Michael Kabat is not your typical, run-of-the-mill local entrepreneur.
For one thing, he’s 11 years old.
That means his work-life balance includes finishing homework for his sixth grade class at Rosedale Public School, playing on his iPad and feeding his family’s two pet pooches, all while managing his own business.
And unlike many first-time entrepreneurs, Michael has to deal with an eager batch of customers who can’t seem to get enough of the product he is offering. Demand has shot through the roof, with Michael spending countless hours honing and perfecting his craft.
Michael makes scarves. And he is probably Sarnia’s most prolific and in-demand scarf maker around.
“I started doing rainbow loom with my friends and we started selling them at school,” he said of his journey from elementary school kid to entrepreneur extraordinaire. “And then it was in the fall when my iPad broke and I wanted to raise money to get it fixed.”
Breaking his iPad set Michael’s creative mind in motion. His mother Jaime said that he had to pay half of the cost of the repairs to the iPad, but how in the world could he raise such a sum of money?
In October of last year, he came up with the solution – he would sell affordable, handcrafted scarves for the discerning denizens of Sarnia and Lambton County. And he would sell them both online and in a local clothing store.
Interestingly enough, when told of Michael’s ambitious plan, mom wasn’t the least bit taken aback.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Jaime said with a laugh. “He’s always coming up with something creative to do. He does theatre, he does cheerleading and now it’s scarves. It’s always something different with him.”
Michael and Jaime had been occasional customers at local kids’ clothing store Esby & Soph, and knew some of the staff there. Entirely on his own, Michael approached co-owners Anja Christensen and Nicole Young and set up a business meeting with them to outline his plan to sell his scarves in their Front Street store.
“We set up a meeting, and he came with this big bag full of scarves,” Christensen said. “He was very well researched and I was very impressed. I teach entrepreneurship at Lambton College, so it was something that I was very intrigued by.”
“The scarves are well-made, they’re very reasonably priced and they come with a wonderful story,” she continued. “I thought he just did a fabulous job.”
Michael offered to pay the store $2 per scarf for taking up shelf space, which further illustrated his advanced knowledge of retail, Christensen said. But the two decided that instead of Michael giving the money to the store, he would instead pick a local kids’ charity to give the money to as a way of giving back to the community. After some deliberation, Michael selected Noelle’s Gift as his charity of choice, which now receives $2 for every one of Michael’s scarves sold.
“I picked the Noelle’s Gift charity because she was a teacher and I wanted to pick something that was in Sarnia and involved kids, so I started doing it for that charity,” he said.
The scarves became an immediate hit. Michael sold well over 100 scarves from October to December, raising a substantial amount of money for both Noelle’s Gift and Michael himself, who ended up paying off the entire cost of the repairs to his beloved iPad.
“He sells them for $12 for kids’ scarves and $14 for adults, so he makes roughly $4 a scarf,” Jaime said. “It’s not a huge profit, but it’s enough for a kid. That’s all he needs.”
And while Michael was an experienced hand at creating rainbow looms for his classmates, he wasn’t as familiar with the craft of making scarves when he first started out. But he was determined to give it a try.
At first, his output wasn’t great, but with more experience under his belt and some new capital equipment given to him by mom and dad, Michael soon became a one-man scarf making machine.
“He had a scarf loom that he got for Christmas and he started making scarves on the loom,” said his mom, Jaime. “Then he went on You Tube to learn how to crochet so now he does it on the loom and crochets.”
With orders pouring in for his handmade, colorful and unique scarves, and Michael becoming more adept at making them – he estimates it now takes him about two to three hours to produce a scarf – he upped the ante by introducing a few new items to his burgeoning business, headbands and scarves for dolls.
“At Christmas, his sister asked him to make scarves for her American Girl doll,” Jamie said. “After I posted it on Facebook, we had about 20 orders for scarves and headbands for the dolls.”
Feedback about the scarves has been universally positive, said Christensen, with many customers at Esby & Soph commenting on the delightful and dazzling designs. Michael has had several repeat customers as well.
“I had this one lady who ordered eight sets (scarf and a headband), and then she ordered another eight,” he said. “Most people who order usually order again.”
Future plans include making lighter spring scarves and working throughout the summer to keep up with demand.
“I’m going to keep building up my stock so I’ll have some ready for the fall,” he said.
One person still awaiting one of Michael’s much-vaunted scarves is his mom.
“I still don’t have a scarf yet, because he’s busy with orders,” she said with a grin. “But I hope to get one soon.”
For Christensen, Michael’s initiative has been a positively inspiring story of one creative young man paying it forward.
“He’s quite the little entrepreneur and now he’s very seasoned at 11 years old,” she said. “He comes in quite often with his scarves and he has this big smile on his face. He’s just so excited about it.”
“I can’t say enough wonderful things about him. He’s just a joy to be around,” she said.
To view or purchase Michael Kabat’s scarves, headbands and doll scarves, visit his Facebook page entitled ‘The Young Yarner’. Kids’ scarves are also on sale at Esby & Soph, located at 155 Front St. N.
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