Tuesday May 17, 2022

DDA talks to Autistic Self-Advocate Margaux Wosk

Margaux Wosk is an Autistic person and a staunch self-advocate who runs their own business.



Evan Kelly  0:06  
Welcome to Developmental Disabilities Association's Encouraging Abilities podcast. We're here to chat with members of our neurodiverse community. I'm your host, Evan Kelly. Whether it's talking about new government policies or new business ventures or amazing achievements, you'll find it here. Our guest today is Margaux Wosk. Margaux is a self advocate in the Autistic community, who is an entrepreneur and runs their own, I guess mostly online business with custom made pins, necklaces, buttons, stickers, and more. Under the name Retrophiliac. Check. Welcome to the podcast Margaux.

Margaux Wosk  0:40  
Hi, thank you for having me.

Evan Kelly  0:41  
My pleasure. For sure. Now, right off the top: why the name Retrophiliac?

Margaux Wosk  0:48  
Sure. So I've had this name as my pseudonym for my art for over 11 years, I have a strong love of retro and vintage things. And it basically means a lover of past things. So I'm really into 1960s and 70s. Music, some television shows, the colors, the art, that kind of thing.

Evan Kelly  1:12  
Yeah, there's a lot a lot of great stuff from those periods, of course. For where you live, do you hunt around for retro furniture and things like that?

Margaux Wosk  1:22  
I used to a lot more, my style is kind of evolved a little bit. But I definitely am inspired by, in terms of, you know, seeing art, going to different thrift shops and stuff like that.

Evan Kelly  1:37  
Nice. So, right. And you know, just diving into it your business, what inspired you to get into business for yourself?

Margaux Wosk  1:46  
Honestly, it was out of necessity. I didn't really have a choice. So I was able to fund my first design with the BC Arts Council grant. And from there, I've been able to extend all my offerings. I cannot work for somebody else. No matter how accessible workplaces are made, they're not going to ever be 100% accessible for all people. So I am fortunate enough that I'm in a position where I can mostly support myself and work out of my own home.

Evan Kelly  2:21  
That's awesome. Now, do you do all of this? I checked out your website and you've got a lot of really cool looking stuff. Do you do all of the designing yourself?

Margaux Wosk  2:30  
So what I do is I draw things out either physically or digitally, I do the best I can to get it to the right place. And then what I'll do is I'll usually hire somebody who's fluent in Photoshop or Illustrator, and then they'll go ahead and kind of perfect my images and get them in the right format. So then I can send them off to my manufacturers.

Evan Kelly  2:55  
And how long you've been doing this?

Margaux Wosk  2:59  
Oh my gosh. Well, I've had my online store, at least I've done my enamel pins for probably, I want to say, around four or five years, but I've been making art for my entire life. And I've been Retrophiliac for over 10 years.

Evan Kelly  3:14  
Wow, that's a good, that's a good stretch. Now Margaux is also a dynamo on social media. If you haven't seen it, they're easily find findable on all the main channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, there's a shop on Etsy, you name it. So how much time do you spend on this part of your marketing for the business on the online marketing?

Margaux Wosk  3:36  
I interact with people as much as I can, I don't really have much of a social life, to be honest outside of the internet outside of, you know, my cat and my immediate family. So it's not even necessarily all about marketing. It's really about forming strong connections and kind of, you know, reducing the stigma of what autistic people or people with developmental disabilities, or neurodivergent people, are capable of. And if I'm able to do that, through my advocacy, and my designs and all the different things that I do, then, you know, that makes all those individual interactions so worth it.

Evan Kelly  4:16  
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that that really sounds like you're using social media was what it was ultimately designed for was to make connections and not necessarily just sell stuff. I mean, that that, to me is sort of an offshoot of social media, but but to really build those connections and help spread some awareness. So good for you.

Margaux Wosk  4:34  
Yeah, thank you so much. It definitely has been a wonderful platform. And I'm thankful that we're in this day and age where we can share information and photos and videos so freely.

Evan Kelly  4:45  
Absolutely. Now on top of that, do you do go to any, like, farmers markets or do you have your product in stores as well?

Margaux Wosk  4:52  
So my product is in around I think 12 stores and a handful of them are local. I have some retailers, I have one in Invermere, I have a few in the States. I'm at Make, I think there's a location on Granville Island and they have another location, I'm at Baby Nook or local milk in New West. I'm also at Slice of Life on venables and commercial. And there's probably a few more that I'm forgetting. Okay, Catoro Cafe has some of my cat designs. So definitely, there's the retail channels. And then in terms of farmer's markets, I will be doing the next Made in the 604, which I think is in June or July, at Heritage Hall with my sister, we're actually going to share a table. So that's really cool. So I definitely want to get out and start doing more events. But a lot of the time there is too large of a financial barrier for me to get a table. So I really have to figure out what's gonna work for me.

Evan Kelly  5:55  
Wow, it sounds like you're... How do you keep track of all that? Who do you just keep track of all the stores and stuff that you're in by yourself? Is this the one person show?

Margaux Wosk  6:05  
Yeah, it's pretty much just me. Occasionally, my niece will come over and help me put pins on the business cards that I get for them for getting them ready to be packaged for shops. But other than that, I pretty much do it all alone, if I need to ship some stuff. And I have too much to walk to the mailbox, you know, my mom will occasionally take me to the post office. But for the most part, I would say I do 98% of everything.

Evan Kelly  6:29  
Well, it's pretty inspiring. So how many hours a week are you putting in right now in this business?

Margaux Wosk  6:34  
I have no idea. So I pack orders, like, periodically throughout the day when I get them. You know, there'll be some days that are a lot slower than others. But it's kind of just part of my life. I don't even really track it. You know, I'll sit on the couch with my computer and answer emails or talk to my manufacturers and it's just, it's just part of my livelihood. It really gives me a purpose. So I don't know. I don't even track the time. It's just, it just is my life. 

Evan Kelly  7:04  
It's just who you are. I know a lot of your, of course a lot of your designs being you know, identifying as an autistic person yourself. A lot of your designs focus on autism, autism awareness, is that the main message you want people to hear?

Margaux Wosk  7:23  
So I prefer acceptance over awareness. I think that my items really speak to different people, because I have such a variety. You know, I have the neurodiversity pride items, and neurodiversity, and being neurodivergent encompasses so many different things. And then I do have my autism related items. But then I also have really fun items. And really the message is for people to be proud of who they are to be able to celebrate it. And to be able to support an autistic person as part of their, their journey of being comfortable with self expression. There's so many companies and so many individuals that share very harmful images, and create shirts or items that harm us and that none of the money goes to an autistic person. So it was really important to me to not only lead by example, but I run Made by Autistics Community and Made by Autistics Marketplace on Facebook. And I'm able to really share my knowledge and give people the opportunity to sell and showcase their work because it's not just about me, but it's really about reducing that stigma.

Evan Kelly  8:35  
Yeah, absolutely. It's, and you're painting. I was just actually on your Facebook page and your your painting is so good. Is that is that sort of where it started for you and just into the creative process?

Margaux Wosk  8:47  
Yeah, so I picked up a canvas one day and I only had watercolors and I made some full string. I painted and then I kind of haven't stopped. Right now I'm going through a bit of a creative block, but painting was definitely where it started. But when I was a child, like 12, 13 years old, I was buying and reselling vintage on eBay. So I mean, I have built in, I guess internet marketing business skill that I've always had. So I finally was able to figure out a way to turn my art into designs, and then turn those designs into tangible products. So I'm kind of honing in on all these different skills and I've been able to kind of put them together and do something with it.

Evan Kelly  9:34  
Which is absolutely amazing. I went through your Etsy shop and you're getting tons of rave reviews for your work. How does that make you feel?

Margaux Wosk  9:44  
It's great. I really strive for customer satisfaction. I want all my customers to be happy. So you know if I see a bad review, I'll usually like reach out to the customer see what's wrong, see if I can fix something I've been able to really make people happy. And if something's wrong, I'm quick to fix it. And it's just important to me to maintain that five star rating and just to provide quality products to people.

Evan Kelly  10:15  
Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes in business, they, you know, they say it's not what you're selling, it's your customer relations that really, really drive your business.

Margaux Wosk  10:25  
Yep, it's, I would say it's definitely both. It's a combination of both. And I think if you're able to balance that, and ensure that you're really dedicated and committed to what you're selling, and you believe in it, and you believe that your customers will like it, and will be happy with it, then I think that's really like the secret to success.

Evan Kelly  10:42  
Yeah, that's great. Now, in terms of what you are selling, I mean, you got lots of pins and badges and stickers, and that kind of thing. Are you? Do you see yourself in the future expanding your product depth?

Margaux Wosk  10:54  
Oh, yeah, there's a lot of other things that I would really like to get made. But it's definitely a weighing the pros and cons of that, because I am maintaining pretty much all my stock in my apartment. So I have to think, what do I have room for, what's going to ship out well, and what has good margins for me honestly, and pins are great, because they don't take up a whole lot of room. So I would love to do things like screen printed tote bags with some of my designs and, and little pouches for people to put their fidget toys in or their medication or their makeup in. But, you know, it's all in due time, those things definitely have a higher overall cost. So I just have to figure out how I want to reinvest my money, and how far, and I think about what is actually going to be a smart investment.

Evan Kelly  11:52  
Yeah, exactly. So what do you find is the hardest thing about being self employed?

Margaux Wosk  11:58  
That we don't really matter. Honestly, as you may know, September is BC Disability Employment month, I'm sure you've heard of that. And any of the organizations that have been involved with this, don't really care about self employed people. And it's really upsetting. Like the press release for BC Disability Employment Month, was very upsetting, they didn't even speak to a single disabled person. And they only spoke to organizations that hire us. And I have my own set of problems with that, that I'm not going to get into right now. But I just think people don't think we exist. And to a lot of organizations, there's really no benefit for a disabled person to be self employed, because we cannot make them money in any way. They cannot use our identity to market to people. So it's been frustrating, I actually got so upset that I called the communication specialist for the provincial government. And they may be reaching out to me in August to talk to me, to amend, to create a new press release. So that self employed disabled people are actually included in that conversation, because I firmly believe that having us excluded means that we're never going to get any kind of grant funding, or proper programs in place so that other people can have this opportunity.

Evan Kelly  13:23  
Yeah, absolutely. You need to have that voice there. So I guess, for this question, do you feel there hasn't been enough support in your life to make this kind of a living?

Margaux Wosk  13:36  
Absolutely. And I've heard from other people in the same position that they're like, you know, I really want to work for myself, because I cannot work outside of my home. And I can't, because I don't have any startup funds. And it's sad, because some of the programs that exist out there actively encourage us to take on loans. And I think it's really offensive to expect somebody who is disabled to take on debt. Meanwhile, there was a, I believe, $4.5 million grant given by the government, provincial government or federal, I can't remember, for employment for disabled people. And some of the organizations I spoke to actually let me know that they're not allowed to allocate any of those funds for self employed disabled people. Meanwhile, some of the organizations that are getting that money already have billions of dollars between them. So there's a big inequity going on right now.

Evan Kelly  14:30  
Sounds like there's a very, very big gap. So what sort of what sort of resources would you like to see in place in order to build your business?

Margaux Wosk  14:39  
So it's not only necessarily for my business, but for anybody else. I think that there needs to be grants. I think that there needs to be better mentorship programs. I feel like the programs that exist need to have much less barriers. I think one of the programs that exists, actually expects you to not be in business so that when you take the course, you work on a business plan with them. So for anybody that has a pre existing business or may not qualify for that program, there's really not much out there. I needed help with certain financial things like taxes, understanding duties and imports, PST, income tax, but I have nobody to call on, we need those resources, we also need some subsidies to be able to hire help. Like I would love to be able to hire somebody for like four hours a week and have the government pay for that. I mean they're doing it for really big organizations that can pay for it themselves, but individuals get nothing. I have a friend in Burnaby, who runs their own jewelry shop, and they're chronically ill, and there's no help or support for them either. They would love to subsidize a worker, they would love to have somebody to call on when they have questions. But there's nothing.

Evan Kelly  15:55  
No, obviously, before you started your business, as someone with autism, tell me about your experience in the job world? What are some of the hurdles you faced, and were you successful? Or is it just really, really difficult for you to maintain a job outside of what you're doing.

Margaux Wosk  16:12  
So I think being autistic definitely has led to a lot of barriers for me in terms of my sensory processing difficulties. So I have worked a number of jobs, pretty much all retail, I did some background or extra work in film as well, which wasn't always great, because the environments would constantly change the lighting would sometimes be bad, the ventilation would be bad. And I found that in some retail environments, I got very overwhelmed by the fluorescent lighting, and by some of the smells, and sometimes just being very burnt out from how many social interactions I had to have. And a lot of the time, I felt like these jobs, and these employers didn't see me as a person, they saw me as a number or just not a living and breathing entity. So for me, I just got very depressed and very burnt out. And I just, I was just like, enough is enough, I can't do this anymore. So you know, like I say, as so many of these employers say that they work to achieve accessibility. But many, many times, they're only thinking of physical accessibility, not necessarily mental or like cognitive disabilities and accessibility. So you know, as you can think most places have fluorescent lighting, and I can't be around that. I'm currently in my apartment and all the lights are off. And I have natural light coming in from outside.

Evan Kelly  17:45  
Now, do you feel that society is changing for the better when it comes to meeting the needs of the neurodiverse community?

Margaux Wosk  17:52  
I'm a little bit mixed on that. Some things, some places, some organizations are probably doing the best they can. But some organizations, are all talk, they say they're going to do these things, they say they're going to invest in these things, and they don't. So I think it's entirely or at least, it's up to us, as neurodivergent people to hold these companies and these organizations accountable. Because many of them, and not to sound ableist, but many of them do not believe that we have the mental capacity to speak for ourselves, or to provide feedback. So they kind of do what they think is expected of them. And a lot of the time, I think it's more for how their business looks to customers, versus how it actually impacts and positively affects their employees.

Evan Kelly  18:47  
Right. Yeah, you might be right about that. But businesses aside, what about community in general? How are you feeling these days in 2022, in terms of acceptance for the neurodiverse community?

Margaux Wosk  18:58  
I think it's getting better. But I still think that there's a lot to talk about, and a lot of stigma to still reduce and a lot of people that, you know, if I say I'm disabled, I still get a lot of flack for that. And it shouldn't be that way, because I believe that neurodivergent people have so much to offer. And we have so much to add to the world, that I really wish people as a whole could start seeing us, as you know, members of society who are worthy of equality, essentially. 

Evan Kelly  19:40  
Yeah, and that you have something to contribute and you've got tons and tons of potential.

Margaux Wosk  19:46  
Exactly. And I mean, I don't think we should necessarily be singled out in terms of what neurotypical people have to offer, but I just think we could be better respected and accommodated.

Evan Kelly  19:58  
So switching gears a little bit now you're now the Regional Director for lower mainland West for BC people first That sounds amazing. How did you get involved with this group?

Margaux Wosk  20:08  
So originally a few years ago, they had reached out to me, they wanted me to speak on a panel. And I really enjoyed it. And from there, I just kept, I decided to become a member. And I kept getting involved, and I kept speaking with them. I spoke at the International Day of disability at the art gallery in December, which was amazing to do that in person, I love public speaking. So I just kept being involved. And I really have a dream to be on a board one day. And I love the fact that I get to represent people in this region. And having this title makes me seem a lot more legitimate, because unfortunately, people don't necessarily take us seriously without a title, which is upsetting. But I'm thankful to be part of a really cool, nonprofit organization. And I'm going to be presenting with them at the inclusion BC Everybody Belongs conference. So I'm very excited for that. 

Evan Kelly  21:07  
Yeah, that sounds awesome. Now, obviously, self advocacy is extremely important to you, like you said, you're going to be speaking at this conference. And your topic you mentioned is how to be a better self advocate. Can you talk a little bit about that? And what self advocacy means to you? And how do people get better at it?

Margaux Wosk  21:24  
Sure. So self advocacy means for me is standing up. Self advocacy for me means standing up for yourself and advocating for your needs, and being comfortable enough to speak up about it in whatever capacity that you're able to. And so our presentation is going to really focus on identifying what you're advocating for, and then honing in on different ways of doing that. So whether it's petitions, media coverage, joining organizations, that kind of thing, we're just we're going to - me and two other presenters from the organization are going to lead the participants of the workshop through all those different steps. And hopefully give them the tools or the resources that they need to improve their self advocacy.

Evan Kelly  22:18  
That's great. We're sort of running, running out of time on this now, is there anything else you'd like to add? Or that you feel your audience should know about you?

Margaux Wosk  22:28  
Just that if anybody wants to interact with me that they're more than welcome to and that I'm always, you know, looking for more places to get the word out. So, yeah, if anybody wants to check out my social media, that would be wonderful. And, you know, I'm just happy to be part of the community and to use my voice to help others as well as myself.

Evan Kelly  22:56  
Yeah. And you're just you you're doing a fabulous job, Margaux. They'd like the the art, the quality of the work that you're doing is, is absolutely next level and there's there's no reason why people wouldn't want this up. I love your painting. It's absolutely fabulous. Margaux, thank you so much for joining us today.

Margaux Wosk  23:14  
You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.

Evan Kelly  23:16  
You have been listening to the DDA encouraging abilities podcast. Our guest today was Margaux Wosk, owner and operator of Retrophiliac, an online and social media store where they design pins and badges with messages of self advocacy and autism awareness. You can find the store at shopretrophiliac.com. They are doing a fantastic job with this. Margaux, thank you again for joining us today. And thanks for tuning in for DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast. I'm Evan Kelly.


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