baabaaZuzu at Golden Shoes
Inspiration comes in many forms. For Sue Burns, baabaazuzu founder and lead designer, inspiration came one winter day in the back of her clothes dryer. Had her husband not shrunk some of Sue’s favorite wool sweaters, it could very well be that baabaazuzu would not exist. But the fact is, he did. And out of the tragedy of Sue Burns’ too-small-to-wear, once-adored sweaters arose a multi-million dollar company.
Baabaazuzu came to be in late 1993 after Sue Burns, a gifted graphic designer, cut up the shrunken remains of her favorite sweaters, pieced the fragments together and made jackets with matching hats for her two young daughters.
As friends and strangers began asking where she bought those ensembles for her children – and, after learning that Sue had made them, asking if she would make some for them – a light bulb went off in Sue’s head. And so, from a Sears Kenmore sewing machine stationed on her dining room table, Sue and Kevin – whom Sue taught to sew – launched baabaazuzu as a line of unique, one-of-a-kind sweaters, jackets and hats for children.
Baabaazuzu was an instant hit. So much that adults began asking if Sue could make adult-sized versions of the too-cute children’s wear.
The process behind baabaazuzu’s creations is an age-old process. Felting. Simply put, it’s taking wool sweaters or garments – and in baabaazuzu’s case, it’s taking items that are no longer wanted and could not sell at second-hand stores and are literally a step away from being thrown into landfills – and washing them in very hot water so as to shrink into a very dense, very strong wool “fabric.” Sue then takes the felted material, cuts them up and, with her eye-of-an-artist, purposefully pieces them back together into wearable works of art – hats, mittens, jackets, scarves, etc.
A year after launching baabaazuzu, Sue introduced her first adult project, a vest. Not long after looking for a way to utilize the scraps, Sue’s signature mittens came to be. With these projects, she took a good look at more ways to utilize more and more parts of the shrunken garments, so as to waste as little as possible. Soon ski caps and stockings came along and the rest, well, one might say is history. But that’s just the beginning.
The Sears’ Kenmore sewing machine lasted but two months as baabaazuzu took off. Next the Burns invested in a used industrial machine purchased from a local awning maker. Today, Sue employs 20 people within her production facility and outsources most of the sewing side of the process, utilizing the skills of home school moms in her area of northern Michigan, as well as those of seamstresses who were left out of a job after a local body armor manufacturer went out of business.
In 2008, baabaazuzu was recognized as a Michigan 50 Company to Watch and in 2009, the company hit a major turning point when it achieved over $1 million in sales. This next year, baabaazuzu hopes to double that.
Baabaazuzu can now be found in nearly 900 retailers across North America; there are even two retailers in Japan. Often duplicated, particularly her mittens, Burns considers this the sincerest form of flattery. But Sue’s eye for fashion and design is one-of-a-kind and the quality of her product line, which has grown to include over 30 different products, including scarves, bags and purses, jackets and accessories, remains unmatched.
Today, baabaazuzu no longer produces a children’s line. Instead, the company focuses on fashionable pieces for women. Each year Sue introduces new styles and designs into the baabaazuzu collection, retiring those that have fallen out of fashion.
Just like snowflakes, no two pieces of baabaazuzu are ever alike. Each is lovingly handcrafted of 100% vintage wool, reclaimed and transformed into a beautiful and oh-so-cozy wearable. Every piece is an inspired original. Just like the person who wears it.