By Mike LaBella
The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) 21 year old Shannon Molloy is an entrepreneur who doesn’t let any physical limitations get in her way, although those limitations do pose a challenge to daily living.
Neither a wheelchair nor having to communicate with an electronic device stopped Shannon Molloy from launching her own business.
She’s the chief designer and decision-maker for “Shannon Mary Sunshine Original Scarf Designs,” a home business she started with help from her mother, Jeanne Molloy, a kindergarten teacher at the Comprehensive Grammar School in Methuen.
From her home in Haverhill, Shannon Molloy designs and sells scarves online and at these four area retail shops: Unique Designs at the Mall at Rockingham Park; Sisters We Three in Newburyport, the Village Pharmacy of Lynnfield and Positive Images Gallery in Haverhill.
She also sells her scarves at area craft fairs, which Shannon loves to attend.
“She’s been doing this since April,” Jeanne Molloy said. “After she creates a design, we scan it and send it to the company in New York City, and they send fabric samples and Shannon decides which ones she likes.”
An engaging, intelligent young woman who happens to have cerebral palsy, Shannon Molloy, 21, is an entrepreneur who doesn’t let any physical limitations get in her way, although those limitations do pose a challenge to daily living.
She has limited use of her arms and legs, but she finds ways of grasping various tools such as paint rollers and sponges to create her designs. She’s nonverbal for the most part, but she can communicate using her eyes. She’ll look to the right to indicate “yes,” and to the left to indicate “no.”
But she has a greater ability to communicate words and phrases with the use of an augmentative communication device called a “Tobii.” A head switch activates words and phrases that are spoken by a synthesized voice.
On weekdays she attends the Children’s Center for Communication at Beverly School for the Deaf, and on weekends she focuses on her growing business.
Her journey into fabric design began with a sewing project with help from her occupational therapist. Then her mother began helping by running fabric through a sewing machine while Shannon controlled the power. Shannon sold scarves she made of preprinted fabric, then turned her attention to designing her own fabric.
She soon came up with 17 different designs of “Infinity” scarves and is currently thinking about expanding and having a line of other products.
As she notes on her website, www.shannonmarysunshine.com, Shannon and her fraternal twin sister Kerry spent much of their time together as children making crafts and painting using a variety of mediums and tools. Shannon, who as a child got the nickname, “sunshine,” continues to use her artistic flair to pursue a career in fabric design, while Kerry broaches her artistic talents through music and theater.
Kerry is also Shannon’s favorite model.
In thinking ahead to graduation next March, Shannon is considering two career paths. One is to be a guest reader for young children and the other is to become a fabric designer.
Both of these career paths require Shannon to use assistive technology and modified tools. She uses a head switch to access a communication device in order to choose colors and the painting technique she wants to utilize to create her designs.
She uses paint, a paint roller, shaving cream, food coloring, tissue paper, spray bottles, marbling, and sponges to create beautiful, abstract, colorful designs on plain paper or canvas. Once she’s satisfied with a design, she scans the image to create a digital file she then emails to Sano Design Services, a fabric printing company in New York City.
That company then sends her five fabric samples, each a variation on her original design. Once she approves the final design, she’ll order one completed scarf, then will decide on whether to add that design to her collection.
“If she doesn’t like it, I keep it and get to wear it,” her mother said with a smile. “It is a costly project, but it’s given her a lot of confidence. She loves the whole idea of running a business and making decisions.”
Shannon gets quite creative in coming up with names for her scarves, such as Bubble Blast, Radiance, Cotton Candy, Purple Passion and Pastel Paradise. She typically orders anywhere from 50 to 100 scarves per pattern. Every order she receives means having to package and ship them out.
Any profit Shannon makes goes into purchasing children’s books from Scholastic. Shannon hands them out at reading events she holds at places such as the Nevins Library in Methuen, the Professional Center in Andover (a school for children with special needs), at her school and elsewhere.
The goal for next summer is to hold one reading event every week or every other week.
Asked how she feels about having her own business, Shannon selected the words “excited” and “happy” from a list displayed on her computer screen.
Asked if she wanted to sell her scarves in department stores, she responded, “no,” but then responded with a resounding “yes” when asked if she wanted to continue selling them at craft fairs, where she can meet her customers in person.
“Aside from designing, she loves going to craft fairs,” her mother said. “She also loves meeting store owners in person.”
Shannon signs contracts with a name stamp, which she also uses to endorse her business checks.