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Meet Wendy Garafalo of IAM-LOVE.org in Carlsbad

Today we’d like to introduce you to Wendy Garafalo.

Wendy, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My son Luca was diagnosed with Autism just after his fourth birthday. At the time, he was obsessed with letters and fonts. He taught himself how to read and wanted to know how to write every font. It used to take us forever to get down an aisle of the grocery store because Luca wanted to stop at each package and figure out the font. There was one style of writing that used to drive him crazy. He’d get really frustrated when words were written on glass doors or windows. It frustrated him because when you walked to the other side, the word would be reversed. After about a month of talking about this concept, he finally accepted it and moved on.

Or so I thought. A few days later, he was writing with chalk in our backyard. He was writing the word LOVE on the garden boxes. But he was writing it in reverse. I came out with a towel and said ‘hey buddy, let’s erase this and I’ll help you write it the right way’. He stopped me and he said ‘No Mama, it’s not wrong. I wrote it that way so the plants could read it from the inside’.

I froze and the tears started to well in my eyes. It was in that moment that I realized I needed to look at autism differently. My little boy wasn’t here for me to change, or mold into something society told me was ‘right’. My little Luca came to teach me. In that one moment, he taught me the power of words, and the intention we put behind them. He reminded me that to LOVE myself is the greatest gift I can give. It shouldn’t matter what the world thinks, all that matters is how much we LOVE who we are.

And so, our brand EVOL was born. I have a background in marketing and I’m also a yoga teacher. A few days after Luca wrote EVOL, I knew I needed to share his story and his message of LOVE. So, I started a website and I started making bracelets. It was the simplest way to distribute and share his message. I’ve since come a long way in my jewelry making! Then with Luca’s help, we began designing shirts and hats with LOVE written in reverse. When you see your reflection, you are reminded to LOVE. It doesn’t matter if you have a big zit on your face, or if you usually judge your weight or complexion. All that matters is in that moment you send yourself LOVE.

And slowly, it becomes a habit, seeing LOVE instead of flaws. Because our journey with autism is unique, we wanted to share our story, our brand and our vision to show that everything that makes us different, also makes us beautiful. Including autism. So, we donate a percentage of every sale to Autism Tree Project Foundation, a local charity that has several programs that help kids with autism. We share a vision with them, to help kids with autism thrive.

We have a new project in the works, called the Upcycle Project. Part of raising a child with autism involves a lot of worrying about the future. And beyond worrying about him, I also worry about the condition of the planet. So, this project was born… I’ve been scouring local thrift shops in San Diego and Los Angeles and collecting the softest coolest t-shirts I can find. Luca is again helping me design words and fonts that we are painting on to these shirts. We are giving them a new life, and a new chapter filled with LOVE.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Definitely not. Not knowing anything about starting or running a business gave us some challenging moments. One moment was navigating a trademark for LOVE written in reverse, with a heart for the V (exactly how Luca wrote it).

Not having the capital to use, I tried to do everything myself. So, I filed for the trademark on my own. I researched for weeks! After filing, It was suggested that I hire a trademark attorney to help with any bumps in the road. The attorney looked at my filing and said: “I’m about 99% sure you will be denied”. So, I began working on a new logo, but we still held out hope.

About a month later, I got a call from my attorney. She said, I can’t believe this, but they are accepting your trademark! I was elated! Also, navigating being a parent to a child with autism and a neurotypical child (I have 2 kids), has its challenges. Some days, I don’t get any time to myself until the kids go to bed. So, for the first year, our business was running, my working hours were from 8-Midnight. I have to keep my eye on Luca and always be ready to de-rail a meltdown.

Some of his meltdowns aka tantrums would last for 2 hours. That was at the beginning of our diagnosis. The moment he wrote LOVE on the garden boxes and my perspective changed, he started to change. I started appreciating him for all the lessons he was teaching me. And I think he felt my shift and loved sharing his life and mind with me.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We specialize in shifting perspective. I make very unique jewelry pieces with meaningful stones and beads. It’s my therapy. And each piece has a little message from Luca. Some say EVOL, some say EVOL MA I (I AM LOVE). But each piece is a unique reminder of the differences that make us beautiful and the power we have when we LOVE who we are.

We also create unique shirts and hats with messages of LOVE written in reverse. When you see your reflection, you are reminded that it doesn’t matter the color of your skin or your age or your weight. All that matters is that you LOVE yourself.

Our ability to give back makes me proud. To date, we’ve donated over $6,000 to help kids with autism. Our donations help preschoolers receive free screenings to catch signs of autism at an early age. I’m also so incredibly proud of my kids and how they have embraced our brand and our mission. We do yoga together and meditations. And I love that when they see themselves in the mirror, they can proudly say I LOVE YOU.

What were you like growing up?
Its funny, when I had the inspiration to start this business, I looked back at all the jobs and experiences I’ve had. It feels like every job, every challenge prepared me for this. I was very shy and always concerned with how I looked. I thought my looks were the only things that people valued. So, I struggled with acne, with body image, with eating disorders. I was always involved in dance, so very active, but very insecure.

It took moving away from my hometown and establishing myself in a big city, Los Angeles, to figure out who I was. In my early 20’s I found Yoga, and it was a game changer. By 30 I had just graduated with a degree in Journalism, I also became a yoga teacher and had a great job in marketing. Falling in love, getting married and having 2 kids, made me feel even more confident in who I am.

And then getting a diagnosis, like autism, at first deflated me. But I think in order to fill up, you first have to deflate and let go of all your expectations. Now, I wouldn’t change that diagnosis for anything. It doesn’t define my son, instead, it helps me connect and communicate with him. He’s brilliant, wise and my guru for this life.

Pricing:

  • Jewelry $25-$60
  • Hats $14-$20
  • Shirts $14-$30

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Shelby Friedman

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