10 Minutes With: Collettey's Cookies
If you haven't already heard of Collettey's Cookies, you will soon! Collette's Boston-based business now has interest across the globe and it's still expanding. Next year, a documentary about her company, by filmmaker Mary Mazzio, will lead the way to the White House where Collette is slated to fight to abolish the subminimum wage law and develop a policy that’s encouraging for companies to hire individuals with disabilities. Now a successful entrepreneur, Collette is fighting for inclusion, especially in the workplace. Of her own employees, half have disabilities, like Collette herself who was born with Down Syndrome.
We met with her and her mother (and employee!) Rosemary for a chat about how Collettey's Cookies came to be, share a few laughs at some of their favorite flour-filled memories and hear about the real change that Collettey's Cookies is bringing about.
MTEAM: Tell us a bit about yourself.
COLLETTE: My name is Collette. I’m 27-years-old. I am from Connecticut. I was born with Down Syndrome. Now I’m living in Boston. One of the things I love to do is baking. I love to bake. A second thing I love to do is going to church. I like to go to concerts. And I love to take walks. I go to the gym. I take self defense and swimming.
MTEAM: When did you start Collettey’s Cookies and why?
COLLETTE: I love to bake. Since I was in high school, I have been taking baking classes. I started my company in 2011.
ROSEMARY: The reason she started it in high school…
COLLETTE: ...is because it makes me feel good!
ROSEMARY: Also, the friends that she had most of her life, because we lived in a small town, just started branching away from having a relationship with Collette and Collette would come home and say, "I don’t know what I did to them, I feel like I’m invisible… It was a really, really, hard time. High school was a very hard time for Collette. She found satisfaction and happiness in baking. She used to bake us all kinds of things and then she made this one cookie which is her famous cookie now. We just said, “This is a really good cookie. You should write down the recipe and maybe you want to start your own business." We started to egg her on to start her own company, to empower her.
COLLETTE: Since I got accepted to a math program at Clemson University, I decided to shut my business down then and just be a college student.
ROSEMARY: I don’t think she had intentions of opening it back up to be honest with you. I think when she graduated Clemson, she was really excited to move to the city of Boston and find a job working in the financial district, working for a big company. She was really excited about that, but it didn’t work out.
COLLETTE: Because of me having disabilities.
ROSEMARY: People interviewed her like crazy, but nobody would hire her. That was a really tough time because she was thinking, "When will I be accepted? I went to college and I lived on my own. I moved to a city." She started baking again, so I said to her, "Why don’t you go to that little market that you like in North Boston and bring some of those cookies that are so good and see if they’ll sell them?"
MTEAM: How is Collettey’s Cookies helping to make the world a more inclusive place?
COLLETTE: It’s really about hiring people with a disability.
ROSEMARY: She’s empowering people. She also wrote a workshop to teach other people to become an entrepreneur, so she’s going around and teaching that at different organizations and schools. She’s speaking a lot. Every day of the week, she’s speaking somewhere. She’s speaking at Hill Holiday. She’s speaking at University of Connecticut. She’s going to be at the Massachusetts Women’s Conference where there will be 12,000 attendees. I think she’s bringing a tremendous amount of awareness to how somebody who has a disability can be extremely valuable in the business community.
MTEAM: How many people are on your staff now?
COLLETTE: Now, I have 13 employees altogether and half of them have disabilities.
MTEAM: If there are other businesses who would like to be more inclusive but aren’t sure where to begin, what would you advise them?
COLLETTE: I would say focus on their abilities, recognize their abilities. People with disabilities can contribute and can be extremely valuable to an environment.
ROSEMARY: They can also bring out the best in people. There’s no doubt about that.
MTEAM: Collettey’s Cookies has already been an international success. What’s next? Where do you go from here?
COLLETTE: I can picture my company hiring more employees with disabilities and I’d like to grow globally.
ROSEMARY: To grow globally, she has some companies who have already spoken to her who are interested in a partnership. We would never have thought global, but they’re coming to us. So the goal now is to grow globally, to get enough awareness and support in sales and revenues to be able to do that. And honestly it’s very east to do with some very large market chains that want to back the initiative. We already have one in the United States and might have another one in Canada. The other thing is that Collette has a documentary starting this fall. She’s already working with a couple of organizations on that. At the end of the documentary, she’s going to be headed to Washington to try to get the subminimum wage abolished and to develop a policy that’s encouraging for companies to hire individuals with disabilities, like tax incentive. That’s the really big picture on where we’re taking this. The documentary comes out in 2019. It’s railroading right down to Washington. It’s already expected. It’s really cool.
MTEAM: Does it have a title yet?
ROSEMARY: We don’t know! This documentary producer is very well known. Her name is Mary Mazzio. She has had a couple of private screenings at the White House with her shows. Her last show was just screened in the White House and they actually had a policy created because of her movie. Trump signed right off on it. So she’s pretty amazing.
COLLETTE: She’ll name it. I’m going to have a lot of cameras here in Boston everywhere I go!
ROSEMARY: Are you going to be running around steeling ice cream?
COLLETTE: That was me back then, not me now!
ROSEMARY: That’s one of Collette’s favorite sayings.
MTEAM: We heard you’re working on a collaboration with John’s Crazy Socks soon - another entrepreneur who was born with Down Syndrome. Can you tell us a bit about it?
COLLETTE: Yes, I am!
ROSEMARY: It’s still in dialogue. We’re not going to do it over the summer yet because it’s not really a big time to hype out a new partnership. We’re trying to put together some kind of a gift that involves a fun pair of their socks and cookies dipped in milk.
MTEAM: Is there anyone else you would really love to collaborate with in the future?
COLLETTE: Yes, there is one: Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream!
ROSEMARY: From the get-go, a collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s has been Collette’s dream - to see a collaboration between their ice cream and her cookie and put all of the money into creating more jobs. That would be her ultimate dream. She would be so happy.
COLLETTE: We tag them on everything - Twitter, Facebook… I love their ice cream. My favorite is Cherry Garcia. And The Tonight Dough. And Chunky Monkey.
MTEAM: What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurial people born with Down Syndrome if they have big dreams but aren’t sure where to start?
COLLETTE: Design a business card, design a logo, a website, invoices and other things too. Get a good social media presence, PR and marketing. Develop a business plan and get a director of operations.
MTEAM: Share a favorite memory that you’ve experienced while running Collettey’s Cookies!
COLLETTE: First of all, since we have been in the kitchen making big batches of cookies, my mom made a big mess with flour all over us. She put the mixer so high up, it created a snow storm!
ROSEMARY: I’m not a baker. If I’m in there, I have to be chaperoned!
COLLETTE: I have a friend Alex who works for me now. We were making a big batch of the dough. She was in front of me doing the eggs. I hate pouring egg by egg into the dough. It makes me gag.
ROSEMARY: She cracks about 40 eggs into one big bowl and with the sound of them dropping — glub, glub, glub… she walks out of there gagging. We all laugh about that.
COLLETTE: It’s so funny. We have good memories. We laugh seriously.
ROSEMARY: We play tricks on people who take life too seriously.
COLLETTE: We have a lot of fun: baking, laughing, teasing, music.
MTEAM: What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about Down Syndrome?
COLLETTE: Being born with Down Syndrome is not always easy on people, especially when they try to find jobs. I wish that everyone knew that Down Syndrome people make great friends. They’re very funny too.
ROSEMARY: Sassy! Every person I’ve met with Down Syndrome is very sassy.
COLLETTE: She met me, so…! Two things to know: One is that they are very outgoing. The second is that they have good relationships.
MTEAM: Do you think we can change the way the world sees disability? Why or why not? Share a few of the simpler ways that the world could be changed by individuals or small groups of people.
COLLETTE: Hmm. I hope so!
ROSEMARY: I think so. I think the impact that Collette’s making, that’s gone across the world, has shown us that that people are open, aware and now kind of interested. I think that because the disabilities population is getting larger and larger and larger, it is a topic closer to many people’s homes now. You either know somebody or it’s in your own family. Especially with autism which is growing so quickly, I think the whole world is trying to shift a little bit and trying to figure out how does this society and these communities blend? What’s the best way to help all of these kids blend without making them feel like they have to be like the typical population, so that they’re accepted as they are?
I can tell you that in Collette’s company, she doesn’t pay anybody under minimum wage and there is a law out there that’s been around for 80 years — the sub minimum wage law — that you can basically pay somebody whatever you think they’re worth, and that’s wrong. When Collette wanted to hire people, for her it was more about them and learning about what they could be successful at. She always ends up finding their niche and giving them that position. I have to tell you that those employees are better than us in those positions because it means that much to them. They’re usually routine positions and they like a routine. Most people don’t like a routine. I gave up my own job to work for Collette! Ultimately, I think this topic has just gotten closer to home for everyone.