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Designing a future in the fashion industry for people with autism

Posted March 11

It started with an appreciation for beautiful clothing. Then, it grew into a desire to create his own fashions. Along the way, Michael Andolsek's passion helped him discover something important about himself.

On a runway at the Grand America Hotel, classic skirts, jackets and dresses accented with jeweled buttons and splashes of color are on display. These are fashions from the creative mind of designer Michael Andolsek.

"I like choosing the fabrics, I like working with the jewelers to design the buttons," says Andolsek.

The interest in fashion started simply enough as Andolsek grew up the only boy with four sisters.

"Clothing was just more of dress-up to us as kids," says Andolsek.

But, at age 15, Andolsek knew he'd found his passion so he dropped out of high school and headed to Paris. There, he says,"I learned some really fine dress-making skills."

He quickly realized he was tailor-made for designing clothing. "I will work on a gown and not take a break or switch to a different task for sometimes 24 hours," says Andolsek.

It turns out Andolsek had some of the classic characteristics of a person with autism, a disorder he was diagnosed with at 21.

"I think most people on the (autism) spectrum are able to really hone in on things. When we do that, it ends up producing great results," says Andolsek.

The results of Andolsek's focus: the creation of his own label plus ready-to-wear and precision women's collections, all designed and manufactured in the United States.

Andolsek says it hasn't been easy. "Building a brand is quite challenging. To get people to recognize your marks and your signatures, you know, is challenging."

But Andolsek has had help tackling this competitive industry. First, he got his family involved. "It has been really amazing to see him just kind of blossom," says Kate Denny, one of Andolsek's sisters.

Andolsek has also hired other autistic designers like Eric Bayerlein to do intricate work. He can't say enough about the quality of Bayerlein's work. "We work hard and Eric takes very few breaks. He does his embroidery and just keeps on going."

These are the strengths Andolsek says autistic adults bring to the workforce. "There's just this intense focus and attention to detail."

Andolsek wants to expand on the talents of autistic adults if his company takes off. "Hopefully, this is just the beginning and guests today (at the fashion shows) were able to see the fine embroidery work done in-house by people with autism."

Salt Lake resident Chandra Bergeson was one of the first to see Andolsek's new lines at one of three fashion shows. She was impressed with the styles and Andolsek's talent. "He does have a great focus and a great attention to detail. You could see that in the buttons and just the way the clothes moved."

The launch of the Andolsek line was symbolically held on March 4 to showcase the ability of people with autism to "march forward" in any pursuit they choose.

"They (audiences) enjoyed it, so we hope that it's a good sign for the future," says Andolsek.

Those interested in looking at Andolsek's collections can see video of the clothing and purchase individual items starting Friday morning.

Email: solney@ksl.com

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