Business, Feature

Art & Garden Street Fair vendor with down syndrome has a message of kindness

Jacob Kiefor, a 26-year-old Saint John, Indiana, man with down syndrome, paints doormats and silk screens t-shirts with his own designs and messages promoting kindness. He’s set to sell his hand-crafted work at Homewood’s Art & Garden Street Fair on Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1.

With the encouragement of Melanie Bennitt and Tom Bennit, his mother and stepfather, Kiefor started his business, This is Jacob LLC, in 2019. He has an online store and has attended farmers markets, flea markets and other events in Indiana and Michigan. 

Kiefor’s shop has approximately 10,000 followers on Facebook. He’s been featured on Fox 32 Chicago.

“I had interviews for certain jobs that I could do – like that McDonald’s job,” Kiefor said, explaining how he couldn’t find work. “Then I started to realize that I could start my own business – and that I can do it.”

Jacob Kiefor showing off one if his silk screened T-shirts and a new painted doormat for cicada season. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)

“His designs all have a message of inclusion, awareness, kindness or something like that,” Melanie Bennitt said.

Kiefor hand paints the doormats. He designs the T-shirts on the computer before submitting it to a silkscreen company. Keifor then puts the silkscreen onto the T-shirts.

Kiefor’s family helps out with the business side of it – such as shipping and reserving tables at events. His sisters, Jessi Kiefor and Jenna Williamson, help manage This is Jacob’s social media presence.

“They help answer questions and keep on eye on his social media but don’t post,” Melanie Bennit said.

Because everything is custom-made, no two items are 100% alike – which Melanie Bennitt said is part of their appeal.

Kiefor’s designs often feature three arrows, also known as the Lucky Few symbol, representing the third copy of the 21st chromosome that results in down syndrome. He said that in his work, he wants to encourage people to “bring kindness everywhere you go.” 

“To me, kindness is about treating everyone fairly,” Kiefor said. 

Kiefor said that sometimes people stare at him and this makes him uncomfortable. This is an example of a time when a little kindness and respect can go a long way, he said.

One of Kiefor’s T-shirts has the words “be kind” with the “I” in “Kind” dotted with the Lucky Few symbol. Another T-shirt features an illustration of a skeleton hand giving the “rock on” sign. It says “kindness rocks” and “make no bones about it.”

Some of Kiefor’s designs are seasonal for the summer. Right now, he’s painting butterflies to commemorate spring. Around Halloween time, he paints skulls and pumpkins.

Homewood’s Art & Garden Fair will be Kiefer’s first time selling at an event in Illinois, he and Melanie Bennit said.

“We’re excited because he has a lot of followers in Illinois. So, this is great to finally be able to come out here,” Melanie Bennitt said.

Kiefor is debuting new doormats with cicada illustrations and the words “welcome back” and “loud and proud” at Art & Garden Fair. He said he first started painting cicadas because his cousin liked them, but he hasn’t sold the design at an event yet.

“Homewood seems to be embracing the cicadas,” Melanie Bennit said. 

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