‘Inclusion benefits everyone’: B.C. company sparking meaningful conversations about Down syndrome by selling soap

‘Inclusion benefits everyone’: B.C. company sparking meaningful conversations about Down syndrome by selling soap


A hodgepodge of buckets and bottles sit on a white table in Simon Vanderloo’s small kitchen. While he heats a large container of coconut oil in a microwave, his older sister Caroline Short, carefully measures a mixture of freshly scented essential oils.

The siblings, who are from New Westminster, B.C., make handcrafted soap every Tuesday. It is something they have been doing together since the early days of the pandemic.

“We started making soap during COVID when Simon and I had a little bit of extra free time,” said Short. “We learned how to make it together and quickly discovered that Simon is really good at it.”

Vanderloo is 28 years old and lives with Down syndrome, which naturally occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.

Short has always believed in his potential and often wondered what it would be like to start a businesses with him.

“When I found that making soap was a good activity for both of us, I thought, ‘Why don’t we try to make something bigger with it?'” Short said.

With Vanderloo also keen to do more, the pair created a company called Simon’s Soapbox.                                 

The idea behind the name is that the business is a platform Vanderloo can use to highlight and share all of his abilities.

Simon Vanderloo and Caroline Short display their product, which they sell online and at community markets. (Source: Caroline Short)

“Right from the beginning I wanted to keep Simon at the centre of our businesses. It is almost like the business is Simon’s voice, it is trying to be creative and show people a different way of hearing from Simon and showing everything we can do together,” Short said.

Caroline Short and Simon Vanderloo are a brother-sister selling soap and duo breaking down barriers. (Source: Caroline Short)

Launching a start-up wasn’t easy, but the brother-sister duo was determined to make it work. Not only did they start producing large batches of soap, they also designed their own packaging and secured a website for e-commerce.

While Vanderloo sometimes struggles with his speech, his enthusiasm for his company is undeniable. He particularly loves how they now produce five different varieties of body bars and one soap specifically made for kitchen cleaning.

Simon Vanderloo and Caroline Short are working together to not only make soap, but promote the benefits of meaningful employment for people with developmental disabilities. (Photo from Melanie Nagy / CTV News)

Short says the business has helped her brother gain a small income and a new sense of purpose. She also believes they are helping spark a conversation about the benefits of employing people with developmental disabilities.

“Many people think workplace accommodation is really challenging and takes a lot of work, but with a bit of curiosity, learning and listening work can easily be transformed and accessible.”

(Photo from Melanie Nagy / CTV News)

(Photo from Melanie Nagy / CTV News)

According to the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, more than 50 per cent of people with the condition struggle to find work despite having skills many employers are searching for.

The organization says people with Down syndrome are often wrongly seen as less capable and less valuable within the workforce.

“I do want to encourage people to think differently about disability and about how we can make our workplaces better because inclusion benefits everyone at the end of the day,” Short said.

Simon Vanderloo and Caroline Short, the founders of Simon’s Soapbox, selling their products at a Metro Vancouver community market. (Source: Caroline Short)

With his sister’s help, Vanderloo often sells soap at farmer’s markets and craft fairs in Metro Vancouver. In addition to promoting his product, he uses the opportunity to share his story in order to break down stereotypes.

Short says when customers talk to her brother, who is known to lighten the mood with a gentle prank or joke, she can “see them start to think differently as their assumptions about him start to change.”

(Source: Caroline Short)

Shifting people’s perceptions and celebrating the contributions of people with developmental disabilities is the foundation of Simon’s Soapbox.

As for the company’s focus going forward, both Short and Vanderloo hope to grow the business so they can hire others in need of meaningful employment.

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