Angeline Francis Khoo is the founder of Rosie On Fire, a fashion company dedicated to hiring people with autism into roles that play to their strengths. She said was inspired to provide these opportunities after seeing her siblings, who are on the autism spectrum, overlooked in the job market.
“We do this by focusing on creating long-term commercial partnerships with marginalized people who have skills, which we believe is the way to bring about real sustainable change in someone’s life. We are very clear that this isn’t charity, it’s a fair commercial trade that’s beneficial to all parties involved,” Angeline said.
In addition to an artisan program where a number of garments are stitched by underprivileged women, Rosie on Fire also runs various programs that give people with autism the opportunity to get involved in areas of the business that suits their skills. Currently, this includes stock handling, order fulfillment, and marketing. They’ve also just created a series of short internships programs where people with autism can work at their popup to gain experience, which can potentially lead to part-time or full-time roles.
London (Paddington), Victoria (Canada), and in Kuala Lumpur.
Angeline said one of her biggest accomplishments includes assembling a team that shares the same values. “They are driven commercially, but also share the same care and compassion for each other, and beyond. Having a socially responsible team is what enables Rosie On Fire to create and execute our autistic initiatives,” she said.
Angeline said she also includes empowering her little brother diagnosed with autism with life skills on her list of accomplishments. Angeline started by creating a small eBay business for Alex and then enrolled him in classes that helped equip him with the skills and training needed to employ him within Rosie On Fire.
Angeline said she is inspired by people who face adversity or hardships and not only overcome them but thrive. “My little brother is an inspiration to me. It’s the motivation behind why I advocate for inclusion of autistic people. I can see how our lives have diverged because he didn’t have access to the same opportunities I did. We’re all born without control to what those opportunities are, so if you’ve been fortunate enough to have any sort of privilege, enjoy it, but there’s also a responsibility to pass on opportunities to others,” she said.
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Angeline said one of her main goals is to expand autism and other outreach programs to become 20% of their workforce. “However, we value meaningful impact rather than statistics, which means that if we can effectively change one person’s life by providing opportunities otherwise unavailable to them, that’s a significant accomplishment to us.”
Angeline said one of Rosie On Fire’s core values is personal development, so that’s an ongoing goal. “Having a diverse business is important to us, as it provides exposure which makes a more rounded person and employee,” she said.
Lastly, Angeline said the company aims to showcase the commercial benefit that comes from hiring people with autism. The decision to provide opportunities for diverse people is also a commercial decision. “They have strengths that come naturally to them, such as being detail-oriented and responsible, because they like structure and routine and can be very focused. Our business has benefited from this, and it something we want to be clear about. Our initiatives aren’t handouts, because that’s not what people need. They need empowerment through opportunity,” she said. People with autism have skill sets that are often unique that they excel in, and contribute to the bottom line of a company, Angeline said.
Advice for families affected by autism:
Angeline said if there are parents who are worried about the future of their child, try not to feel too discouraged as there are organizations, and increasingly so, that are committed to diversity and inclusion of people with autism. “I understand the worry, and I know my own mum has the same for her kids with disabilities. She wants to know that they’ll be okay. Once starting my journey as an entrepreneur and doing research in this area, I’ve personally been really encouraged to see the progress and initiatives that there are out there already in place.”
This article was featured in Issue 77 – Achieving Better Health with ASD