Carrie Rengers

Cheerkins figures celebrate sports and other things while supporting animal groups

Shakila Saifullah initially did not get the reception she was hoping for when she visited her friends at RSM Marketing to show them a novelty item she created.

She explained that her Cheerkins, which are cardboard stick figures with arms and legs that go up and down, could be made to look like any mascot to support sports teams and other things.

Saifullah said the RSM team members were uninterested — until, that is, they picked up a Cheerkins.

“Once they started fidgeting with it, they wouldn’t put it down,” she said. “It’s infectious once you have one in your hand.”

Now, Saifullah is preparing to start marketing Cheerkins.

She said she was traveling in South Asia when she saw something similar.

Saifullah’s parents are from Bangladesh, and she grew up in West Africa.

The inspiration for Cheerkins was something that was made from tree bark.

“It was more rudimentary,” Saifullah says.

She said she looked at it and thought, “I’m going to create something out of this.”

Saifullah has formed a company, Armaana Enterprises — named for her son, Armaan and the first letter of his last name — but she said she wants to donate any profits from it primarily to Mt. Hope Animal Sanctuary, Wichita Animal Action League and Beauties & Beasts.

She said she looked into forming a nonprofit, but it was more complicated, so she formed an LLC.

Starkey Inc. manufactures the Cheerkins.

Saifullah has started with mascots for Wichita State University, the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. Each is $9.99.

She said the licensing process “was so cumbersome.”

Saifullah wants to do other schools as well, but “we’re taking it in bite-size pieces.”

“I’ve already invested a lot.”

Wichita State purchased 200 Cheerkins for its bookstore.

Saifullah said she’s starting with collegiate sports, but she said she can expand in all kinds of ways.

“This is such a fun product to cheer any cause,” she said. “The potential is endless.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.