Three years ago, Suzanne Carlson was working 60 hours a week trying to balance work as a business owner in downtown Weeping Water with being a mom and enjoying life.
She needed a change and decided to put her creativity and sarcastic sense of humor to work in a new business — Suzy Swede vintage t-shirts. She now shares her positive outlook on life with customers around the globe on t-shirts that give customers a chuckle.
“I want to make people laugh and remind them not to take life too seriously,” Suzanne said. “My t-shirts give them a way to wear their attitude, or humor, or show off what they love. I’m a perpetual optimist, and I believe you have to have a good, sometimes snarky sense of humor to get through life.”
Suzy Swede t-shirt tags describe her as being “in the business of mellow vibes and tasteful sarcasm – featuring super soft vintage style graphic tees.”
“For the Love of Junk” t-shirts are popular with junk market shoppers from the southern United States, while customers from Australia flock to her “Crazy Chicken Lady” shirts.
In just two years, Suzanne has grown her business from a small Etsy shop to a global business that earns her a higher salary than her brick and mortar business ever did. And, the best part is that she works from a studio on her acreage near Weeping Water and has more time for her family, which includes her boyfriend, Jon, and 12-year-old daughter, Treva.
Suzanne had been operating a busy sign and screen-printing business in Weeping Water when she realized she was approaching burnout with the constant deadlines that didn’t leave her time for creativity.
In January 2015, Suzanne decided to put some more work into an Etsy shop she had created several years earlier. She named the shop Suzy Swede (Suzy is her nickname, and she is one-quarter Swedish) and spent many hours researching and learning how to boost Etsy sales. She added to her inventory with more designs and hoped for the best.
Her goal for that first month was to make enough money to cover her rising health insurance premiums. She met that goal, added new designs, and doubled her sales the next month.
“I was hooked,” Suzanne said. “I loved the idea of selling online, and I was having so much fun coming up with new designs. I decided I didn’t want Suzy Swede to be my side-business. I wanted it to be my only business.”
She eventually sold her brick and mortar shop and built a studio on her acreage outside of Weeping Water for her Suzy Swede.
Her t-shirt designs resonated with women, especially women in their 40s who are into the popular vintage junk market scene. Her largest concentration of customers are from Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and California.
Suzanne, who raises chickens on her acreage and gives away eggs to friends in town, created a “crazy chicken lady” t-shirt that also has been popular.
“What is surprising to me is the crazy chicken ladies all over the world,” she said. “I have sold those in four different countries and quite a few to Australia.”
Her Great Outdoors Collection includes the “Happy Camper,” “Hike More Worry Less,” and “Get Lost” shirts. Her Mellow Vibes collection includes “Taco Tuesday,” “Wooden Spoon Survivor,” and “I Love Jesus But I Cuss A Little” shirts. Other collections include Gone Junkin’, Farm Duds and Love the Locals.
Suzanne keeps a running list of t-shirt phrases sparked by other projects she’s working on or comments she hears from people.
“Most of them come from everyday life,” she said of her t-shirt phrases. “When I was a kid, my mom always said I had a warped sense of humor. I could find humor in things that most people would not.”
The Lincoln native said she was always trying to make her mom laugh as a child, and now she is bringing laughs to the world as she has sold shirts in all 50 states and 15 countries.
While she still sells on Etsy, her business has moved beyond that to her website at www.suzyswede.com and to retail stores in 16 states, including three in Nebraska.
Her goal in 2017 is to expand her wholesale market.
Along with wholesale orders, she currently prints about 30 to 40 t-shirts each day. She strives for excellent customer service and sends orders out within 24 hours of receiving them.
To purchase Suzy Swede shirts, visit www.suzyswede.com or one of these Nebraska stores: Birdie’s Box at 214 N. Adams St. in Papillion, the Good Life Marina at 36152 Road 44B in Trenton, Lakeside Liquor & Boutique at 213 Main in Trenton and Slattery Vintage Estates Winery, Nehawka.