By: Susan Salisbury
Sue Swanson, owner of Swanson Creations, a manufacturer of classic children's clothing, has heard it more than once. The cherished baby pillow with a child's name embroidered on it needs to be replaced. The child who owns it has worn out the beloved cover decorated with a baby duck.
"They have loved it to shreds," said Swanson, 65. Thus comes the call from Mom or Dad saying, "She's 14 and she wants a new one," Swanson laughed. The pillow has been everywhere, even to summer camp, hidden in the bottom of the trunk, for sure, but there.
Swanson, whose mother taught her to sew when she was 5, has been helping people celebrate births, birthdays, Christmas, Easter and other special occasions since 1983. She started a business in her Lake Worth home and in 1985 moved it to 6000 Georgia Ave., where it's been ever since.
"It's a happy business. For everyone who buys something, it's a happy occasion," Swanson said.
In this age of mass-produced everything, Swanson cuts out the fabric and makes the popular white pique A-line dresses and shortalls right in her workroom. She uses prints and denim as well. Then, she cuts the fabric for each appliqué from one of her 40 designs. Swanson stitches the appliqués to the clothing, bibs, towels, sun hats and more with one of her 1950s-era machines.
Without any marketing except word-of-mouth, Swanson and a part-time employee produce about 2,000 items a year of the classic baby and toddler wear. Some items arrive already made as "blanks" that she embellishes with her signature appliqués and the recipient's name. Most orders are by telephone or through the company's Web site, where nine items are available.
"The pillow and pillow case is the best seller," Swanson said on a recent morning at her workshop/showroom. "Then, the towels and the hooded towels are next. That's our gimmick. We personalize everything. Everyone likes using the first name. I discourage initials."
Prices start at $15, and top out at just $50 for a dress or $55 for shortalls, both with an appliqué and a name.
The labor-intensive enterprise that's an extension of Swanson's warm personality has brought her a loyal following. On her walls are two framed collages full of photos sent by the families who love her products.
Visitors can't help noticing a few well-known faces among the photos, such as the Jack Nicklaus family and the families of prominent local attorneys.
"Now many of the children who wore the clothes are young mothers buying them for their babies," Swanson said.
Carol McCracken of Palm Beach, a customer for 27 years, said, "Her things are unique. The prices are reasonable. It's not something you can get at a department store. I love her stuff. It's just fun to go in and talk to Sue."
Many of her first customers were in Palm Beach. Swanson's mother worked at a beauty salon there for years and often took samples to work with her. Mothers and grandmothers lapped up the merchandise.
Baylie Rosenberg, another of her first customers, has kept up the relationship all these years. "Sue is one of those people you really treasure," she said.
Rosenberg, a Palm Beach real estate broker, has given Swanson's personalized pillows and blankets as well as many outfits, to her nine grandchildren and also purchased baby gifts for other people.
"My grandchildren are older now. They take those pillows wherever they go. It is like they are married to those pillows."