What is in a name? A lot. For many military children, the term “military brat” is more than a label. It is an identity that helps define their childhood lifestyle, experiences and upbringing — a descriptor that can resonate into adulthood.
As she prepared for her family’s eighth permanent change of station move, 15-year-old Maddie Shick decided the word “brat” needed a new meaning that dispelled any negative connotations and provided a more precise picture of military children. She also wanted a way to depict her personal military journey from duty station to duty station, across state lines and overseas.
Shick, the daughter of an Army major, created Brat Stamps as a way to document the duty stations where she has lived and the unique experiences offered to her by each place she has called home. Each sticker design is unique to a specific United States Army post or Air Force installation. (Shick currently is designing Brat Stamps for overseas Air Force and Army bases, with Navy bases on deck next.)
In this instance, “BRAT” stands for Brave, Resilient, Adventurous, Traveler.
Shick says her goal in crafting the “BRAT” acronym is to help end the movement to replace the name “military brats” with “military children,” a term she says explains “what we are but doesn’t define who we are.”
Shick has lived in Georgia (three times), Washington, Germany, Louisiana, Alaska and now Tampa, Florida. She got the inspiration for Brat Stamps while completing a graphic design project for her home school curriculum while living in Alaska. A Fairbanks sticker company produced 15 copies of Schick’s design for Fort Wainwright, which quickly became a hit with Schick’s friends who plastered the stickers on their water bottles, laptops, binders and skateboards.
Her inaugural Brat Stamp’s popularity convinced Shick to design stickers for each stop on her military family’s journey. Then she decided to turn her project into a business. Today, she has a Brat Stamp shop (www.etsy.com/shop/bratstamps) on Etsy.com as well as an active Brat Stamp Facebook Page and business website (www.bratstamps.com). In March, she received her 100th order, with fast-paced sales causing her to temporarily run out of inventory.
“I’ve had to place an order for 2,500 Brat Stamps, which is the biggest order I’ve ever made.” says Shick, who sells each 3-inch round sticker for $3.00 and each 1-inch sticker for 75 cents.
While the stickers are a hit with military brats, adults have accounted for half of Shick’s sales, with some parents purchasing Brat Stamps to announce to their children the family’s next duty station.
But Shick is not trading profits for a designer wardrobe or saving to buy a car when she turns 16. Instead, she has donated half of her initial profits to Fisher House and rolled the rest of the cash back into her business.
“It would be great to make enough money to save up for college or buy a car, but giving back to the community and giving back to the Army community is very important to me and my family,” she explains.
Maddie’s mother is grateful for the encouragement her daughter has received from the military community.
“The support has been amazing,” Amy Shick says. “A lot of military spouse entrepreneurs have reached out to Maddie and taken her under their wing and given her advice.”
Lisa Bradley, CEO and co-founder of military-inspired handbag company R. Riveter, is among those who not only have mentored the teenage entrepreneur but also provided a sales pipeline for Brat Stamps. R. Riveter sells Brat Stamps at its store in Southern Pines, N.C., and features Maddie’s profile on its R. Riveter website’s Military Life blog.
“We were so inspired by not only Maddie’s great business idea, but her determination to start a business at such a young age,” Bradley wrote in an email. “We hope that through highlighting Maddie’s company other children are inspired and can see that hard work and dedication pays off. We’ve always stated there is a tradeoff for the long hours an entrepreneur puts in; we’re showing our children firsthand a great foundation of work ethic and how important it is to create something of your own.”
It may come as no surprise that Maddie launched her first business the summer she was 10 — a bakery project at Fort Benning in Georgia that netted her $200. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Amy Shick co-founded the Military Property Project and Maddie’s grandparents also were small business owners, so entrepreneurship is in her DNA.
“I really want our kids to be risktakers,” Amy Shick explains. “I would never want our children to start a job and stay there for 40 years and be miserable and then wake up at 60-years-old and say, ‘What did I do with my life?’ I want them to give things a try… It keeps life interesting and it’s a constant learning process.”
In that respect, Brat Stamps is a blockbuster success. Maddie credits Brat Stamps with teaching her everything from budgeting to graphic design and social media marketing.
“I’ve learned so much that I probably would have had to wait to learn in business school,” declares Maddie, who was one of six finalists for Operation Homefront’s 2017 Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation. “It has been an amazing learning experience.”