LOWELL, Mich. — “Our mission is not to make a lot of money.”
That’s not your typical mission statement for a business.
But it’s the words of the owner of Ability Weavers, Beryl Bartkus. “Our mission is to provide meaningful employment.”
“Our workforce is really an integrated workforce. We have those with special needs, and those without special needs working side by side, making our products together.”
That unique workforce produces about 100 different items, all woven by hand on old-fashioned looms. The result is a unique selection of towels, rugs, and blankets.
“Hand weaving is the way things used to be made,” Bartkus explains. “Often people will think about the Amish and how they make rugs. We're doing things the same way they are.”
“We think there's a lot of difference between a hand-woven towel and a commercially made one,” she notes. “Ours are 100% cotton, and every thread is thrown through the material, so we actually make the material to make the towel. And the same would be true with the blankets. We make the material in order to make a blanket.”
“Our hand-woven towels and have been really popular because they're super soft.”
The weaving process is the key reason Ability Weavers was started. Bartkus started weaving as a hobby, and it came to mind when her family considered future employment for their daughter, who has autism. “the style of weaving with the type of looms we use would be excellent for her,” she says, “because she likes repetitive motions, repetitive activities, and has really good attention to detail.”
“We always like to focus on our people's ability, not their disability.”
The pandemic shutdown was, as with any business, a significant disruption for Ability Weavers, considering their mission. “Pre COVID, we would have four or five weavers working all at the same time,” says Bartkus. “Right now, we have only one or two weavers sometimes three. We’re beginning to build back up.”
It also shut down the shop’s weaving classes, which are yet to resume.
All products from Ability Weavers are hand-made, and every price tag tells you who made the item.
“We didn't start it up to make money,” Bartkus notes. “For us, it's all about our weavers. Our time here as volunteer, it's really about creating a sense of purpose and employment for others.”