“Don’t forget the people who helped you get there. Be kind, be gracious, and be empathetic towards other people. Be a good human being and don’t boast about it – just be yourself and you’ll be alright,” said Kevin Ha of Des Moines.

Kevin, known as “Kujo” in the Des Moines art community, has built up their graphic design business since working with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services’ self-employment program. Kevin launched their brand with hopes of creating both stylish and practical clothing that “people can feel comfortable doing anything in.”

Along with apparel, Kevin does art commissions for various Des Moines businesses and helps organize community events. Most recently, Kevin was a vendor at DSM People’s Pride, a gathering which featured local queer artists, performers, storytellers, and various vendors. Kevin emphasized their work to tie into the theme of “for us, by us,” a message for everyone of all ages.

Kevin has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness, which made it difficult for them to work in retail or service jobs. This led Kevin down the self-employment path, which brought them to IVRS.

“Graphic design is a medium I use for art, a great way to connect with other people and other opportunities,” said Ha. “I wanted to work for myself and continue doing something I was already doing.”

Kevin began taking art classes in Kindergarten and continued up until their high school graduation, in 2018. Throughout high school, Kevin began experimenting with graphic design styles of art. After attending a year of college and deciding it was not for them, Kevin purchased their first laptop and began putting themself out there as a graphic designer full-time. Six years later, Kevin is a prominent name in the Des Moines queer and art communities, having worked at Des Moines Art Week and with various organizations around the metro area.

Kevin started their journey with IVRS’ micro-enterprise program, a pared-down version of the full self-employment program. One of their goals has been reaching self-sufficiency. Yvette Clausen, IVRS Business Development Specialist, has worked with Kevin to help with business licensing, creating a basic business plan, financial assistance, and more services. Kevin hopes to transition into the full self-employment program once they meet the requirements.

“Kevin has really been able to carve out an employment plan for themself allowing them to accommodate for disability needs,” said Clausen. “It’s exciting to see someone so young taking control of their business, taking control of their lives through our programs.”

Rene Haigh began working with Kevin on her very first day as a Des Moines Rehabilitation Counselor, in 2022.  

“I find Kevin so inspiring. They are so artistic and I’m so inspired by them accessing our services and wanting to build that business,” said Rene Haigh. 

She and Clausen have partnered to help Kevin with reporting earnings, learning spreadsheet operations, tax preparations, and helping grow Kevin’s business knowledge. They meet frequently with Suzie Paulson, certified benefits planning specialist, as well.

“I’m a very creative thinker, but I’m not really good at the business side of things. They really helped in giving me better business acumen,” said Kevin.

Kevin attributes their improved confidence and sense of independence to the staff at IVRS. They look forward to monthly meetings with Yvette and Rene and love sharing new art pieces. In the future, Kevin hopes to do more artistic creative direction and continue to organize events for Des Moines residents to enjoy. Kevin’s creative work is posted on their social media pages: @kujo_kev and @kujo_brand. Kevin periodically drops limited edition apparel and announces new designs on their social media pages.

Learn About Iowa Self-Employment Program