Cape Cod woman with autism turns mask-holder creations into online business

CAPE COD — Bead by bead and stitch by stitch, Elena Coln is making a nice nest egg for herself, selling crochet and beaded items on Etsy and at several Cape Cod stores.

The 23-year-old lives on the Cape and has a job coach through Cape Cognitive Behavioral Institute. Clinical Director Dr. Kristen Mulcahy says Coln has a natural gift when it comes to crafting, combined with business savy.

“Elena is amazing at just coming up with these creative ideas kind of based on what’s trending and what’s needed,” said Dr. Mulcahy.

Coln started creating lanyards, but it wasn’t until another therapist suggested that she make mask holders, that her hobby-turned-business really started taking off.

Maura Wright, a speech and language pathologist at the Riverview School in East Sandwich, worked with Coln over the summer. She said Coln mentioned she needed some new products to sell on Etsy.

“Boom......COVID silver lining,” Wright said. “My kids were getting ready to go back to school, and I had previously seen mask holders as a new ‘thing.’ I wanted to get some for my kids and instantly thought of Elena.

“When she was at Riverview she was always making beaded bracelets [and] necklaces for staff...I thought she could just make them longer and call them a mask holder. I spoke with my colleagues at Riverview before pitching the idea to Elena to make sure that there would be enough people to buy them so that it was worth her while. Well, one mention of a new Elena product got everyone excited, and I was able to get her about 10 orders right off the bat,” said Wright.

Coln sells the mask holders and the other crafts on her Etsy store Elena C’s Creations.

“I love mask holders because it helps people stay safe during COVID,” Coln said.

She manages her Etsy page herself, decides what to make and sell, and handles the business. She also recently started selling her masks to a local Osterville boutique, Bella.

Coln has sold her crafts at Fox and Kit Children’s Boutique in Mashpee Commons, 1856 Country Store in Centerville, and Parcels at the Liberty Tree Mall, a store started by the Northeast ARC.

Body Armor Outlet, a company in New Hampshire that sells personal protective equipment (PPE), gear and uniforms to first responders, has ordered 100 mask holders.

“At this point, she is 100% independent,” said Dr. Mulcahy. “So she takes all of the photos of her product, she uploads them to her Etsy store, she packages all of her deliveries, she always puts in a personalized hand written note with all of her packages, she will ride her bike or walk to the post office, and deliver them.

At this point, even in terms of networking with other businesses, she will tell her coach to just wait in the car.”

So what’s Coln’s advice for other people with autism or other challenges who have a potential business idea?

“I would encourage them. I would say go for it. And it’s really fun, and it’s a good way to make money,” she said.

Her therapists are proud, too.

“I am so proud of her that it truly brings tears to my eyes,” Wright said.

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