Some might say that Sally Willbanks is a real go-getter—she’s a mother of two, a wife, an artist, a designer, and now an entrepreneur, all wrapped up into one. In 2020, with the help of her husband, Sally officially launched her brand ND Renegade.
The ND in ND Renegade stands for neurodivergent. Being neurodivergent means that your brain functions differently than people who are neurotypical. Neurodivergent people might be autistic, have ADHD, dyslexia, or other neurological differences.
ND Renegade’s mission is to shine a light on neurodiversity and offer fashionable clothing that helps raise awareness and explain something about the wearer that’s not visually recognizable.
Sally says it’s more than just selling clothes: “I want all neurodivergent and autistic people, ADHDers, and dyslexics to be proud of themselves because they should be. That’s the whole purpose of the business.”
Before starting her business, Sally Willbanks was known as an accomplished Australian artist. She admits that while she loves being an artist, painting is quite a solitary activity. It made her feel disconnected from her family—homeschooling the kids by day and spending time painting in her studio at night.
Sally started looking for ways to keep herself busy and working while involving the kids in the process. That’s when the idea of starting a clothing line came to her and she decided to sell t-shirts with designs that promote neurodiversity.
Both of Sally’s kids are neurodivergent—they’re autistic and ADHD with a couple of other things going on too. The kids, who ND Renegade followers fondly know as Boo and Bear, have been actively involved in the business since the beginning. ND Renegade helps them learn about the business side of running an online store. They see how much time and effort their mom puts into it and what it takes to get something up and running.
Both have also created designs for ND Renegade apparel. Bear drew a funky dog and it became the Underdog T-Shirt, whereas Boo drew a unicorn with the text “Girls are autistic too.”
When Sally got her store up and running, she knew the importance of having a presence on Instagram. The designer started to post her products on the platform but quickly realized that it looked a little salesy.
The next plan of action was to start creating a grid on ND Renegade’s Instagram—post a t-shirt design one day and a quote the next day. But that didn’t work for the business either: “It was so boring! My followers weren’t growing, and it was so tedious.”
She wasn’t ready to stop there, though, and approached an Instagram marketing agency for help. Their advice was to make it personal. Sally started sharing her family’s life and brought her kids into it which worked wonders for the brand.
Sally’s daughter Boo is 10 and the true star of her Instagram account. In short interviews with her mom, she shares her life and experiences about being autistic and having ADHD. Boo and her brother Bear also do giveaway videos where they announce the monthly giveaway winners.
Designing apparel is what helps Sally get her creative juices flowing after she put painting aside.
Her designs are based on her knowledge of neurodiversity, experience from years of therapy with her children, and all the books she’s read on the matter. And as ND Renegade’s following on social media started to grow, followers have also chimed in with information that helps Sally decide on the next designs she’ll put out in the world.
Customers are always commenting on ND Renegade posts about how they should release a certain design. One of the latest requests was a t-shirt design “Woke up autistic again” that’s already loved by many customers.
Oftentimes tees aimed at autistic people have puzzle pieces on them that the autistic community doesn’t like or sometimes even find offensive. Autistic people aren’t a missing piece of an unfinished puzzle—they have differences but they’re complete. That’s when Sally knew that the designs that ND Renegade offers needed a different spin.
That’s why everyday life and the people around Sally are also a great source of inspiration. One such example is the Lining Up Cars T-Shirt which was inspired by the fact that a lot of autistic kids like to line up their toys. Whereas the idea for the Fans T-Shirt came from an autistic boy Sally knew who liked to go around their house and turn all the fans on and watch them spin.
People buying from ND Renegade not only help Sally put food on the table for her family, but they also help neurodivergent people. Previously, ND Renegade gave 10% of all profits to a specific charity, but recently they found another way to help those in need.
A lot of autistic people have a hard time getting assessed and diagnosed because of factors such as cost, gender misconceptions, and race issues. That’s why Sally decided to start the ND Renegade grant for autism diagnosis to take care of the cost of the process for people in need.
Sally Willbanks says that if 2 years ago someone told her that today she’ll have all it takes to run a successful online store with 60 designs, she wouldn’t have believed it.
Sally’s advice for aspiring business owners comes from her own experience: “If you have an idea that you can’t let go of—you just have to give it a shot!”
She encourages starting with small steps like she did. Start with a name and a logo, then choose an ecommerce platform. Sally knew from the get-go that she was going to use Printful for her business, so she downloaded the app and started uploading designs. Her audience slowly grew and 2 years later the Australian artist turned entrepreneur has a business she’s really passionate about.
Laura is a Content Marketing Specialist at Printful. She speaks 5 languages and her professional passion lies in translating, copywriting, and the overall art of marketing.
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