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Allen Park man with autism creates one-of-a-kind aprons from recycled materials

Posted at 11:32 AM, Jul 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 13:02:22-04

ALLEN PARK (WXYZ-TV) — All it takes is the right jam and his sewing machine, and Michael Gerner is in the zone.

“With Michael, he’s a perfectionist. Everything has to be a certain way," Michael's mom Elizabeth told Action News.

Michael, who is 26, is on the autism spectrum. Elizabeth said a traditional nine-to-five job likely isn't in her son's future; but now, thanks to a surprising skill discovered during his post-secondary program at Lincoln Park Public Schools, something really unique is.

Michael is a whiz at sewing aprons, despite never sewing before this year. He started learning how to make aprons from dress shirts through his post-secondary program, and now it's grown from a hobby to a lucrative business.

"My mouth just dropped," Elizabeth said, when Michael's teacher first showed her and her husband Frank some of Michael's work via Zoom.

It started as job skills training and learning about recycling. Each piece of fabric Michael uses to create his aprons has been re-purposed. The vast majority of this materials have been donated to him.

Michael's big debut happened at the Wyandotte Street Art Fair, where he sold not only his aprons but also handmade sewn koozies made from recycles men's ties.

“He’s proud. He’ll pick it up and he’ll look at it and he’ll go 'perfect,'" Elizabeth said.

Since the art fair and with the help of Michael's Facebook page, word of his art is spreading. He's now getting new orders on the regular.

For Elizabeth, this new venture isn't just about recycling nor is it about Michael earning his own money; it's about the price and independence that comes with sharing his skills with people, something she saw firsthand after the art fair.

“I’m tearing up right now thinking about it," she said. "He said I want to take you out to dinner. And we went… and he paid.”

And because these aprons are made with things community members are giving to Michael, every stitch feels that much more personal.

“It’s amazing. And I did not know that there was that many people out there that were that giving," Elizabeth told Action News.

She said Michael has a few additional upcoming art fairs he'll be selling at, and people may contact her via Facebook if they're interested in placing an order. Michael has also been approached by a boutique in Wyandotte, interested in selling his aprons.