#AutisticAllies, Part Two: Custom Ink

Many people on the autism spectrum struggle to find work, and when they do, they worry about how their autism will impact the company’s culture. I am proud to say that working at Custom Ink has been the best experience of my professional career by far.

Custom Ink, known initially for t-shirts (and it’s insanely cute octopus logo nicknamed Inky) and I almost never interacted. In 2019, I was scrolling indeed, and kept coming across sponsored Ads for a job at Custom Ink’s Annapolis Store. Literally every time I logged in to Indeed, an ad for the part-time store representative would greet me. At the time, I was working part-time at Soma Intimates and for an ebay reseller based out of the Savage, MD area. When the latter let me go for no fault of my own, I decided to apply for Custom Ink.

I was unemployed for a total of 9 days. My interviewer took a risk in hiring me almost on the spot, but the results speak for themselves: top indirect sales for part-time store reps at Annapolis, and later when I joined the phone team full-time, I would be number 3 for overall sales for the entire phone team. If risks had not been taken on a young, bright autistic girl with big ideas and a stutter, it’s hard to say where my life would have ended up.

For my life, I like to say two things: all roads lead to Goucher and Custom Ink.

In college, I met my core group of friends.  I met my best friends there. The ones who would love me unconditionally, would stand by me when someone I thought was a friend tried to turn everyone else against me, raise my spirits whenever I was down, provide lots of laughter, and dirty jokes. When we reconvened in August of 2019 (right after I accepted my job at Custom Ink) we got along as if no time had passed. No matter how long we go between conversations, every meeting and interaction is golden, is held dear. We laugh just as deeply, love just as deeply as we did in our college days.

I always wanted to find the connection I had with my college friends in a work environment. I yearned for a work environment that felt like family. With Custom Ink, I found that. When I log in each day, I feel an immense sense of pride to be here at 32, living with my proudly autistic self, coaching others through their uncertainties, and lifting up my fellow Inkers.

While I am proud of all that I have accomplished–the sales metrics, the promotions, and the improvements with accuracy–what I am most proud of is that I’ve helped many coworkers realize that neurodiversity is a truly joyful thing to behold. I’d get rid of all the accolades, all the WOWs if I could spend the rest of my working life coaching Inkers and lifting them up.

I never would have had this opportunity if a recruiter hadn’t taken a chance on me. With previous interviews, people heard the stutter and (wrongfully) concluded I was not up for the task. When I first started on the phones, I refused to let my stutter be the elephant in the room either with coworkers or customers. There was one interaction in particular that I loved. A middle-aged woman called in, and was nervous because she had a stutter just like me. I comforted her, and told her about my journey and said, “We’ll stumble through it together, just take a deep breath.” It was the most positive customer service interaction this woman had ever had, and the first time in her life where a customer service representative had not shamed for her stutter.

So, why is Custom Ink such a great place to work? Don’t just take my word for it. Custom Ink is frequently voted one of the top places to work.

Here are my favorite things about my company:

  1. Custom Ink asks Inkers to show up as the people they are, not who they were raised to be. If there’s one thing I learned working at Custom Ink while in therapy for childhood trauma, overcoming a stutter, and pursuing a diagnosis of autism it’s that Inkers are resilient. We are asked to show up, do the work, and treat our coworkers and customers with the respect they deserve. For me, this manifested in getting to know who my coworkers were beyond their job title and skillset. Sometimes, it meant telling them what I thought their strengths were, rather than what they saw themselves. I love being someone’s mirror and showing them that their perceptions of their flaws are often not reality. When we’re vulnerable, we thrive. I feel like I’ve changed so many times, in so many ways during my three years here. Each new iteration has been met with the same curiosity, the same respect that I was given on day one.
  2. Whenever I went to management with a concern, I was treated with dignity and respect, and they helped me create a plan. Custom Ink uses a flag system to help Inkers find ways to improve, and for those of us who grew up with mistakes weighing heavily on our self-worth, changing to a learning mindset can be tough. When I was having issues with overall accuracy, I went to my Associate Manager and we doubled down on a plan. No one at Custom Ink ever shamed, belittled or spoke down to me when giving feedback, which sets them apart.
  3. When I was diagnosed with autism, suddenly a lot unlocked for me. I found that I learn best with open-captions. For my ADHD, having audio and subtitles simultaneously helps me thrive. I can’t get distracted as easily with the dual inputs. I also learned that having as many of my tools in one place as possible helped me thrive, too. So I took the opportunity to create a tracker for Inkers with anxiety and autism.
  4. I met some of the best people in my life here, and I thank the universe for that every day. The pandemic allowed us the opportunity to partner with coworkers who were not in the same area. This allowed me ample opportunities to network with different departments and to get to know people who don’t live near me. A coworker who lives in Reno will be in my bridal party, and I cannot wait for next October so that I can FINALLY hug this girl in person!
  5. Our benefits! Custom Ink has afforded me the ability to tackle my complicated health issues. When I first started in 2019, I was a shell of the person I am now. Through tackling the challenges of living with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, C-PTSD, and Klippel-Feil Syndrome I am happy to say that I am healthier than I ever thought possible.
  6. Fun fact: Inky, the CEO (Marc Katz), and I share a birthday (July 22) If that wasn’t the universe giving me a sign, I don’t know what is!

If you want to work for a company that truly feels like family, check out open positions here.

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