It’s the classic bootstrap tale but, in this case, the bootstraps are more like booties, for babies. In 2009, Susan Petersen was living in Salt Lake City. She was 21 and had moved here from Washington with her husband and two young children while he attended the University of Utah. From their small apartment, Susan came up with a big idea that, at first, was a small idea. She couldn’t find baby shoes for her son’s chubby feet and, well, she knew how to sew. Using scrap leather, she sewed the first pair of what have now become the famous Freshly Picked baby moccasins at her kitchen table.
Susan was on the tip of the spear of a big trend in clothing—the idea that mass-produced products with limited sizes and variety needn’t be the norm, that quality and durability could be included in quantity and sensibilities beyond the bottom line could be factored into a company culture. Of course, at the time, she was just trying to contribute to the family budget, and she sewed her moccasins from that table until 2013, when she earned a spot on The Shark Tank and these concepts, just growing in Susan’s mind burst onto the scene. Her company Freshly Picked is now a multi-million-dollar endeavor, its products are sold at major retailers like Lord & Taylor, Macy’s and Nordstrom. Her baby shoes have been worn by baby Kardashians and millions of children and have a passionate following among a very loyal group, new moms.
”I’m very scrappy and I’m really Stubborn.” —Susan Peterson
How’s that for a bootie-strap story?
“There is something cool happening,” Susan says. “The buyer who ordered, say, an Old Navy shirt probably had to order 2,000 shirts in different sizes probably many more, that’s just a minimum. But I’m small and control my own manufacturing. If I sell five pairs of one color of shoe it doesn’t mess up our manufacturing flow. We can adjust. We’re not stuck with 2,000 shirts ahead of us. We can look at what’s selling and put a rush on it.”Freshly Picked truly revolutionized e-commerce and still sells 70 percent of its products directly through its own website. Its success got other entrepreneurs thinking about smaller, more customized manufacturing. Now, for example, companies like Third Love and True and Company sell bras made for actual women directly to those actual women, while offering a range of half-sizes and other customizations (and a repudiation of the hyper-sexualized Victoria’s Secret model of bra sales.)
And what’s selling is more than just the moccasin that launched a million moccasins. Susan’s mommy empire has expanded its line beyond booties into clothing, footwear and accessories for both mom and baby. Take diaper bags, for example.
“We asked moms to literally dump out the contents of their diaper bag and justify everything they had in there,” Susan says. “And of course, they could. And then we set out to make a bag that could handle all that stuff but didn’t have Winnie the Pooh on it, like my first diaper bag. Just because you become a mom doesn’t mean you lose your sense of fashion. You’re still a woman.”
Susan has kept her business here in Utah, recently moving into a new HQ on the Silicon Slopes and says there’s an energy and excitement in the state about what’s next.
“Turns out I love building stuff and watching other people build things too,” she says. “So I don’t have a high school education, so I don’t have formal training. I’m very scrappy and I’m really stubborn. I come from a long line of women who get sh** done and I feel really fulfilled to be a part of building something which opens my kids’ eyes up to opportunities we never had.”