Sunday, January 15, 2012

Apply Creativity to Marketing

Sussy Flanigan, Fins Coffee, Recycling and Local Charities All Join Hands in Selling Imaginative Crafts

Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, January 7, 2012

Santa Cruz County finished 2011 with dispiriting job news: a 10.6 percent unemployment rate persisted in November—2 percent higher than the national average—which means there are about 11,000 people looking for work.

Amazingly though, 2011 was also the year that Santa Cruz/Watsonville was ranked 5th on a Most Artistic Cities in America list by The Atlantic Magazine. Our small metro area was rated comparable to major metropolitan areas such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles because The Atlantic rating took the number of artists relative to population into account. The only small population that ranked higher was Santa Fe.

So what does this say about the resilience and creativity of our artists, who continue to survive in remarkable numbers despite a depressed economy? Equally significant, what does our ranking say about the loyalty of a community who supports the arts, even in tough times?

Flanigan shows some of her embellished aprons for sale at Fins Coffee. 
What follows is the of story of one such resilient Santa Cruz artist, struggling to do what she truly loves in a creative and resourceful new way. Her idea has the potential to benefit many others besides herself in the 5th most artistic city in America.

Sew Sweet-N-Simple, Santa Cruz, CA

Sussy Flanigan has always kept her hand in crafts, even when job and family seemed to be leading her in many other directions. While raising her three children in San Jose and operating a medical records retrieval and management service in Almaden Valley, she set up a retail vintage clothing boutique—selling her own designs—on the street side of her office space. When she sold the medical business to renovate and run a bed and breakfast, the Dutch Flat Hotel, in Placer County, she opened a gift shop at the B&B to sell her handmade items and also hosted art retreats.

Flanigan moved to Santa Cruz in 2005 so her daughter and husband could be closer to the ocean and surfing, and loves it here. “Every time I walk to the Marina it never ceases to fill me with a sense of joy just to be able to live here,” she says. “I grew up in Indiana, and I’d always see California and the ocean on television. After college I bought a one-way ticket to California.”

For almost nine years, Flanigan has divided her time between Santa Cruz and her B&B in the Gold Country. She now intends to turn her attentions away from weekend innkeeping and occasional professional opera singing, to fulltime crafting.

“I make a lot of cards and I love glitter,”
 says vintage crafter Sussy Flanigan.
 She also sells “Emergency Glitter”
 at craft fairs “in case of sudden onset
 of melancholy,” she says.
“My bed and breakfast is on the market and I’m no longer going to be running it,” she says. “The economy just killed me so I decided to go back to what I truly love and I always end up going back to, which is sewing and crafting and try to make actual money. I’ll probably make more money than I did at the bed and breakfast,” she says laughing.

Flanigan describes herself as an “ADD crafter.” “I’m all over the place,” she says. “In fact, my girlfriend told me the other day, ‘Girl, you need to focus on one thing.’ And I thought, if I focus on one thing, I’m going to miss so much stuff.”

Her crafting style and product line also attest to her “all over the place” approach. She designs and repurposes vintage clothing; sews and decorates cuffs, shirts, hats and aprons; sells banners, cards, scrapbook supplies, glitter and antique photographs; and creates mixed media collage. And everything she makes is embellished with lace, buttons, rick rack, and embroidery—large quantities of which she stores on shelves, racks, bins and tables in her small, upstairs studio space in the Old Sash Mill. “This pretty much is my life’s collection in here,” she explains. “I’m an organized hoarder.”

Flanigan sells her creations at craft fairs but says she does better in large wholesale venues such as the California Gift Show. “A lot of time when you go to these art and wine festivals, they’re there to drink or just walk around and look,” she says. “I do well at a big gift show like in Los Angeles because there are a lot of people [wholesalers] and they’re there to buy stuff. They feature a vintage section and I now have stores that actually look for me.”

Nearly everything Flanigan makes is embellished with lace, buttons, rick rack, and embroidery—large quantities
 of which she stores on shelves, racks, bins and tables in her small, upstairs studio space in the Old Sash Mill. 
“This pretty much is my life’s collection in here,” she explains. “I’m an organized hoarder.
To start selling more products locally she’s just developed a project called “The Shirt Off Your Back,” with Fins Coffee on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz as her first venue. Flanigan has placed a box and posted a sign inside the restaurant entrance, asking customers to donate used shirts. She then cuts up the shirts to make beautiful embellished aprons, which Fins sells for $25 each. From the proceeds both she and Fins each donate a dollar to a local charity, such as Ride AWave–which  hosts beach camps for kids with special needs. Starting the project just ten days before Christmas, they’ve sold 13 aprons.

Flanigan also makes and sells coffee “cuffs”
with Fins’ logo at the register, for keeping
 coffee cups warm.
Flanigan envisions her business providing jobs to many others in the future. “My goal is to create several jobs with this project because it’s a process, you know,” she says. “You make the apron, they buy it, then I have to hire people to help me because I’m so busy.” Her seamstress friend Melanie Vizzusi, owner of Free Form Fashions in Santa Cruz, is helping Flanigan produce the aprons and her other clothing designs. “Like this tunic. I give her a design, she makes me a pattern and then sews it for me. Then I bring out all my beautiful adornments and I tack everything on.” says Flanigan.

She says if the apron project is successful at Fins, she’d like to get in to other local venues like Santa Cruz Diner or Seabright CafĂ©. “And, I am trying to get Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown to donate shirts to help jumpstart the project,” she emails to me after our interview. But she’s very grateful to Fins Coffee owner Brian Neuschwander for giving her a start. “He’s one of those people that have the compassionate mentality that says ‘I’m going to give someone a chance,’ which is very rare these days. Because if there are people out there creating their own jobs, which a lot of people are trying to do, they can’t do that without someone giving them a chance.”