Written by Richelle Putnam
Susan Hardin grew up in a manufacturing family, starting with her grandfather and filtering down to her father, who has operated Calhoun Apparel in Calhoun City, Mississippi for close to 40 years. So, it’s not by coincidence she married Tony Hardin, a guy who went into manufacturing right out of college. The thing is, Susan never really wanted to be a part of the manufacturing world… but God had other ideas.
With six children, five biological and one child she and Tony adopted from Guatemala, Susan was a stay-at-home mom who liked to sew, smock, French hand-stitch and do creative things. “When everybody went to college, I went back to school,” said Susan, who already had a degree in banking. But she wanted to take an alternate route and become certified to teach English and art. “I went back to work teaching high school English here in Calhoun City at Calhoun City High School.”
While attending Mississippi State University, daughters Emily, Sarah and Reagan were also in sororities. “So, whenever they needed little sister gifts or friend gifts, they wanted to make something,” Susan said. The oldest, Emily, was in interior design. The second oldest, Sarah, loved to paint and do water color. And the youngest, Reagan, is “all over creative.”
“My husband, by this time, was printing signs and doing stadium seats and a variety of different things using a printing process. The girls said we could make pillows to give to friends,” Susan said.
Since Tony was already licensed to do Ole Miss and Mississippi State logos and mascots, they did a few pillows with those designs and sent them for licensing approval, which they received. They also created their own brightly painted colors and watercolor designs.
“People really seemed to like them,” Susan said. “We put them in a shop in Starkville and they took off.”
They also placed the pillows at the Mustard Seed in Oxford and sold those through spring while Susan was still teaching. Tony talked Susan into renting a booth and showcasing the pillows at the Mississippi Wholesale Market in Jackson. She went thinking that if she just got one order, it would be worth her while.
“We were inundated with orders, so we felt like God had blessed us with this and he was leading our business in that direction,” Susan said. “We started making more designs. It was summer, so the girls were around and creating more.”
They decided to go to Atlanta to the gift market in July. “We did so well at that market I knew that I was going to either have to take the leap of faith and go with this or go back to school in August,” Susan said.
She took the leap of faith in 2015. She and her family started The Little Birdie Pillow Company and have been making pillows ever since. They use one durable, machine washable fabric, which they chose for the way vibrant colors show up on it. “We do custom works with zip codes, town names, weddings with bride and groom names, wedding dates, and holiday pillows,” Susan said. “We want to offer a product that helps people decorate their home for a reasonable price, and offer gift items that make people happy.”
With 30 years of manufacturing experience, Tony has perfected the printing process. The company, which wholesales to stores in all 50 states, has 20 full-time employees and about five teachers who come in to work after school. “One of our main goals is to put people in our town to work,” Susan said.
The whole family is involved with the business, including the boys, Hunter and Walker, who work after school, and Addie Grace, their 13-year-old daughter. “It’s definitely a family business,” Susan said.
Little Birdie Pillow is also a give-back company. “We believe it’s all God’s blessings. Sarah works with refugees,” Susan said, “So we are using part of our profits to help her in her ministry.” Part of the business is a fundraising effort to raise money for mission trips, adoptions, and things like that. “We’ve been blessed, so we need to try to help others too.”