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By Lily Robinson –
What started as a quest from her teacher at The HeartShare School to keep hands busy, student Ashlly has now built a fully-fledged business. Ashlly’s story is a testament to where passion and perseverance can lead. Opening a classroom store was the perfect way to bridge bracelet-making with important lessons about vocational skills. Within a few months, Ash & Co was born, had fulfilled hundreds of orders, and had six employees and 3 interns working in the classroom store. Some students act as designers, and others help with incoming orders, typing receipts, and sorting inventory.
We sat down with Ashlly and her teacher Rachel Krammer to discuss Ash & Co.’s incredible journey.
What inspired Ash & Co’s creation? At what point did the hobby turn into a business idea?
Rachel: Ashlly was struggling with keeping her hands busy during group activities. We had tried out different fidget toys but she didn’t have much interest in it. Someone suggested making bracelets and immediately Ashlly was hooked. She absolutely loved it! At the same time, I was also teaching my students vocational skills as they are 16-20 years old. Once we saw how much she loved making the bracelets we made an order form and sent it out to the staff in the building. The orders started coming in and the other students started showing an interest as well and we figured what better way to teach vocational skills then to open a classroom store? Within a few months we had 6 employees and 3 interns. Each student, has a specific job dependent on their preference and skill set. Some students are designers and make the bracelets and others are reading incoming orders and typing receipts. We also have students packaging and delivering as well as sorting incoming inventory.
What has the audience reception been?
Rachel: The staff and families of HeartShare have been extremely supportive. Because we only sell to specific locations we have to rely on them to continue to place orders. We have multiple staff who have placed upwards of 100 orders for family and friends. We have even made some of them brand ambassadors! Many of our clinicians also have positions at Ash and Co including but not limited to Director of Marketing, quality control officer and recruitment officer.
What’s the hardest part of running your own business?
Rachel: Keeping our customers happy and having a quick turn-around time! We believe the customer is always right and are willing to re-make our products as many times as necessary. Also, keeping up with the demand! On average we receive about 50 orders a week on top of creating bulk orders for events.
Ashlly: Its hard because there’s lots of orders and bracelets.
What’s the best part of running your own business?
Rachel: Putting together and building a company designed by multiple people’s ideas. Each staff and student have a role that builds off their strengths and what they enjoy doing. Being able to come to work/school and enjoy doing it is something that not everyone can say.
Ashlly: I like working with people and listening to music while I work. I make the bracelets for my friends and share with my friends. It makes them feel good.
What big milestone would you like to see Ash & co reach next?
Rachel: Being able to offer our jewelry to all of HeartShare and then hopefully the public!
Ashlly: Next necklaces!
What’s something you wish people knew/understood better about the disability community?
Rachel: Every person is unique and different in their own way. Having a disability doesn’t and shouldn’t define a person. Each student has their own set of skills and interests that can contribute meaningfully to the community. I hope people can recognize the importance of creating a work environment that provides opportunities for everyone.
What advice would you give to others looking to start their own business?
Rachel: Never give up! Meet with as many people as you can within the area of your business. No meeting is ever pointless and each person brings a unique perspective and idea. Working with other people and being open to new ideas is extremely important.
Rachel, what inspires you most about Ashlly?
Rachel: I have had the pleasure of working as Ashlly’s teacher for the past two years. I can honestly say watching her run her own business has been a true inspiration. Seeing her work at “Ash and Co” each day with the biggest smile on her face is what drives me. Watching her become independent and be able to do what she loves is more than I can ever wish for.
Ashlly, what inspires you most about Rachel?
Ashlly: Ms. Rachel you help me create all my bracelets.
Ash & Co. bracelets are currently only being sold internally within HeartShare but will hopefully be able to ship to other locations soon. Follow HeartShare on Facebook & Instagram for Ash & Co. updates. To donate to Ash & Co., contact: email@example.com.
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