“My Mom taught me how to sew on her Nana's beloved 1936 Singer sewing machine.”
The first thing I noticed was style. Just pure, original style and warmth. I stumbled into a small shop tucked away inside a Manhattan Beach parking garage (for the record it is a really nice parking garage) and was greeted by the most pleasant woman and her wares.
Susie Shaughnessy just so happened to be manning a shop for close friends, where she sells her vintage, hand-made denim and clothing collection.
She was warm, welcoming, and had such a good nature—I could tell this woman had a story…so I started asking questions.
Turns out, Susie is a California designer who’s moved through some of the most iconic American denim companies out there: Levi’s, Old Navy, and Guess and O’Neil…She got her ‘start’ in denim and wash development when Levi’s was still manufacturing in the United States.
[If you don’t know anything about denim—here’s a quick history lesson. Levi Strauss & CO. created the first ever blue jean, which featured the newly developed rivet, in the 1870s. They were created for the working man, out of durable jean fabric, made proudly in the USA. Fast-forward to today, Levi’s are still one of the most iconic and popular jean brands!]
From designing and styling, to pattern making and coordinating with mills, Susie has honed her skills in vintage denim and style; this has set her up in launching her very own brand, Crawford Denim & Vintage, which represents much more than just clothing...Her brand represents everything she stands for. One of those being a proud creator of goods made in the USA.
“I wanted to return to US manufacturing…After the recessions, I was trying to encourage the brand I was working for to return to US manufacturing. The president was in full support, helping me pitch the project to the board of directors. Unfortunately, it didn’t pass for their organization but that did not dissuade me from pursing the cause.
Many of my friends, who were also head designers and directors at other brands, left their jobs around the same time as I did to create their own brands. Together we are part of a larger collective—returning to US manufacturing.”
Only 3% of apparel is now made in the US, so it’s easy to see why keeping her brand based in the US is important to her. The fabrics used in her pieces now are mostly from vintage deadstock goods, which eliminates landfill waste, and brings a rich heritage to her designs. The vintage look and feel of the denim she creates is important, and comes from a deeper love for family and function.
“The idea of reflecting on our past within our present clothes has always resonated with me. My Uncle is still running his business daily at the age of 85. His work ethic and dedication is our inspiration. He's got great feedback on how to improve the fit as he wears the denim everyday on his ranch...putting it through its paces.”
That’s what we call character, people—which can be hard to come by nowadays. It’s impossible to ignore the hard work and love that goes into each stitch. To get Crawford Denim off the ground, she had to take a year off work to focus on building the brand. And being fully self-funded, things were never easy. Just last year many of the boutiques her brand was sold in went out of business. Shifting focus to her online store to keep momentum moving forward, Susie learned that resourcefulness was key in her business where many hats must be worn. And like many successful people, she’s surrounded by those who believe in her and contribute to her success.
“Some weeks, days and hours are better than ever. But I learned early on, that the ups and downs of business are always going to happen ... it's how you face them is what builds the brand in a positive direction. Maggie [her sister] encourages me constantly, as she's knows all of the realities of the work and endlessly helps me. In addition, we have a great group of friends who support me + help pitch in when I need it. Our friends model and photograph all of the content for the brand. I wanted to showcase real people who really wear the product. Without these friends I wouldn't be able to keep going!”
As she told me about her brand one thing was clear; Susie's dedicated to her community and the success of those around her. It's easy for a business owner to have blinders on, running only toward their own success, forgetting their community and connections along the way. But much like her designs, she's dialed in to the importance of supporting others in their journey and using community to thrive and grow.
Even in her final thoughts in our interview, she tipped her hat to supporters.
"I have a passion for creating and developing a brand, but moreover it is about the people and the lifestyle of the brand...I am proud of the friends I have who have contributed the the growth of the brand and am so excited to showcase their talents and contributions."