Chantal Gagnon is the founder of Socolo - a stationery company that eases visual stress in adults. A graphic designer, Chantal found it hard to find notebooks with colourful paper to accommodate her neurodiversity (dyslexia and Irlen syndrome) so decided to create her own company producing these, from her colourful studio in London. Socolo’s ethos is that it is important for accessibility tools to be as beautiful as they are functional. People should feel proud and happy to use tools that bring ease to their lives.
Please tell us about your career
I founded Socolo Ltd, an inclusive stationery company that designs paper goods to accommodate neurodivergence and visual stress. I like that I get to make accessibility tools that take into consideration the emotional side of needing accessibility tools and get to collaborate with other neurodivergent creatives. The stationery industry is very friendly and welcoming. I love visiting my printers in Tunbridge Wells and watching the paper be printed, the smell of the new paper, and hearing the interesting sounds of the machines. If anyone ever has the opportunity to take a tour of a printers, I highly recommend it!
I am also an intuitive coach. I teach people meditation, mindfulness and how to listen to their own inner wisdom. I love to see the positive and empowering effects this has on people. Mediation and mindfulness have helped me be proactive about my well-being and have taught me how to prevent burnout. This may sound odd, but meditation helps me organize my brain before and after I start my day. It's like a preemptive brain break. This has really changed the way I manage my neurodivergence, and I find my days much smoother when I meditate, and I don't seem to get sensory overload as much as I used to.
I never fitted into office work or being a freelance designer. I needed more freedom in being able to create a work environment that accommodates my neurodivergence. After experiencing high stress in the pandemic and struggling with work, I burst out crying trying to find colour paper notebooks online and only being able to find ones that were designed for children learning how to write. I realised that I could use my graphic design skill set to make these notebooks for adults and that would fit into a professional environment. I decided to start the company within one hour of thinking of it, and have never looked back. The decision to start and commit to Socolo was so fast for me because it felt like my life had come full circle and everything about Socolo felt aligned to my very core.
As for intuitive coaching, I started doing a ton of yoga and meditation as a way to heal my body and mind after ending up in the hospital due to burnout while studying for a year in San Francisco and ending up with Adrenal Fatigue for many years. I became a certified Hatha yoga instructor but felt like I needed more knowledge on mindfulness and intuition as time went on. I found a transformative year-long intuitive coaching course and became a certified intuitive coach in 2021 and have been coaching ever since.
I was really disappointed in my career for many years. I felt like I had all this potential and all these ideas and my talent for creative problem solving was being wasted and not valued because I was seen as too nice or weird. I even had an employer call me an enigma. I was not great at advocating for myself and was burning myself out by working so much over time and would end up getting taken advantage of.
When I started Socolo, it was the first time I was proud of the work I was doing and felt energized by it. I have created a life that prioritises well-being, creativity and helping others. I now have the energy to run multiple businesses as well as be an artist. If it were not for all of the terrible job experiences I had in the past, I would not be where I am today and feel this happy. I am absolutely an entrepreneur and an artist. I do not see myself ever going back to the office or doing freelance work. I can't wait to see how Socolo grows and what other businesses I will start. I hope to continue to be invited to talk about inclusive design at Universities and inspire people and businesses to bring accessibility into future innovation.
How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?
When I entered the workforce, I became burned out from working long hours under fluorescent lighting and lacking accommodations. I was unprepared for a drastic decline in accommodation, support, and understanding when I left the university.
When I accommodated my dyslexia and Irlen syndrome, employers met it with resistance. It was difficult to get job interviews, so I was not confident in asserting my rights to accommodations for fear of being let go. There was little advice out there for neurodivergent adults.
Office spaces are not a good fit for me, so I quickly decided to try self-employment as a freelance graphic designer. Freelance gave me the confidence to pursue my dream of owning a business. When I got the idea for Socolo, a neurodivergent-friendly stationery company, it felt aligned with every cell of my being.
If it were not for my past experiences, Socolo would not exist. I am thankful for all the emotional turmoil my career path gave me. I am honoured to be able to contribute and be a part of the neurodivergent community and to have found a career that I love.
Do you feel that your job/industry is a good fit for an ND woman?
Absolutely! The stationery industry and neurodiversity community are very welcoming. There are many women in the stationery world, and people can have thriving businesses out of their homes. The start-up costs are low, and you can set your own pace. You have the option of making as much or as little in-house or by hand, or using manufacturers. Many manufacturers are open to doing small runs, so it’s a great business for people who have never started a business before.
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Daily meditation has transformed my life. It lowers stress, prevents burnout, and helps keep the traffic jams in your brain at bay. It's a pre-emptive brain break. Meditation has helped with my stutter, reading, headaches, information processing, task management, visual processing and more. I could not run a business without it. Start small (a single focused breath is a meditation) and work your way up and have fun with it.
Checking in with yourself multiple times a day to see how you are feeling on a scale of 1-10. Having a proactive relationship with your well-being and energy levels is very important. Develop 3-4 daily success habits to help you fill your cup and maintain well-being and mental health. Prioritise and make time for fun and joy. Take part in the neurodivergent community and make an effort to make neurodivergent friends. You will have shared experience, feel supported and get fantastic advice. Develop your own spiritual/gratitude/mindfulness practice. Everyone is different; find what type of practice works for you and just go for it.