All Sections

Home | Silver Linings

Silver Linings: Canterbury woman turns her lifelong love of fashion art into a unique business

By ROBERTA BAKER
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 30. 2018 10:26PM
Repurposing artist Susana Patterson has a laugh while adjusting an outfit on a mannequin in her shop, Susana's Studio, in downtown Concord on Wednesday. (David Lane/Union Leader)



CONCORD - As a girl, Susana Patterson drew elaborate dresses for paper dolls. Her mother, a seamstress, taught her to sew. Then she designed and fabricated her own clothing inspired by Renaissance, Edwardian, and Victorian fashion as a teenager in Caracas, Venezuela.

Today, Patterson owns Susana's Sewing Studio, a Warren Street boutique and tailoring business that's a magnet for brides and high school seniors searching for prom and wedding gowns, fashion lovers seeking to update or reinvent favorite dresses, and customers who come from as far as Boston to buy the hats, tunics, pantaloons and linen aprons that Patterson designs.

Ten years ago, Patterson, now 60, worked word-of-mouth as a tailor in her Canterbury home. She now combines making repairs and alterations with designing casual, comfortable, inspired fashions in a business that is both soul-satisfying and financially sucessful, employing assistants to help run her store, handle bookkeeping and social media, and sew. 

She is one among a cadre of energetic and entrepreneurial older workers who have stitched, retooled and reworked hobbies and passions into remunerative endeavors.

"My hobby was designing my own clothes," Patterson said. "Because I wear what I make, people would comment, 'I would love to wear something like that.' It's a passion that I have. When you are artistic, you just look for things you love to do."

Thirty-five years ago she bought a used sewing machine for $50 from Bittersweet Fabric Store in Boscawen, then amassed a collection of machines with increasingly professional features until she could afford a $4,000 commercial machine. "I just saved my money. Everything went back into the business. I didn't need to take out a loan."

In 2008, after tracking her costs and profits as her tailoring business grew, Patterson calculated the expenses of rent, utilities and business insurance, and decided that downtown Concord would be a central location for her customers who came from Concord and Hopkinton, as well as others from more distant locations. At the beginning, she said, it was hard to adjust to working in a storefont.

"People would walk in at any time. At home my customers had appointments. When you work or have a hobby at home, you make your own hours, and can take free time when you want. But when you have your own store, you have to be there. You are no longer your own boss. Your customers are your boss. It's like a nine-to-five job. You have to prepare yourself for that."

When business is quiet during the winter, Patterson looks at photos and pictures of places and people, fashion from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and sometimes nature.

"Maybe that person reminds me of someone from the Renaissance. Sometimes I see things that look to me like clothes. Plants, for instance. I think, how can I make something look like that? Then I work and work and work until I can make it.

"Being a repurposing artist, you are constantly converting something to something else," Patterson said. "People come in with clothes they like something small about, but not anything else. I give them an idea of what we can do, and we go from there."

Helping people is what Patterson likes best about her business.

Her advice to older workers or anyone turning a hobby into a business: "You have to make it you and express yourself. If you absolutely love it, and this is what you will love to do for the rest of your life, go for it. The love you put into it reflects in your product. For me, a good day is a sewing day. 

"We all have a passion, some people may discover it sooner. Especially later is when you're better at it because you're more experienced and more committed."

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire's aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Roberta Baker would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at rbaker@unionleader.com or 206-1514. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.


Business NH People Concord Special Report