Starting a business sews up another achievement for Rodgers

Junior Brianna Rodgers shows off the adapted push-button sewing machine.

Evelyn Esek, Multimedia Editor

Junior Brianna Rodgers has had 48 surgeries over the course of her life, but she has refused to let them keep her from reaching her goals – like starting her own small business.

Rodgers was born with myelomeningocele, a severe type of spina bifida in which the spine does not close completely when forming, leaving the spinal cord exposed. Her first surgery came when she was a few days old and her most recent was two years ago. 

While she does not have an immediate need for surgery currently, with severe spina bifida, surgery may be a possibility at any time, Rodgers said. 

“Having a disability can be challenging at times, but I pretty much can do things everyone else can,” Rodgers said. “The hardest part is when places aren’t accessible or when people treat me differently just because they see a wheelchair. I’m just a regular teenager.”

She has grown used to dealing with medical issues throughout her life, but there are still challenges.

“It is always hard going to the hospital and leaving my dogs, sister, and dad,” she said. 

Rodgers can be shy, she said, because she has paralyzed vocal cords as a result of her spina bifida. Though she has to be slow and methodical about her speech, she finds other ways to express herself. 

Junior Liz Langer has known Rodgers since first grade and knows her positive personality. She and Rodgers are both in Mini-THON and participate in cheerleading together.

“She sets her eye on something and becomes absolutely determined to achieve that goal,” Langer said. “She is extremely loving and always has good intentions.”

After taking an interest in sewing, Rodgers recently began a new project: starting her own small business. 

“I enjoy crafting and making things,” she said. “I thought, if I can make things for myself and my friends, why not start a business?”

All the feedback has been positive. Everyone seems to like my items”

— Brianna Rodgers

And so, Bee’s Boutique by Brianna was born. 

“One of my nicknames is Bee,” she said. “My family and I were brainstorming, and Bee’s Boutique came up and I really liked the name.”

Rodgers is currently in the Advanced Fashion class and has previously taken Fashion Design. 

“As a student, Bri is quiet and unassuming. She works very independently and rarely needs help,” fashion design teacher Virginia Pfatteicher said. “She pushes herself to do things on her own.” 

Pfatteicher noticed Rodgers’ interest in sewing, and set her up on a regular sewing machine, with Rodgers’ paraprofessional, Jeneanne Solenday, helping her operate the foot pedal.

“Bri never once complained (about the regular machine), but after a lot of research, I remembered that my niece had a machine that had a push-button operation. We tried it out and it worked great,” Pfatteicher said. 

She noted that the automatic machine enabled Rodgers to sew by herself and at her own speed, by using the start/stop button and a speed button. 

With the machine, Rodgers started making dog bandanas, influenced by her two dogs at home as well as her new service dog, Sterling. 

“(Sterling) has really helped me become more independent,” Rodgers said. “I can tell him a command and he’ll pick things up for me or open or close doors. He can even take off my socks.”

Rodgers started selling the dog bandanas first, and then introduced custom shirts, sweatshirts, cups, bags, and keychains to her shop.

“I have a pattern I use for bandanas. For the other items I make, I have to find or come up with a design. Sometimes customers come with an idea and I try to replicate it as best I can,” she said. “Then, I print it on the Cricut and iron it onto the item I’m making.”

“My typical turn-around time after I receive and confirm an order is about two days,” she said. She currently spends about 10 to 15 hours a week on the business.

Rodgers has sold products at three craft shows so far: the McAnnulty Elementary Holiday Market, the Student-Made Market at Baldwin High School, and South Baldwin VFC’s “It’s Almost Spring” Craft and Vendor Show.

“All the feedback has been positive. Everyone seems to like my items,” she said.

She is a role model to all of us to not let anything stand in the way of achieving our goals”

— Virginia Pfatteicher

Rodgers is also on the Baldwin High School Unified Bocce team, and has enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the game.

“It’s actually pretty competitive, which I like. It teaches us how to work as a team: We can discuss where and how to throw the next ball,” Rodgers said. 

She also has special memories with her teammates. Freshman year, Langer said, they dressed up as hippies and had a lot of fun, even though the team lost in the first round. 

Rodgers has danced competitively for years and has made connections with the other dancers. 

“I have a lot of friends there and they’re extremely supportive of me. Dancing lets me tell a story on stage and it doesn’t matter that I use a chair. Dance is dance,” Rodgers said. 

In addition to Mini-THON, sideline cheerleading, and competitive dance, Rodgers is a member of the Best Buddies/Special Olympics club. Outside of school, she participates in adapted cheer and South Hills Stars Color Guard.

She has also recently picked up a modeling job with Grant Larson Productions. The company recently started an initiative to include individuals with special needs in their textbook pictures. 

With her sewing business now added to her other activities, Rodgers is an inspiration, Pfatteicher said.

“She is a role model to all of us to not let anything stand in the way of achieving our goals,” Pfatteicher said.

Rodgers’ products can be found in her Facebook shop, or on her Instagram @beesboutiquebybrianna.