Making it Work Small Business Learnings from Makeway

As a small business owner, you put out fires every day. It’s exhausting – but what if you started looking at all the obstacles as opportunities? You’ll be surprised at what you can and have accomplished.

One of the very first questions we get as small business owners is, “why in the world did you decide to open a brick-and-mortar retail business during the pandemic?” This question is always met with a laugh (sometimes snort), and we both just shrug and say some version of, because we wanted to and no one else was doing it. Let’s be real though, this is NOT a sound business strategy, nor was it the foundation of why we did it. BUT it was a driving factor in the months of preparation, long hours and our commitment to creating a community space like Makeway.

We’re Abby Albino and Shelby Weaver, and we’re the Co-Founders and Co-Owners of Makeway, Canada’s first and only standalone boutique for women’s sneakers that’s completely run and funded by women. We know what you’re thinking:  “Wait.. Canada only has one women’s sneaker boutique?! No way!” Google it – we can wait. It’s baffling, right? Well, it’s true, and we’re honoured to be the first Canadian women’s sneaker shop – and hopefully not the last.

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Makeway (located at Stackt Market in Toronto) opened in November 2020 and it’s a community and retail space focused on providing women access to sneaker culture in more approachable ways. For years (and we mean like, for as long as sneakers have been around), women have been left out of the sneaker conversation.

For women who love sneakers and the culture associated with them, there was systemic misogyny to confront: an undeniable lack of sizing, styles, access and representation. What’s worse is that with the rise of sneaker culture, resellers began to buy up women’s sizing and raise the prices by 200%. Enough was enough. It was time for a change, and we decided to be the ones to lead the charge.

We’ve learned a lot about starting a small business, and since sharing is caring, here are some of the lessons we learned in our first year of opening.

Opportunity Over Obstacle

It probably comes to no surprise that the pandemic presented many obstacles to our little, budding retail business. Some were predictable (i.e., lockdowns and production delays) and some were unpredictable (i.e., The Suez Canal being blocked by a container ship – what a time!) What we learned is that changing our perspective from thinking something was an opportunity instead of an obstacle made for better business decisions.

For example, we officially opened our doors on November 20, 2020 and on November 23, 2020, Toronto went into full lockdown. Did that suck? Yes. What we were able to do instead, was give ourselves a moment to pour all our energy into fortifying our digital/online business without having to simultaneously operate IRL. Looking back, that allowed us to understand our online consumer and discover innovative ways to engage and connect with them digitally. Once the lockdown lifted, we had a sound digital plan, curbside pickup plan, ecommerce process, and we had also given ourselves a chance to establish our brand. In a way, the lockdown provided a much slower launch than we had planned for, but it was a pace that allowed us to build various elements of our business one at a time.


Community Always

At its core, Makeway is about community. Everything we do, from buying product, hosting events and choosing our next vendor, we make sure that our business decisions serve our community first and foremost. Historically, sneaker shops have been unwelcoming, and regardless if it was a shop that sold both men’s and women’s products, they almost always fully catered to the male consumer. Women in our community have patiently waited for a space like Makeway, and we believe it’s our responsibility to serve them and welcome them into a safe space. From a business standpoint, it’s hard to tangibly say, “this is the ROI on prioritizing community,” because to be honest, that data just doesn’t exist. But it’s the right thing to do.

An easy and affordable way we’ve been able to celebrate community is through our social feed. Ensuring that we include them in our content has not only allowed them to feel seen and appreciated, but it has also given us ample opportunities to showcase them wearing our product.

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Stack your team

Okay, we have a secret to share: Shelby and I don’t have any retail experience. We’ve never worked in a sneaker or clothing shop. However, we love sneakers, we love solving problems, we have creative ideas and we’ve both had other entrepreneurial experiences. But a retail store? There’s a first time for everything!

All that said, we made sure we built a team of diverse experiences, cultures and work backgrounds. We’re a small team of six, but it’s a team stacked with retail, marketing, social media, communications and production capabilities. Even more so, we’re also diverse in the way in which we work. We’re all good at different things and that’s what makes us such a great and effective team.

Don’t Overthink It

Lastly, and most importantly, don’t overthink it. Sometimes you just need to start.

We could have waited for the pandemic to be over, we could have waited for someone else to be first to market, but looking back on the last eleven months? We wouldn’t change a thing.

So? Start! And if you make a mistake or run into an obstacle, just remember: everything’s an opportunity.


About Abby Albino and Shelby Weaver

Abby and Shelby met in 2011 while working at MLSE. Both lovers of basketball and sneakers, they bonded quickly and became fast friends.

A decade later, while both attending to their full-time jobs (Abby is Head of Development at Mad Ruk Entertainment and Shelby Weaver is Director, Basketball Operations & Culture with the Toronto Raptors) they saw an opportunity to create a safe space for women who love sneakers in Canada and created Makeway.

Check them out at or on Instagram at