Julia Tyler of Swarthmore recently turned 21, an important milestone in any life; particularly so in hers. As a person with Down Syndrome, she has received services through the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District since kindergarten, continuing through her graduation this year. At the end of the summer, that formal support will end.
But unlike many 21 year olds, Julia has a steady job. And unlike most adults of any age, she is an entrepreneur, with a stake in a startup that promises not only to fulfill her personally, but also to generate growth and income. Julia is among three principals of a newly-formed enterprise called Dance Happy, which designs and prints textiles and art that will eventually be sold in a variety of boutiques and home stores.
Julia’s confederates in the effort are Emily Scott, owner and Julia’s boss at Compendium boutique in Swarthmore, and Liv Helgesen of Philadelphia, Julia’s job coach with Community Integrated Services. “We three have formed a really nice bond over the years,“ Emily said, “and we wanted to find an organic way to continue working together. Julia is very creative, and she has different perspectives than I do. Liv has great expertise in screen printing. And I have the business and marketing background.”
How They Got Together
Julia “walked” with her Strath Haven class during graduation ceremonies in 2014, but she didn’t leave high school behind. Rather, she continued the relationships she had already begun with specialists at the school and in the community, working on employability and job readiness skills like workplace interactions and expectation. In trial employment and internships at a dozen businesses and agencies, Julia and her support team identified what Julia is most capable of and most comfortable doing.
It turned out that the perfect fit was at Compendium, where Emily Scott was eager for help, after six months of understaffed operation.
“Julia and I clicked, and I could see that she enjoyed the work,” Emily said. Julia has had different responsibilities during 3 1/2 years at Compendium, and will continue as an employee of the store three days a week, even after Dance Happy is up and running. One of her weekly responsibilities is receiving shipments, inventorying incoming goods, and preparing them for the sales floor. “She operates at her own pace and capabilities, but she has learned so much,” Emily says.
It was Emily’s idea to add a line of tote bags to the Compendium offering, combined with Liv’s training in printmaking (her major at the University of the Arts) which gave shape to the venture that is Dance Happy. Liv had recognized Julia’s creativity in their work together over the years. “Community Integrated Services tries to understand a person’s true potential, and find employment based on that.” But at age 21, CIS services and a grant that helped fund Julia’s employment come to an end. Though she will still be a paid part-time employee of Compendium, Liv says, “We had to find some other stuff for Julia to do.” With the mutual trust and affection between Liv and Julia, they looked to continue working together.
Liv helped Julia create collections of scissor-cut paper. Working together throughout the process, the duo have laid out designs incorporating varied geometric and organic shapes, made silkscreens, mounted screens, spread ink in many colors on palettes, and experimented with printing on a variety of surfaces from canvas to archival print paper. Their product has benefited from an adaptation of the traditional screen press: a modified press helps Julia apply even pressure without great exertion, Liv says.
Emily said, “I like clean lines, and that’s part of Julia’s esthetic, but she has different perspectives than I do, and I love her designs. I think people are going to be really surprised when they see her work.”
Product Launch August 28
The launch will be at a trunk show on Sunday, August 28, at Compendium. Customers and the larger public are invited to the show, planned for the afternoon (times will be posted soon at the store.) For the wider world, Emily will soon begin representing products — which may include tote bags, throw pillows and prints — to retailers and wholesalers, employing the lessons she’s learned from Compendium’s best vendors.
Dance Happy is more than a job, Julia’s mother Karen Tyler said. “Though Julia is initially shy, she really opens up around people she loves, like Liv and Emily. She likes to dance; the name of the brand reflects that energy. And she loves this creative work. I could envision her doing this for a long time.”