Meet the Moms Who Started a Soap Company to Employ Their Sons Who Have Autism
When a doctor gave Pat Miller her son’s autism diagnosis, Pat asked, “Now what?” The doctor responded, “Now, you fight.” And she has been fighting for her son, John, every day since. So much so, in fact, that when she realized John’s employment opportunities would be limited, she left her career to start a company that would provide him with meaningful work.
Pat and her friend, Pam Kattouf, whose son Justin also has autism, started Beloved Bath, a soap company that makes scented soaps, candles and other home products. But their real mission is to give John, Justin and others with autism work they can enjoy and be proud of.
“A large percentage of young adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed. It’s a staggering number,” Pat says. What’s more, it can be difficult for those with autism to find meaningful employment. Pam discovered this while researching a vocation for Justin; one job she observed involved employees with autism wiping down television cables with alcohol wipes. “It was the most depressing thing,” Pam recalls. “It was just a made-up job, and the alcohol smelled terrible.”
THE POWER OF SCENT
Pat and Pam had noticed for some time how scents affected their sons. Pam discovered the positive effects of scent after winning a lavender foot bath at an autism fundraiser years ago. “I gave Justin the bath, and it was amazing,” she says. Pam passed the word on to Pat, who then gave John a lavender bath. “Within a half hour he went to bed, which was unheard of,” Pat recalls.
When they first started, they made soap in Pam’s kitchen. There were a lot of fits and starts as they tested and learned how to make the right scents and products. Over time, they landed on products they were proud to sell. “Our scents are phthalate-free, which means they aren’t artificial smelling and won't give you a headache,” Pam says.
The community learned about their mission and pitched in at cost or for free. A local printer gives them free design advice and discounted labels. Pam’s brother built them a website. Pat's older son even bought them a big melting pot that they use to make their candles, saying he wanted to be an early investor.
“We couldn’t even take online payments at the start. People used the website just to tell us what they wanted,” Pam said. When one of Pam’s long-time friends ordered 40 boxes of soaps, Pam would wake up in the middle of the night to do work before getting her kids off to school.
GROWING THE BUSINESS
Pat still remembers the phone call from Pam: “She said, ‘I can’t do this by myself. There are so many orders!’” That's when they decided to start an LLC — and that’s when Pat also realized that she could quit her job and make Beloved Bath her full-time work. “It’s a dream job. I get to work with my son and make beautiful products that make people happy,” she says.
Pat and Pam turned a second kitchen in Pam’s house into their soap and studio. “We cleared it out, put in some inexpensive flooring and shelving and painted it bright colors,” Pam recalls.
RELATED: Pam and Pat’s story was the inspiration for one of Northwestern Mutual’s TV commercials:
Word was getting out in the autism community about their business. A friend of Pat’s older children had autism and was struggling, so he came to work with them as the business grew. Then they added employee after employee to help with everything from making the soaps to boxing the products. One employee, Kelly, told them she wished she could work there every day. Another, JP, measured and cut ribbons for the packaging, and he loved the work so much that he once woke up in the middle of the night to get ahead. Pat remembers the call from JP’s mom relaying the story. “She said, you can’t believe how much this kid loves working for Beloved Bath.”
PLANNING FOR WHAT’S NEXT
As the business grew and Pam and Pat started to think about expanding into a new space, the two decided to meet with Tom Canale, a Northwestern Mutual financial advisor who works with families that have children with special needs.
In addition to talking about expanding the business, Tom helped Pam and Pat think through things like succession planning and how they could pay employees with special needs in a way that didn’t jeopardize their government benefits, among other planning topics.
“I tend to be someone who puts my head in the sand when it comes to thinking about the future. But Tom helped me think about tomorrow in a way that wasn’t so scary,” Pam says. For Pat, the conversation was equally as freeing. “It’s helped me feel more empowered about our ability to take the business to another level and not be afraid,” she says.
Pam and Pat are hoping to expand in the coming weeks into the new space, which will allow them to further grow the business and bring on more workers in a safe way. Their plans include partnering with schools to bring in young adults with autism for vocational training.
BELOVED BATH’S MISSION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
While the pandemic has affected Beloved Bath — like so many other businesses — the company is lucky enough to have had a very strong year. But the pandemic has had a huge impact on people with disabilities. Many of the jobs held by people with disabilities have gone away, schools went virtual and support programs closed.
That reality has fueled Pat and Pam’s fighting instinct. “No matter how committed we were to our mission before, it’s more so now,” Pam says.
Related: Learn more about special needs planning with Northwestern Mutual
The testimonials presented may not be representative of the experience of other clients and are not a guarantee of future performance or success.
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