by Dalila-Johari Paul
Ayako, Taj, Savvy and six other tweens are a quirky and animated girl crew called Fortune Girls.
Born from a 2-year-old's doodles, the girls have grown and matured into a full-fledged multi-media franchise with a teenager and two mothers at the helm.
In 2011, New Jersey high school student Madison Ruiz and her mother, Barbara Clarke-Ruiz, and family friend Lisa Osinloye started Fortune Girls, a website and brand designed for young girls ages 7 to 12.
The concept of this diverse group of "besties," has already been resonating with many. Within days of the website's beta launch in 2011, there were 3 million hits and the site was relaunched this summer with even more impressive features to keep girls engaged.
What started out as an idea to redecorate Madison's room with some of her old artwork morphed into a business plan for a T-shirt design and quickly evolved into a franchise that includes community events, a sneaker line, other products and now a webisode that needs more funding. The ladies are close to reaching their $20,000 fundraising goal, which ends Nov. 15 on Kickstarter, but more supporters are needed.
It's one of those business investments where parents and their kids can see a tangible return.
The growing Fortune Girls empire is striving for "meaningful content that will resonate with tweens in fun and engaging ways," says Osinloye.
If kids can take cues from "reality" TV shows or other programming, why not take cues from characters created by a tween who is now a teen getting ready for college.
Besides being a entrepreneur, Madison, who's a high school senior, also has plans to continue her growth as an animator.
She's always loved cartoons and wanted to be able to keep her love going as an adult, she tells VITAMIN W.
And it doesn't hurt to have to in-house mentors--her mom Clarke-Ruiz, who has 20 years of experience in the design and creative apparel industry, and family friend Osinloye, an entertainment industry veteran.
As the mother of a tween girl, Osinloye often watches shows with her daughter and knows first-hand that much of the programming aimed at tweens encourages girls to grow up too fast.
"And a lot of the story lines are around the mean girls versus everyone else and disrespectful behavior towards parents."
Fortune Girls and the idea of building a community for tweens to be inspired and share with one another is a refreshing alternative to what is already out there.
One of Fortune Girls’ first community projects was "Operation Hanky," where tweens put together care packages for members of the armed forces. Of course the packages included camouflage handkerchiefs with the Fortune Girls.
"Girls are growing up in a high tech world, where if anything negative is said about a girl it can be spread around the world, not just in a classroom or a school," Osinloye adds.
"Girls can share their most intimate thoughts with the world through social media and not understand the danger that she is putting herself in, opening her heart to complete strangers who don't mean her well and where pedophiles roam each day seeking a way to take advantage and do harm to these innocent girls. The content we share with our tween girls needs to address what they are facing and dealing with n a way that they can relate to, so that we can put an end to youth suicided from bullying cyberbullying, and have content that will instead inspire girls to dram an build healthy self-confidence and self esteem in out girls."
The website also includes short animated clips, games, ideas for community service projects, and other features.
They also have some famous adult fans.
Whoopi Goldberg, who loves wacky shoes, was given the first pair of Fortune Girl sneakers. Her response, "Cute characters...Fortune Girls has it all and will certainly be the hottest tween brand to watch... The uniqueness of this is the best I've seen in a long time. They have the cutest sneakers ever, and have become a favorite in my collection."
Despite the challenges of raising capital, the business-savvy trio has also received a deal from two former Nickelodeon executives to develop and produce the Fortune Girls television series. Osinloye says they've also learned some lessons along the way.
"In the beginning we had a seven-figure proposal from a venture capital firm, but the terms were not to our advantage at all. We have grown a lot since then and will hopefully be able to attract better deals from potential investors."
We're sure they will and Fortune Girl "Savvy" would approve.