. One of the kids lost his friend to gun violence in Hartford, and he still came to the camp, just to have a safe place to be. That was really touching. I'll never forget that story. Creating a safe place where young adults and children can thrive is what we aim to achieve.
Let’s switch gears a bit. What's a song you never get tired of listening to?
Maybe “Victory” by Puff Daddy. I listen to that when I go running and it's a grind-it-out song about victory and winning. That pumps me up a lot.
Do you have a favorite movie? Why?
I have a lot of favorite movies. I actually watch over and over again Lord of The Rings. I don't know why, I just do. I love the cinematography of it, I love the story telling and the special effects. I'm always a geeky sci-fi person. I really appreciate the artistry that comes with that sort of work and I think they just did an amazing job with that series. I watch that and The Hobbit all day long.
Do you have a favorite book?
I like Michael Bierut's most recent book How To. He's a partner at Pentagram and I love visuals because by the time the day's done my eyes are so tired I can barely look at anything. I appreciated his book.
What's a piece of advice you'd like to share with your audience to make their life better?
Don't be afraid to ask. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. I've gone far along in my business because I haven't been afraid to cold call people, I haven't been afraid to look someone up on LinkedIn and introduce myself.
I've been able to garner some really great partnerships and relationships out of that tenacity and fearlessness of not being afraid to ask someone to work with me or to introduce my idea. You definitely have to come prepared if you're going to do it, but if you take the time to do it, everybody appreciates being approached if you admire them.
If you come with a very strong pitch that you can feel strong about, I think you have to muscle the courage. I always encourage people to try it because the worse that they could say is no or maybe, and you keep it moving. I can tell you, it's moved mountains for my business to be able to approach people and see what's possible.
To support the Ucal McKenzie Breakaway Foundation, visit www.ucalbreakaway.com, or click the donate button below.
Anthony Price is an entrepreneur, writer and publisher of Mini Books, concise stories for people who are curious about the world.