Fill in the blank: ___________ is awesome.
What’s the the first thing that comes to mind?
If you said, “art,” or “organic clothing” or “small business,” the Awesome Company has you covered. Jacquie Mahan came up with the idea for the company in 2016 when she imagined something she could hang on her wall announcing her personal awesome—pilates—to the world.
Mahan realized everyone had something that could fill in that blank. She reached out to her friends Meghan Klein and Kathy Borkowski with the idea of starting a company to let people express their awesome on t-shirts, bags, and fine art prints. Klein suggested it would be more awesome if their products were organic. Borkowski thought it would be awesome to employ adults on the autism spectrum to make their custom goods. The Awesome Company was in business.
In honor of Autism Awareness month, I sat down with co-founders Mahan and Klein, and employee Brendan Pratt, to learn more about the company.
Why did you found the Awesome Company?
MK: We want to celebrate whatever the individual thinks is awesome. Whatever is special to you is something that we want to help you celebrate.
JM: My youngest son has autism. [Co-founder] Kathy is an autism mom and her son is 18, so he has to start thinking about getting a job… Eighty percent of people with autism are underemployed or unemployed. That is a huge problem, and a huge community that is capable of working but isn’t finding jobs.
What’s it like to work here?
BP: I like the people a lot. I like the fact that I come in and it’s not the exact same mechanical job every single day.
Part of the Awesome Company’s mission is employing people with autism. Why is that important?
JM: Our employees come in and they want to work. What I’ve said is there is a superpower in everyone with autism. I can see it with all of our employees here. Sometimes they don’t know their superpower until they get here, and then we help them find it. People on the spectrum invented a new way to do our inventory. Brendan told me, “Every time you have me do inventory, I have to reorganize t-shirts and count them. Why don’t you just organize them all the time? Use rubber bands.” So now we have rubber bands, and they look better. There’s the superpower: they see things from a different angle.
BP: For high functioning autistics, we can be very helpful in a workplace. I’m very good at systematic thinking. It’s a shame people like me don’t get more chances.
JM: Sixty percent of people on the autism spectrum have normal to advanced intelligence. Why is someone who has great intelligence not employed? There are lots of capable adults with autism that are really frustrated right now [that] they can’t contribute to their communities and get insurance and get the things that neurotypical people get because maybe people are scared of the word autism.
MK: Maybe they don’t do well in an interview process, or they can’t get their foot in the door. We’re accepting of that, looking at their abilities.
JM: Innovation happens when we don’t do things the normal way. If we do it, then other people will do it and it’ll be the norm. And then neurodiversity isn’t a cool thing, it’s just what’s happening.
April is Autism Awareness month. What can people do to show support?
JM: Bridgeway Academy is a school for autism in Columbus. We’re trying to help Bridgeway Academy send more of their kids on the spectrum to summer camp. If you go to our website and you click “Bridgeway Academy,” 10 percent of the proceeds goes to send the kids to camp. Donate money, go on the walks, and be a part of the autism community.
BP: The single best way to support [the Awesome Company]: if you need a t-shirt done, get it done, because at the end of the day she [Mahan] can’t employ people if she doesn’t have money to pay them.
What are the benefits to having your headquarters in Columbus?
JM: Columbus is our hometown, it’s where we feel comfortable. It’s a community that supports new businesses.
What do people in Columbus think is awesome?
JM: Columbus is awesome, love is awesome, teachers are awesome, naps are awesome.
What do you think is awesome?
BP: Zaphod Beeblebrox. If you’ve read the Hitchhiker’s [Guide to the Galaxy] books—he’s the guy with two heads and three arms.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. To learn more, visit theawesomecompany.com.