As we continue our focus on autism this month, I want to shine the light today on my friend Denise Hazen who started Aspire Accessories with her son, Nick.
The organization was founded in 2011 and now operates as a program of Social Motion Skills, which we featured here on the blog last week. The artisans of Aspire create beautiful handcrafted accessories in their studio here in Houston. I am thrilled to feature their necklaces and bracelets in my boutiques and online.
What I love about Aspire Accessories and Social Motion Skills is that their programs bring these kids together in a productive, fulfilling way while also creating a community and fostering friendships. In this video, Denise shares how she really honed in on her son’s strengths and that is what inspired her to start Aspire.
Read on to get to know the lovely and creative Denise Hazen!
ET: Tell us about Aspire Accessories and who it serves?
DH: Aspire Accessories is a program dedicated to teaching young adults with autism and similar special needs transferable business skills. We currently have 16 Aspire Artisans ranging in age from 20–34 years. The workshop provides an environment to learn meaningful and transferable skills while they are coached, mentored, trained and paid fair wages.
ET: When did you start the organization and what was your inspiration?
DH: I began Aspire Accessories about six years ago with my son, Nicholas, who is on the autism spectrum. I knew Nick had a special talent for detail work so we began working with a leather craftsman making leather bracelets. The popularity of the bracelets began to catch on and soon I was in need of other artisans. Nick’s classmates began to help in the production and post-production of the bracelets. What began as a mother-son endeavor has now become a thriving workshop where we design, make and sell leather accessories and home décor and employ people with disabilities that are capable of work and who want to work.
I have to say the surprise gift of Aspire Accessories is the community these artisans have created. My son now has a real group of friends.
ET: How did you and Wendy Dawson of Social Motion Skills join forces?
DH: I met Wendy soon after she formed Social Motion Skills. I was desperate for social programs for Nick and they provided that for us. Wendy and her staff were early supporters of Nick and his bracelets. In fact, on Fridays Nick would go to the SOMO office and create his bracelets in a makeshift workshop they set up for him. They were also responsible for the introduction to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Merchandise Committee that transformed Aspire from a hobby to a business.
Wendy and I had always wanted to join forces and in late 2015 the time was right for both of us. We had a tremendous first year together and we expect even greater growth this year. I am so blessed to be part of an organization that believes that we can make a positive change in the lives of these incredible people.
ET: Tell us about the range of responsibilities of the Aspire employees?
DH: Each artisan is taught one skill at a time and as they master the skill they are introduced to a new one. They participate in pre-production, production, and post-production of products, manage inventory, and participate in sales transactions.
They are taught skills such as setting rivets, hand sewing leather bags, hand stamping leather, heat embossing and working the hydraulic press to cut out leather shapes. They are also taught the processes needed in making custom jewelry, key chains, handbags and other leather goods.
At Aspire Accessories we find the strengths in each Artisan and find meaningful work for all.
ET: What is your favorite piece from the Aspire Collection and why?
DH: My favorite piece in the Aspire collection with Elaine Turner has to be the BB necklace. Nick is one of the artisans who patiently braids each necklace. I love how this necklace can be layered with beads, worn as a choker or tied loose and flowing. There are so many ways to wear it, depending on your mood.
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