Photo via the Kirkman by Melissa Kirkman website

Melissa Kirkman isn’t your average 21-year-old.

The Adelaide-based artist, who has autism and mosaic Down Syndrome, has loved painting and drawing from a young age.

Melissa’s house is full of paints, canvases and brushes; she even participated in the renowned Tutti Arts Visual Arts Program, getting access to a dynamic studio environment through her NDIS funding.

Her business was born out of the COVID lockdowns in South Australia throughout 2020 and 2021. Melissa was struggling with the long hours at home - many of her social events came to a halt, and the fear of the virus limited her ability to get into the community.

“Melissa wasn’t engaging in anything, and it was a struggle to get her back into the real world,” Melissa’s mother, Danielle, shares. “As a parent, it was really hard, but we persisted in looking at what she could do to stay engaged.”

By working with the RED (Rapid Enterprise Development) team, Melissa was able to make her dream a reality. Together, they came up with the concept of printing Melissa’s designs onto t-shirts; from there, they secured the business name, the bank account and the online store.


Melissa at the Movers and Makers markets with her grandmother and support worker

“We launched Kirkman by Melissa Kirkman with three designs, and now we’ve got ten different tops available for purchase online,” Danielle adds.

The shirts have been a hit, especially in market environments, which Melissa loves. She was one of the most popular stalls at the recent Feros Care Movers and Makers markets, which was a fantastic opportunity for Melissa to build her business and get exposure.

"Melissa is a wonderful and kind young woman who’s on a mission!” says TeeJay Milam, a Community Development Coordinator at Feros Care. “She is very enthusiastic about her art and business and tells me - “one day someone famous will wear my clothes.”

“Feros Care are passionate about supporting people with a disability to build individual capacity and increase employment opportunities. So, having the opportunity to work with Melissa and others is amazing,” TeeJay adds.


Melissa on Sunrise with TeeJay

Melissa has even appeared on Sunrise, which helped her to sell 29 shirts - although it’s not about profit.

“It’s never about how much we can make, it’s just about keeping Melissa engaged and excited,” Danielle says. “We love coming up with new ideas - there’s a new design coming this year, and we’ll be venturing into coffee cups and stubby holders.” “

Melissa loves seeing people in her tops, and she’s great at doing surveys on social media, asking people what she should do for her next one.”

You can find and purchase Melissa’s tops on her website here.

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