Designs on employment

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>DEBBIE EKINS, PHOTO</p><p>Amelia Ekins, 22, has plans to sell t-shirts with images based on her own drawings.</p>

Renowned in Mahone Bay for her proffered hugs and big smile, Amelia Ekins increasingly is becoming known for something else -her t-shirts.

With the help of her parents, Debbie and Mark Ekins, the 22-year-old town resident who has Down's Syndrome recently launched a small t-shirt design and wholesale business.

In doing so, she's essentially designing a job for herself, and, possibly, someone else.

The idea is for Amelia to have employment at a time when there's little of it available, Debbie told LighthouseNOW.

"I'm hoping that it would be a job that has several facets to it, so that she works on the computer, getting the order, parcels it up, sends it off and, you know, looks after the financial side. And, if it ever expanded, there would be others that could work alongside of her.

"That would be my goal, you know, that it employs more than one person."

It's a goal that had humble beginnings, starting out simply with Amelia's parents appreciating their daughter's creative artwork, which she produced over the years despite the challenges she faced developmentally.

"Amelia has always drawn, and over the years I've kept them because they were quite neat to me," explained Debbie. Initially, it didn't occur to the parents that others might feel the same way.

"I think you always think your own children's stuff is great, but that doesn't necessarily translate to other people," said the mother.

It wasn't until good friends, one of whom is an artist, started encouraging them to consider helping Amelia do something commercially with the drawings that they began to consider some options. Initially, they thought, maybe, bed linen or towels. Then the friends suggested t-shirts and told them they themselves would be willing customers.

"They were the ones that really gave us the push," said Debbie.

They took one of Amelia's drawings of a collection of cats, and ordered about 50 t-shirts in black and a light blue from a printer. The family members then became walking models for the t-shirts, wearing them as they went about their routines around Mahone Bay and elsewhere.

Prospective buyers began to take notice.

"They went really well, and people were asking what other colours we have," said Amelia's mum. They sold enough of the black and blue t-shirts that they could order more shirts in a variety of colours, and they now offer grey, green, yellow, purple, red, two different blues, and black.

"We've also just purchased baby onesies. Someone asked if we did onsies and we said, 'Well, we'll get a few and we'll just see,'" reported Debbie.

Currently, the t-shirts are available directly from Amelia at amelia.ekins@yahoo.com, as well as at Ali's General store in Blockhouse. However, the hope is that Amelia can have her t-shirts sold through other retailers in Mahone Bay, Lunenburg and Bridgewater as well.

Amelia went through the public school system in Mahone Bay and Bridgewater as a special needs student and completed the Transition Program at Verge House in Bridgewater. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she was in the process of completing the year-long Achieve course at the Nova Scotia Community College, Lunenburg Campus, in Bridgewater, which is designed to teach students life skills in order to work and be independent.

Amelia is delighted that people are happy to buy t-shirts with her artwork, according to her mother.

"I know for a fact she wants to work," she said. And, essentially having designed her own job, she added, "there's a sense of pride there."

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