By Sean Meyer
Once upon a time, there was a little girl facing a difficult journey as she was battling health problems and found herself spending all her time in hospital dealing with tests, treatments and doctors.
Thankfully, her fairy godmother appeared one day and asked her to help design a very special dress.
The young girl, her name is Keanna, happily agreed. When they were done, the fairy godmother asked if she could borrow the design and so she took it back to her shop where she got to work on creating the dress.
She returned days later with the completed dress, which she then gave to Keena.
The young girl’s smile led to a moment that changed not only both their lives, but also set the stage for some 75 other girls and boys who have so far enjoyed a similar experience.
The fairy godmother — it’s a self-appointed title — in this true-life tale is fashion designer Nicole Snobelen.
“When I met with Keanna, I just knew in the moment of meeting her, going through this process, I wanted to do it for as many kids as I could,” she said. “When I came back that first time, she had just returned from treatment and was kind of grumpy I guess. But when she opened the dress, the biggest smile appeared on her face. It was really emotional for both of us.”
In 2015, Nicole first partnered with Make A Wish Southwestern Ontario to launch The Abby Fund, which is a soon-to-be not-for-profit business supported by her Evelynn by Nicole Snobelen clothing line.
Operating out of Innovation Works, The Abby Fund is a project dedicated to helping to lift the spirits of children in hospital who are suffering from illness. That lift comes in the form of a dream dress or superhero cape, which Nicole works with the children to design before she brings the creation to life.
At first, Nicole could only afford to make one or two dresses.
Things changed, however, when she enrolled in a program at Fanshawe College’s LEAP Junction.
Before enrolling, she had no idea what a social enterprise was.
After she started sharing the story of what she does with her clothing line and how she gives back through The Abby Fund, a new world of innovation was revealed.
“They were like, ‘You know you’re a social enterprise. You should talk with Innovation Works,’” Nicole said. “So, I came here to Innovation Works and met with everyone and they talked me through what I was doing and how it was a social enterprise. I got into the LIBRO incubator, and LIBRO is sponsoring me, which has been super-beneficial.”
Nicole is in the process of registering as a not-for-profit and she hopes once that is completed she’ll be able to hire some help as the actual sewing of the dresses and capes is the most time-consuming part of the process.
Some of the dresses, for example, have a lot of detail and it can take from 4-10 hours to make just one.
The birth of The Abby Fund stems from Nicole’s personal belief that business should be about more than just dollars and cents.
That belief is supported by the people she sees every day at Innovation Works.
“I believe in making an income while making an impact. I think it doesn’t matter how much money you make, it matters what you do with it once you’ve made it,” she said. “Those kids, going through what they’re going through, they need something to help them get through. Their parents need to see them light up in a moment of darkness. Being here (at Innovation Works) surrounded by people who share that kind of vision with me — who want to give back to their community — is inspiring. I love this place.”