Bayou Blend Apparel Advocates For Autism Awareness
By Kerri Cooke
When I walked into Bayou Blend Apparel for the launch party for owner Kaysie Bolton’s new Desert Palms shirt collection, the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming. The party was being held to celebrate the opening of the storefront in downtown Lake Charles at 313 Broad St.
Bolton was dressed in a black sequin shirt paired with a tee from her new collection, ankle-length cowboy boots and a mustard-yellow hat with her initials on the side. Her outfit perfectly fit the theme of her new collection and her buoyant personality.
The storefront is decorated with a wave mural on the wall, a surfboard, coffee table books and mood boards. A Fujifilm camera sat on a stool and an Aztec-patterned rug covered the floor. The fixtures gave off the perfect amount of light, and the space radiated a relaxing vibe.
Bolton told me that her venture into the design world began three years ago. Her son was diagnosed with autism in 2017, and her daughter has sensory processing disorder.
She said at times her son would “rip off his shirts.” Those with autism or sensory processing disorder can become overstimulated by something as simple as the texture of a fabric or the scratch of a tag. The theory behind the discomfort is that people with these conditions have skin that is overly sensitive to light touch. Children with autism and sensory processing disorder can become so focused on how uncomfortable they feel in regular clothing that they can’t focus on anything else. This often leads to meltdowns.
Due to the struggles in her own family, Bolton decided she would design sensory-friendly tees, as they were hard to find. The tees are made in California with organic cotton and eco-friendly inks. The tees are made of soft fabric and have no tags. The “ink that sinks into the fabric” so you can’t feel the graphic (another sticking point for those with sensory conditions). The absence of tags and scratchy seams and fabric allows a child or an adult to focus on life rather than how uncomfortable they feel.
Bolton’s first collection was dubbed #WEARAUTISM. The tees were a way to bring awareness to the autistic community. The tees include phrases such as “Autism Counts,” “Spectrum” and “#Not Just Another Graphic Tee.”
The Give Back Bayou Blend program provides families with sensory-friendly clothing by donating a tee to someone with special needs for every tee purchased. A portion of each sale goes to an autism nonprofit.
In fact, Bolton decided to dedicate a specific tee each year for which all the profits are donated to an autism nonprofit organization. The current tee is the one with the hashtag #NOTJUSTANOTHERGRAPHICTEE, which was modeled by actress Mila Kunis. Ashton Kutcher has also been photographed wearing the “Spectrum” sweatshirt. When I asked Bolton how the clothing ended up making its way to the celebrity couple, she said a friend of hers is a relative of theirs and gifted them the tees for Christmas.
Bolton expanded her line to include tees with the themes L.A. to LA, described as “a California vibe with Louisiana roots,” and spirituality, “an expression of faith and positivity.” Bolton expanded her range of tees because she realized even those who don’t have autism or sensory processing disorder are in need of sensory-friendly tees. For example, I’m sure you know of at least a couple of people who cut the tags from their shirts and don’t enjoy wearing certain fabrics. I heard several people at the launch party mention that they wore the tees to sleep in.
One of the spirituality tees was inspired by the Coushatta tribe and their version of spirituality, Bolton said. The children’s tee is pink with a dreamcatcher on the front. The Coushatta Casino has even started carrying the tee.
The L.A. to LA collection has tees with phrases such as “Southern,” “Sweet Magnolia” and “LA Vibes.”
Bolton’s storefront location on Broad St. was obtained in June, 2020, and was originally meant to be a studio space. But as more and more people wanted to stop by Bolton’s place to pick up their orders, Bolton decided she needed to open a storefront.
We all know what happened next — Hurricanes Laura and Delta and the ice storm. Bolton quickly designed a hurricane relief tee, which sold out in one night. The profits, $4,000, went to autism nonprofits affected by the hurricanes.
When I asked Bolton what inspired her new collection, Desert Palms, she replied that she spends a lot of time out west, specifically in Palm Springs, Calif., and Sedona, Ariz. She was in Arizona following the ice storm and was “in a creative funk.” She spoke with Suzanne Johnson from Olive + Indigo, saying she didn’t want to give up on her storefront before she even opened it. Johnson told her she just needed to start creating again. Thus, the Desert Palms collection was born. There’s a Death Valley sweatshirt, a tee that says “Made From Stardust” that was inspired by looking at the stars out west, a “Be Still Like The Desert” tee, and others. Bolton says her goal is to create clothing that feels comfortable and vintage.
Bolton isn’t satisfied to just champion the cause that affects her, but has brought in a few other brands that give back as well. She carries colorful handwoven blankets made by artisans in Mexico, which benefit the cause of Native Americans. She also supports a line that gives back to “underprivileged children.” It is obvious that Bolton has a big heart and cares about many social issues. I saw evidence of that fact when visiting the bathroom where she had set out a tray with an array of feminine products and painkillers for women on their monthly cycle.
She also believes in inclusive sizing. Clothing sizes range from infant onesies to adult sizes up to 2 or 3xl.
As a new addition to the family of businesses located in downtown Lake Charles, Bayou Blend is a fresh venture to enliven local entrepreneurship and celebrate local talent.
As I was talking with Matt Young, director of cultural affairs for the City of Lake Charles, over BoomBox popsicles, he said he was in New Orleans wearing one of Bayou Blend’s hats and was asked where he got the hat. And, even with all that New Orleans has to offer creatively, the Lake Area was able to be in the spotlight at that moment. Young says he replied, “Oh, it’s a shop in Lake Charles. You wouldn’t know it.” And it’s that kind of pride that makes Southwest Louisiana resilient and a close-knit community.
These words from Bolton’s Bayou Blend blog sums up her whole mission:
“Without the people in the autism community who rallied for change, progressive therapies and schools like the St. Nicholas Center, my son would have had a completely different path. I also say that they brought out the best in him. The support from other parents and individuals affected by their personal journeys with additional needs is an unbreakable bond.
“I want my son to look back and see that his parents took what could have been a ‘bad’ situation into a hopeful one. I advocate for hope. I advocate for love. I advocate for inclusion. And I pray my children will one day adhere to this mindset and belief system, and to the importance of giving back. I want them to know that setbacks are only setups for a greater good.
“The tees legitimately fill a void in the fashion industry. But they are only a vehicle in reaching people. If my story can help others, and the tees allow me to contribute to the world, then I am living my purpose. Finding one’s authentic self is freedom. It’s freedom to live without fearing the judgment of others and without the fear of failure. When you live in authenticity and honesty — then the integrity will follow.”