WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTO | ABILITY WEAVERS
When Beryl and Eric Bartkus’s autistic daughter, Erin, was getting close to aging out of her public school program, they wanted to help her find purpose in her life. They knew a traditional job would not work for her, so they asked her principal what other students in her situation had done. They were told that some would push carts at grocery stores or mop floors in a fast-food restaurant and that many would simply go home and watch TV. They wanted more, not only for their daughter but also for others like her.
Eric thought they should consider starting a business that would allow their daughter to be creative. Something that would make her happy and enable her to excel in the workplace while giving her a sense of purpose. As soon as Beryl went to work researching options, weaving “fell in her lap,” as she puts it. While looking for possibilities, she found a loom and taught herself to weave.
That was in early 2016. By Spring Break, they decided to have a weaving camp for their daughter and three of her friends. Everyone had so much fun. It was obvious they had found what they were looking for. By May, they had secured a building, and in July, they opened Ability Weavers.
I think it is safe to say that Erin was, and is, the inspiration for what has now grown into a serious, viable business. After five and a half years, Ability Weavers has sold nearly 2,000 rugs to customers in all corners of the country. After mastering rugs and table runners, they expanded their product line, adding handbags, blankets, dish towels, and more. The towels have become wildly popular, and they have sold thousands.
The weavers begin with rugs and table runners. If they choose, they can work up to creating towels and blankets, which require more focus and dexterity. Erin surprised her mother when she began making towels. Beryl says you can see that it is difficult for her, so, for the most part, she places her focus on rugs. But she is proud to know that she can create towels if she chooses to do so.
Ability Weavers focuses on everyone’s strengths. They are an integrated work site, so not all employees have special needs. Everyone works side by side, supporting one another and offering guidance.
Ability Weavers has 13 floor looms, all set up and ready for a weaver to use at any time. In general, a weaver will complete one project during their 3-hour shift, though very large rugs or more complicated projects take longer.
When you shop at Ability Weavers, you participate in a “twofer of good.” Much of the high-quality materials used in the rugs, table runners, and handbags are byproducts of the furniture, textile, and carpet industry in Western Michigan. If they did not use these materials, most would end up in a landfill. This also allows them to keep their costs down, allowing them to help more people in the community.
Weavers make rugs as small as 6”x6” known as Mug Rugs (coasters). One weaver has been dubbed the Mug Rug Queen because she makes so many. The average rug sold is 2’x3,’ but they can create them up to 8’4” wide and as long as you choose. Every product sold is machine washable, including the rugs. By using high-quality materials, they are also extremely durable.
Ability Weavers is a social enterprise ― a business that is in the business of doing good. As Beryl says, “All profits provide meaningful employment, inclusive of people of all ability levels.”
Beryl stresses that she doesn’t do this alone. Ability Weavers is far bigger than any one person. “Our team currently includes 20 individuals who work and volunteer in our shop. They make up a diverse and fun group.” Beryl believes that every community should have something just like this. A coffee shop, bakery, card shop ― a place where someone is looking out for those who need just a little extra support.
215 West Main St.
Lowell, MI 49331