Crafting Autism Employment with Creativity and Purpose

Crafters for Life

Business: Crafters for Life

Mission:

Create a constructive reason for autistic and special needs adults after aging out of high school to leave the house, learn social skills, and earn a paycheck.

What is Crafters for Life?

Crafters for LifeCrafters For Life is a company that employs autistic individuals and others with special needs to make and sell hand-crafted products. Our products include greeting cards, drink coasters, key chains, lavender eye pillows, drink tumblers and sugar scrubs. The company is based on a skills program in a high school autistic support class. We make the same products in the same way so our participants can transition out of high school doing something they are familiar with doing.

We sell online, wholesale to small local shops, and at craft shows and festivals. We also do custom orders direct to organizations including non-profits, sports teams, national direct sales companies and the U.S. Army.

What is your business model?

Crafters For Life is a for profit business model for autistic individuals and others with special needs. It is designed to survive purely on sales without any state or federal funding. Best of all is that our model can stay small and operate with just a handful of people or easily extended nationally to provide opportunities to those struggling after high school.

The initial investment to start the company has not been repaid completely but it will be! We are very careful to only have products that can be produced at a high quality and a profitable price. We can’t help anyone if the business model is not sustainable.

We are proud to produce products that are as good as or even better than those currently available on the market at the same price point. Our products are priced to be profitable for wholesalers as well as pay for fees and sales labor at craft shows.

Crafters for Life Products

What are some of the intangible benefits of your business?

The craft shows and festivals offer relaxed environments for social interactions that most jobs do not provide. The shoppers at these events are fantastic with our sales associates. They ask questions about the products and company, wait patiently for a response, and listen to the sales associate’s answer.

One shopper was so excited to meet the young man who created the artwork on some of our coasters! She grabbed a sharpie and asked him to sign the coasters she just purchased. Special needs or not, something like that will make your day!

Why did you feel that starting Crafters for Life was the answer?

Every year more and more adults age out and need help from a system that is already overloaded. We have friends with older special needs kids who sit at home all the time or find a job for only a few hours a week. My wife and I have been looking for years for something that our son could do after high school. His teachers told us about the skills program where students made and sold products around the school to other students and teachers. We realized that this could be the answer. We worked with the teachers and other parents to formulate a path that led us to Crafters for Life.

Who do you employ?

Our youngest artist is a 9 year old boy on the autism spectrum and our oldest is in his mid-30s. We have a growing team of individuals in our local community (Bucks County, PA) and growing interest from areas around the country.

We work hard to find creative ways individuals with special needs and autism can work using their particular strengths. Our oldest artist is the perfect example. We never considered using original artwork on our products until his mother suggested it. Now we have 3 artists whose amazing work makes our quality products stand out. Our next product will most likely be based on a skill or talent that a new worker brings to the company.

What are 3 challenges you’ve faced?

  1. Packaging – We spent a significant amount of time perfecting our packaging. For example, the sugar scrubs were initially in glass mason jars which were expensive and made of glass (not a great idea for the bathroom). We looked at a lot of options before finding our current packaging.
  2. Product prices – We needed to be sure that we made enough on each item to cover the production cost, including labor to make, labor to sell and overhead. We timed the production of each item and developed detailed cost calculations to determine the selling price. We then looked at similar products in the market to make sure that our prices are in line with the rest of the market.
  3. Choosing the Right Shows – Not having any prior knowledge of the crafting world, we needed to learn how to pick the right shows, set up an appealing display and attract shoppers to our table. We never realized how many craft shows and festivals there are and the opportunities they provide to get a lot of our people involved.

What are 3 rewards you’ve experienced from starting a business?

  1. Hope that we can create something to keep our son Dylan engaged and involved after high school…something that we could control. We do not want him to have to experience an endless line of interviews that lead to minimal work hours per week.
  2. Having these young adults working for us using their strengths and enjoying it.
  3. Seeing the satisfaction on our son Dylan’s and the other’s faces after they make the products or watch people at craft shows spend money on items they helped to make.

Share a funny story.

Dylan I were making pouches for eye pillows. I had a large stack of muslin that we were sewing. I expected to work for a couple of hours in the evening and then call it a night. When I was asked if he was ready to quit, Dylan wanted to keep going. This went on for a little while when I realized that he wanted to finish the stack of muslin which would have taken hours. While Dylan was not looking, I handed most of the stack of muslin to his mother. We finished the remaining pieces and Dylan got up and went on his way. From that point on, I was careful to only have the materials out that we could get completed in the time allowed.

How about a memorable moment?

Sean and his mother were walking past a store that sold vintage sports jerseys. He wanted to look at them and when they walked into the store, they saw his artwork on Crafters For Life products that were being sold in the store. When the shop owner realized who Sean was, all three of them shared in the excitement of the moment.

What message do you have for families who are searching for job opportunities for their autistic loved one?

Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Get people involved with the same goals and work as a team. The results will be so rewarding…just read what TJ, one of our top sales associates has to say:

“The people at Crafters for Life are like family. Whether they are making the items or selling them, they are happy and work as a team. Working at Crafters for Life makes everyone feel special. A positive attitude is all you need to make everyone happy.”

Crafters for Life

(From L to R) Christina (Kevin’s mother), TJ, Roseann (TJ’s mother) and Kevin. Kevin is one of our artists and works as a sales associate at craft shows. TJ is extremely social and loves interacting with customers.

What’s next for Crafters for Life?

Our next goals are:

  • Grow our online sales. We are working on optimizing our Etsy store as well as looking into Handmade at Amazon and other sales channels.
  • Expand our sales force. There were quite a few shows that we were not able to do since we could not staff it. We would also like to get sales teams in new markets.
  • Increase the number of retailers selling our products.

One of the most important things for our family is moving the operation into  a separate production / retail location in time for Dylan’s exit from high school. Right now all production is done at our home which is fine at this stage. However, once Dylan ages out of high school, it is important for him to have a reason to leave the house each day.

How to find out more about Crafters for Life:

Read more about entrepreneurship and businesses for autism employment!

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.

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