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Real Life

Willing and able! The eco-friendly company creating jobs for Kiwis with disabilities

If cheerful, motivated workers are what you’re after, these girls tick all the boxes

By India Hendrikse
W ith busy production lines, whirring machines and shelves stacked high with products, the Will&Able factory in Papatoetoe, South Auckland, looks just like any other industrial workshop. But stick around a little while and the extraordinary reveals itself.
Within the first five minutes of our visit, the Woman's Day team is greeted with bubbling enthusiasm from dozens of friendly employees, including Richard, who – without a prompt – declares, "I love coming to work every day!"
For staff at Will&Able, their jobs aren't "just a job". For many, this is the first time they've felt truly accepted – the first time they've been given a sense of purpose.
And certainly the first time they've had the opportunity to make their own money.
The factory has been a great place for Issy (left) and Natasha to make friends.
People with disabilities are three times more likely to be unemployed – and eco-friendly cleaning product business Will&Able confronts the issue head on. Since it launched in 2019, it employs only people with intellectual disabilities and some with physical disabilities too.
One of the stars of our photo shoot, Issy Lim tells us, "When there's no job, I'm not happy. When there is a job, I'm happy." The 29-year-old, who has Down syndrome, is a lively, hard-working employee who prides herself on labelling products and boxes.
Issy's family is a massive support in her life, with her parents dropping her to work each day. She cites her grandmother as her biggest inspiration and mentor.
She's not around any more, but Issy says, "I think of her a lot these days."
When we discuss work, Issy describes herself as "brave and kind", and those are two traits she brings to the factory every day. Asked what her career goals are, she says seriously, "I want to work twice as hard."
Topics such as the Backstreet Boys, makeup and singing light her up, and at one point, she shows off her polka dot-decorated fingernails, which she painted herself.
For her colleague Natasha Astill, Will&Able's sustainable ethos is something she holds close to her heart. "We have to look after the planet because we only have one," the 19-year-old says, referring to the company's vegan laundry detergents and dishwashing liquids, which are packaged inside 100% recycled milk bottle plastic.
"I work one day a week, but I'd love to work more," Natasha smiles, adding that a highlight of her morning is catching up with her friends after she arrives at work in a taxi from her family's East Auckland home.
CEO Martin (middle),with workers Keenasha Tenisio and David Siagian, is committed to hiring more people with disabilities.
Natasha loves socialising, but it's something she's had to learn over the years as she was born with fetal valproate syndrome, a rare condition which leads to difficulty with behavioural and social skills,
as well as anxiety.
"During school, I didn't have many friends, but when I came and worked at Will&Able, I got lots of friends instantly," she enthuses. "It makes me feel more positive and less alone."
Natasha's disability was something she and her twin sister developed in the womb because their mother wasn't warned of the harmful effects of her anti-seizure medication on her developing babies. Natasha says, "My goal is to educate and advocate for others who have been affected with my syndrome. I want to do that as a career. It's important that my voice is heard."
Issy (left) is so happy when she is working
While the Will&Able team is small, company director Martin Wylie is keen to keep expanding so that in three years, he can employ 100 people.
"Every time someone buys a product, which doesn't cost more than a conventional product, they're creating a job for somebody," he says. "It's run as a business but with heart."
Martin's passion for the company comes from personal experience – his 18-year-old son has autism and is non-verbal. Martin wanted to make practical changes for people with disabilities and his hands-on approach is obviously working, with employees calling out hello as he takes us on a tour of the factory.
"I'm deeply committed to finding good outcomes for people with disabilities," says Martin, who provides free tutoring and development courses for staff. Explaining that he now has plans to expand into more supermarkets, he concludes, "We've really taken off – it's going to be large!"
Will&Able is giving Woman's Day readers 20% off! Get your 20% off when you order before midnight 31st July. Use the code WOMANSDAY at checkout at willandable.co.nz

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