How Kayla is paving the road to her financial independence
To the average pedestrian on Bowral's Bong Bong Street, shop 279 looks like your typical bricks-and-mortar store.
To 24-year-old businesswoman Kayla Alekna, those four walls are so much more than that.
For Kayla, a creative soul living with Down Syndrome, her new shop 279 gives her meaningful work and a chance at financial independence.
The Southern Highlands premises gives Kayla main street exposure to sell a range of bath and body products called Miss K, her candle line Kayla's Candles as well as home decor items - many of which are a labor of love made in her home.
Mother Nicky Alekna, owner of Bowral pop culture store The Sell Block, said the business started as a result of a bad experience with Centrelink.
"When Kayla was 16 our family payments stopped because she got to a certain age, then she was going to get [another] payment," Nicky said.
"We had a phone call from Centrelink for a follow-up and the conversation kind of went 'and when will Kayla's Down Syndrome go away?'. We were like 'excuse me?' Who would actually ask me that question?"
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A frustrated Nicky hung up the phone and her daughter did not receive Centrelink payments for several years.
Kayla's entrepreneurship was born through this experience.
"For a few years Kayla wasn't getting anything and I said 'you've got to do something'. So that's when Kayla started making candles."
The products were originally sold out of The Sell Block and when the store next door was up for lease, the family couldn't let the opportunity slip away.
Nicky and Kayla opened the shop at the beginning of April and have worked hard to spread the word about the business ever since.
Like most new businesses, Nicky said the biggest challenge has been "getting people through the door".
"It's been going really slow. We've got to get our name out there," she said.
The mother and daughter duo hope to draw customers in with products like magnesium sprays, hand-painted vases, jewellery, gemstones and a natural bath and body range.
Kayla adds a touch of humour and personality to her products, particularly her hand-painted canvases, one of which is called Unicorn Fart and another is called Fish Poo.
Nicky hopes once business picks up in a few weeks, the store will become a social enterprise for other people with disabilities.
"We thought in a few weeks we'll see if anyone else in the area with special needs has any artworks. [We'll see] if they want to bring them in and sell them as well," she said.
The move will give other people living with disabilities an avenue to earn money and share their creativity with the community.
According to Down Syndrome Australia (DSA), more than 13,000 people live with the genetic condition, which occurs when there is an extra chromosome in the body.
People with Down Syndrome want and need the same things as everyone else including housing, employment, a role in the community and the company of friends, family and partners.
However they often require additional support to achieve this, as there can be numerous social and financial obstacles.
Fourty-eight per cent of working-age people living with a disability participated in the workforce, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) disability and labor force participation report.
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Only 22 per cent of those with a severe or profound disability were employed.
This was compared to 79 per cent of those without a disability.
People living with a disability were more likely to be underemployed, according to the ABS report.
Discrimination from employers and colleagues was also a factor in labor force participation for workers and job seekers with a disability.
A new range of products is set to hit the shelves and the online stores just in time for Mother's Day.
Kayla's personality is sure to influence the future direction of her products.
Nicky and Kayla are looking into making and selling a range of lipsticks next, including a blue lipstick which is Kayla's favourite colour.