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Meet tween entrepreneur Lily Sandler
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Blamtastic Melanie and Lily Sandler.jpgThirteen-year-old Lily Sandler (pictured, right) doesn't shop the way she used to. A few years ago, she thought that things just popped up in stores, like magic. Now she knows how much work and decision-making goes into every single product available for sale, and how many people help it get there. That's because she and her sister, eleven-year-old Melanie (pictured, left), along with help from their parents, are the founders and owners of Blamtastic Luscious Lip Balm, which makes natural lip balms especially for young people.

IML spoke with Lily and her mom Renee about Blamtastic and their journey from a random idea to a successful, growing business. 

IML: How did Blamtastic first come about?

Renee: It all started when I was reading in the Wall Street Journal about how few female CEO's there were in Fortune 500 companies. At that time there were only 12. I know women make up 50% of the workforce, so that didn't square up with me very well! I thought about my two girls, these girls who are going to go out into that workforce. I read the article to them and they said, that really stinks. I told them, "If you ever decide that you'd like to start a business of your own, I will support you, because I think that's the key to controlling your own destiny.

Lily: The idea for Blamtastic was kind of an accident. I was looking for my lip balm one day, and I said, "Mom, where's my lip blam...I mean balm!" And she said, "Wow, that would be a really good name for a lip balm company."

IML: So you had a cool idea. What was the first step from there?

Lily: We started by ordering a bunch of lip balm bases and we cooked them up in our kitchen. We saw what we liked and what we didn't like, then sent what we liked to a manufacturer and they made it for us. It was a really fun process.

Renee: At first, it was really just an experiment. As we started to play around with the product and get it out there to the community, we realized we had a good product to sell. Then the girls and I got together with their dad and decided, are we going to go for this and take it to the next level? Because if we are, we've got to get a business plan together and get funding, and get serious. So we decided to go for it.

IML: How did you first get the lip balms out there to...you know...lips?

Lily: At first we did a test run at the mall. We saw what people were more fond of, what they didn't like so much, and in the end it really did sell pretty well. We saw that this was something that people want and need on the market: a natural lip balm. A product that's been done over and over, but making it even better and taking it to the next level.

IML: How did you put together the lip balm flavors?

Lily: We ordered different scents and sweeteners, and we tried out what we liked out of certain smells. We narrowed it down to five flavors for boys and five flavors for girls. In the end, we had ten flavors we were going to launch in the first run.

IML: Did you invite your friends to try things out?

Lily: In the beginning, we would make a flavor and I would take it to school and see what my friends liked and what they didn't really go for as much. If they didn't like it, then we trashed it. If they did like it, then we gave it a try!

Renee: I think every neighbor on our street has participated in our testing!

IML: So nowadays, who does what in the company?

Renee:
This is the girls' business; they started it, but they can't run it at the level we're at now. I work 60-80 hours a week and the girls participate when they can. Melanie is kind of the creative force behind things; she'll come up with ideas and flavors. Lily is the mouthpiece of Blamtastic...she likes to participate in promoting the company.

IML: Lily, do you and your sister get into disagreements about the business?

Lily:
Well, aside from me and my sister fighting about normal sibling stuff all the time, we do have disagreements about the business. Whenever we have something we're not so sure about, we'll all talk about it as a family. By the end we always seem to come to a decision about what we've been wondering about and what we can do to solve our problem.

IML: It sounds like you make sure everyone's ideas get taken seriously.

Renee: The biggest conflicts we have about developing the product line is if I come up with a concept that's just not "cool"! Lily will say, "That is just not cool enough and nobody will ever buy that." They pull me back. They know what the customers want because as tweens, they basically are the customers.

IML: You give a portion of your company's profits to causes that you care about. Why do you feel it's important to do that?

Lily: When we started our business, that was always one of our top priorities: To give back to the community and help others in need. To be able to donate something out of your business really does make it more worthwhile and gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside.

IML: Lily, what have you learned about yourself during this whole experience?

Lily: It's been a great way to help me get in touch with my family. We've had a lot of disagreements and in the end we've been able to come through for each other, and it all comes down to the family and what we've been doing to support our business.

IML: What's your advice to other tweens who would love to start their own business?

Lily: First of all, I would like to say that starting a business is a huge commitment. But if you want to commitment to it and are really devoted, you should go for it. Do what you can to make what you're selling better and more well known to people. Make sure that you are really committing to your product and that you stick by it!

IML: Thanks, Lily and Renee! We can't wait to watch Blamtastic grow!

Lily:
Thanks!

Renee: Thank you!

For more information about Lily's company Blamtastic, whose lip balms are cruelty-free, all natural, and feature flavors for boys as well as girls, visit www.blamtastic.com.

Tell us: How do you go about Making Money? If you've ever dreamed of starting a biz, check out our Be Your Own Boss game and see if you have what it takes.


Shop Smart & Find Your Own Style
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Thumbnail image for shopping.jpgShopping for back-to-school clothes...fun, or not-so-fun? Sure, it can be exciting and fill you with fresh possibilities, and a great new addition to your wardrobe might boost your outlook and self-confidence. But then there's the downside. Times are tight; is there room in your family's budget for that pair of killer new jeans that you don't really need? What if you buy stuff that ends up being out-of-style before Halloween? What if you fill your closet with clothing that's hot and trendy, but just isn't you?

IML asked fashion expert and mom Audrey McClelland of MomGenerations.com for some advice on how to shop smart and find your own style this fall.

IML: You always hear people talking about "back-to-school trends." But we've always wondered...where do trends come from? Where do they start? 
 
Audrey:
I feel there are 2 things bringing forth some trend-inspiration right now. First, trends are really being inspired by young Hollywood starlets. We see them on TV and in movies, in magazines and online. Young ladies and men want to wear what these young stars are wearing. Second, we're seeing a lot of trends geared for women and men in their 20's and 30's becoming adapted for younger people.
 
IML: A lot of tweens and teens are looking to create their own style. For instance, they don't want to conform to a trend, but they also don't want to look totally out of place. What's your advice for people like that? What are some tips for creating your personal look?
 
Audrey:
Style is all about feeling comfortable in what you have on. If you don't want to conform to certain trends and they want to create their own looks, I suggest:

1. Find some colors that you truly like on yourself. Infuse these colors into your wardrobe. Once you have a color you feel confident and fashionable in, you'll find it very easy to work with styles and trends that are "in" at the moment.

2. Accessorize!  I love accessories because of this very reason -- you can create your own personal look. For young ladies -- necklaces, scarves, bracelets, rings, hair accessories and hats. For young men -- hats, ties and scarves.
 
3. Layering is a great way to create your own look. Start with pieces that you love -- tanks and tees and then build on them. Do you like button-downs? Cardigans? Vests? Sweater wraps?  Add items that you feel comfortable in and feel good in.
 
4. Know what works for you. Styles and trends that are "in" don't work for everyone. It's so important for you to really know what works for your body. This can impact your personal style immensely because you're only wearing pieces that you know actually work for YOU.
 
IML: If you want to buy clothes that look current, but aren't necessarily part of a trend and will last a little longer fashion-wise, what should you be looking for?
 
Audrey: Oh, I love this question!
 
For young ladies:
1. Dark Denim
2. White Button-Down
3. Black Sweater Wrap or Cardigan
4. Hoodie (any color)
5. Accessory item -- scarf, statement necklace, etc.
 
For young men:
1. Denim
2. Graphic Tee
3. Hoodie
4. Athletic Wear
5. Polo Shirt
 
IML: Do you have any advice for back-to-school shopping on a budget?
 
Audrey: My advice would be to shop at off-price retailers like TJMaxx and Marshalls. Parents and tweens will be able to stretch their dollar further because the prices are so affordable. My advice once in the stores is to stock up on items that will last throughout the year -- denim, hoodies, sweaters, and tees. These are clothing items that can be built on, which is very important when you're shopping on a budget.
 
IML: Many tweens write in to our site about purchases they end up regretting. How can young people avoid that trap?
 
Audrey: Tweens can avoid purchasing items they regret by truly knowing the answer to what they need, what they want and what they will wear. This is the 3 part question that isn't easy to always answer, but when you can answer it truthfully, you won't regret purchases. Trends are not created equal. What works for you, will not work for everyone. It's so important to be able to know that what's going into your closet are actually items you will be wearing -- with a smile!

IML: Thanks, Audrey! That's great advice!

Audrey:
You're welcome!

Chime on in, IML'ers. Have you ever been bullied because of your clothes? Did you ever buy something and think, I'm sorry I bought that?

 



Summer: The golden opportunity season!
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Last week on the blog, we talked about the sometimes-hidden challenges of summer, the stuff that can dash your expectations and stress you out when you should be having fun. On the flip side, we also want to mention the really cool opportunities that summer can bring you:

Cashola. This is a great time to find creative ways to earn your own, when you're hopefully not as busy with school, activities, and homework. Maybe you can seize the day and put your energy into a business. It's vacation season, so why not do some petsitting or housesitting? Little kids are out of school too, and parents might need more babysitting or mother's helper hours. If you're crafty or good at baking, there will probably plenty of outdoor events in your community where you can sell your wares. Or you can set up "shop" with a yard sale on a weekend morning. Then there's the old classic: everyone likes a lemonade stand on a hot day. For more ideas, check out IML's section on Making Money. With a little planning and effort, you could have a tidy sum saved up by September...and perhaps an established biz too!

Giving and getting. Maybe you want to earn community service hours for school. Maybe you want to explore something new, or maybe you just want to avoid the very real possibility of death by boredom. Whatever the reason, this could be a great time to get involved with a volunteer opportunity. You'll meet people, learn stuff, and feel extremely good about yourself and how you're making a difference. We have some good suggestions on what to do and how to do it in our Volunteering section.

Move it! If you've been meaning to get more active, this could be the summer you discover a new sport you really love. Team sports are big during fall, winter, and spring, but summer is when the solo athlete in all of us can really break through. Swim, walk, bike, hike. Karate kick, kayak paddle, or strike a yoga pose. If something costs money that you or your family may not have to spend, check out the free or low-cost programs at your local rec center, youth center, or library. The folks who plan stuff like this know that young people are out and about during the summer, looking to keep busy. Visit our Solo Sports section or talk to an adult -- like a parent, youth leader, or doctor -- for ideas.

We know none of this is exactly news to you. But we want to offer a reminder that in general, summer is the best possible time to explore fresh ventures, try something unfamiliar, and break out of the rut you may feel stuck in during the school year. If you're feeling like you want to make a change in your life for the better, pick one thing to focus on between now and September -- your health, a new hobby, making friends, whatever -- and think about how to do it. As always, IML is here to help, so feel free to post questions on our You Said It pages or Advice section.

Here's to a golden season of golden opportunities!


Toy Fair trend spotting
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As you hopefully know, IML is a non-commercial website; we don't directly sell or advertise anything. That doesn't mean we're not aware of what's out there for tweens and their families to buy. We like to watch what hits and what misses...and of course, what IML'ers will be talking about on our You Said It pages.

Last month, we attended the American International Toy Fair (just call it Toy Fair) in New York City -- the U.S.'s largest convention of toy manufacturers, sellers, designers, licensers -- to get a handle on what will be competing for your cash in the coming year. We walked around for hours checking out thousands of new (and classic) games, dolls, puzzles, action figures, collectibles...you name it. It was sorta like getting a guided tour of Santa's workshop, but instead of jolly elves hammering away on wooden horsies, we mostly saw lots of men and women in well-pressed business suits trading business cards and writing up sales orders.

So here's what we noticed:

IMG_3015.JPGWeird stuff. Sparkly rainbow unicorns and cuddly teddy bears are classics, and there were tons at the convention. These things will never go out of style; the names and brands may change, but the adorable, huggable heart of them remains the same. But if your taste in playthings is a little more dark or macabre, then there will be plenty aimed at you too. We liked the movie monster statues and creepy bobble-heads, the gorily wounded stuffed animals and collectible zombie/gothic kid dolls. There we also action figures based on unexpected movies, like "The Big Lebowski," and we like the trend of making products out of "cult" properties.

IMG_3021.JPGSuperheroes. Whether you're into characters from Marvel, DC or Indie companies, there will be lots of goodies to tempt you. Superheroes have ruled the movie box office for years now, and they're doing bang-up business in the toy world too. We especially loved the cutesy kid and baby versions of the comic heroes, like the plush Hulk, Wolverine, Iron Man and Thor. It's funny how toy manufacturers are always trying to find a new angle on something that's been around forever.

IMG_3024.jpgDécor. A number of companies were showcasing stuff to help decorate your favorite spaces. Two different booths offered cool removable locker stickers (basically big adhesive-backed posters) with groovy images, colors and patterns. It seems that more and more companies want to take advantage of the trend towards tricking out your locker.

The "next Silly Bandz." We saw one company hoping for that title: they make little plastic charms with loops that let you hang them on anything you want. Our prediction? Who knows! There are lots of cool products out there, but only some are lucky enough to get the right publicity and catch on.

Character domination. Branding is still the key to selling toys, so companies are eager to cover their products with pictures of the most popular characters from movies and TV. And hey, we like Spongebob and Buzz Lightyear as much as anybody, but do they have to be on EVERYTHING? We wish these toy makers would show a little variety within the brand and use more than one piece of artwork...we saw the same exact image of the same exact character on everything from puzzles and posters to furniture and tableware.

One thing that still surprised us was the sheer quantity of stuff out there to give young people the gimmees. As it gets cheaper and cheaper to make things, there are more and more things to be sold.

If none of this is earth-shattering, that's because there doesn't seem to be anything truly fresh and exciting on the horizon -- and maybe that's the point. While a new product may seem super cool and different at first, it's often similar to something that came before...maybe just with a twist to get you to buy it.

Does it sound like we're trying to get you to be savvy consumers of toys? Well, of course we are! We've got more tips on how to savvy up in our Spending Smarts section.

So what are your predictions? What will people be putting on their birthday and holiday wish lists in 2011?





Back To School Shopping Tips
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shopping.jpgShopping for back-to-school clothes is just plain exciting, filled with fresh possibilities. A great new addition to your wardrobe can help change your habits, your outlook, and your self-confidence. Plus, it's just fun to shop!

It can also be wrapped up in a lot of doubt, too. Times are tight; is there room in your family's budget for that pair of killer new jeans that you don't really need? What if you buy stuff that ends up being out-of-style before Halloween? What if you fill your closet with clothing that's hot and trendy, but just isn't you?

IML asked fashion expert and mom Audrey McClelland of MomGenerations.com for some advice!

IML: What are the trends for pre-teen and teen clothing this fall?
 
Audrey: On young ladies we're seeing some updates on classic button-downs with plaids, patterns and feminine detailing. Jeggings (leggings made to look like denim) are extremely hot right now for young ladies!  What's great with jeggings is that they can be worn with longer tops, tunics and dresses. Other popular bottoms options are deconstructed denim, five pocket khaki and mini-skirts. Mixing patterns, colors and materials is also a fashionable statement. Teens can create their own looks and styles with this trend. Outerwear is a fun and easy way to create some unique looks for teens. Leather jackets or ones with a military influence are also very trendy.
 
On young men we're seeing a lot of dark denim with stitching detail. It definitely creates a more polished look. Layering is a very big trend this fall. Layer a graphic tee, button-down and military style vest and/or hoodie. Even layer a graphic tee over a thermal knit for unexpected look. Vintage plaids are also a strong trend that we're seeing.  Button-downs with western-style inspiration is being seen a lot. Young men should be looking to achieve some classic and modern looks.
 
IML: Are these inspired by anything? Why do you think they're happening right now? 
 
Audrey:
Fashion is in a really fun place right now. It's something that young ladies and men are really having a good time with. Trends are usually inspired by something. I feel there are 2 things bringing forth some trend-inspiration right now. First, trends are really being inspired by young Hollywood starlets. We see them on TV and in movies, in magazines and online. Young ladies and men want to wear what these young stars are wearing. Second, we're seeing a lot of trends geared for women and men in their 20's and 30's becoming adapted for younger people.
 
IML: A lot of tweens and teens are looking to create their own style. For instance, they don't want to conform to a trend, but they also don't want to look totally out of place. What's your advice for people like that? What are some tips for creating your personal look?
 
Audrey:
Style is all about feeling comfortable in what you have on. If you don't want to conform to certain trends and they want to create their own looks, I suggest:

1. Find some colors that you truly like on yourself. Infuse these colors into your wardrobe. Once you have a color you feel confident and fashionable in, you'll find it very easy to work with styles and trends that are "in" at the moment.

2. Accessorize!  I love accessories because of this very reason -- you can create your own personal look. For young ladies -- necklaces, scarves, bracelets, rings, hair accessories and hats. For young men -- hats, ties and scarves.
 
3. Layering is a great way to create your own look. Start with pieces that you love -- tanks and tees and then build on them. Do you like button-downs? Cardigans? Vests? Sweater wraps?  Add items that you feel comfortable in and feel good in.
 
4. Know what works for you. Styles and trends that are "in" don't work for everyone. It's so important for you to really know what works for your body. This can impact your personal style immensely because you're only wearing pieces that you know actually work for YOU.
 
IML: If you want to buy clothes that look current, but aren't necessarily part of a trend and will last a little longer fashion-wise, what should you be looking for?
 
Audrey: Oh, I love this question!
 
For young ladies:
1. Dark Denim
2. White Button-Down
3. Black Sweater Wrap or Cardigan
4. Hoodie (any color)
5. Accessory item -- scarf, statement necklace, etc.
 
For young men:
1. Denim
2. Graphic Tee
3. Hoodie
4. Athletic Wear
5. Polo Shirt
 
IML: Do you have any advice for back-to-school shopping on a budget?
 
Audrey: My advice would be to shop at off-price retailers like TJMaxx and Marshalls. Parents and tweens will be able to stretch their dollar further because the prices are so affordable. My advice once in the stores is to stock up on items that will last throughout the year -- denim, hoodies, sweaters and tees. These are clothing items that can be built on, which is very important when you're shopping on a budget.
 
IML: Many tweens write in to our site about purchases they end up regretting. How can young people avoid that trap?
 
Audrey: Tweens can avoid purchasing items they regret by truly knowing the answer to what they need, what they want and what they will wear. This is the 3 part question that isn't easy to always answer, but when you can answer it truthfully, you won't regret purchases. Trends are not created equal. What works for you, will not work for everyone. It's so important to be able to know that what's going into your closet are actually items you will be wearing -- with a smile!

IML: Thanks, Audrey! That's great advice!

Audrey:
You're welcome!



"You Are Here" Website
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So, you think you're a smart shopper. With a few hours and the right amount of spending money, you could find the most perfect, awesome outfit/pair of shoes/piece of jewelry/book/videogame/CD imaginable. You feel so at home in the mall that you've actually thought about what it would be like to sleep in one of those display beds in the department store home section.

But are you a smart consumer? Do you know how advertising affects you? Can you see through marketing messages? Do you know how to protect yourself from identity theft, violations of privacy, and fraud? Tweens and teens are a huge and important group of spenders to many industries, and you're targeted pretty hard. Not everybody has your best interests in mind.

youarehere.jpgHere's a great way to find out: the Federal Trade Commission's  new website You Are Here. It's an online "mall" with games, animated shorts, and virtual shops -- all designed to help young people get more savvy when it comes to money and business.

The FTC is all about that; its job is to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them.

We especially enjoyed the Market-Match game, which had us guessing which cell phones were marketed to which kinds of buyers.

IML has lots of advice in this area, too. Check out our Money channel!