Susan Harbourt is an engineer by training, an artist by accident, and a self-taught metalsmith by choice. While helping her husband update their home’s original 1930s electrical system, she picked up some scraps of the aged copper wire they had just removed from the walls and wove them into a bracelet — and a passion was born. Susan primarily works in recycled sterling silver and reclaimed copper making an array of rings, necklaces, bracelets, bookmarks, and sentimental gifts. Her work has found an audience in Hollywood, appearing in celebrity swag bags as well as adorning celebrities including Nia Peoples. On weekends you can often find Susan and her husband, Chris, spending time in the studio with their “assistants,” aka sons James and Mark who are about to turn 7 and 4, respectively. The family lives in St. Joseph.
You can find Susan’s designs onlineor locally at two locations: Vintage Karma in Tuscola and Wind Water & Light in Lincoln Square Mall, Urbana.
See why we think Susan Harbourt is a Chambana mom to know.
Q: Congrats on your success and notoriety – all from your own home! I read on your website you are a very shy person. How has the Internet “enabled” you to grow your business into the success it is today?
There is a good reason I initially went into engineering and not sales! I lack that natural gregarious extrovert gene that makes people successful in sales. I am more quite, cautious and a bit of an introvert, but I have been trying to teach myself how to break out of my shell. With that said, I would not be where I am now if it was not for the fact that I could hide behind the curtain of the internet. I have allowed myself to put my product out there for mass acceptance, praise, or rejection without having to feel like I am standing naked before an audience. The Internet is a big, warm, cuddly security blanket that lets me chose who I want to interact with. I have had overwhelmingly great acceptance from most people, and it as really boosted my confidence as an artist. That newfound confidence has allowed me to flourish and take greater risks. Once such risk was entering the UncommonGoods design competition that I felt so unworthy to enter, but ultimately I actually won! If I had to do that in person, I would have cowered away and never tried and would have missed out on such a fabulous opportunity. I also love how the Internet brings the world closer together. Living in rural Illinois, I can interact with a global market from the comfort of my office! I have regularly have products shipping internationally to Australia, Singapore, Germany, England, Italy, Argentina, Canada, and so many more. International sales actually make up about 30% of my total online sales, and I think that is absolutely amazing! There is something that makes me so giddy when I get a foreign order from somewhere that speaks a foreign language. They found me online and they chose me to buy from! Every sale I make is a special honor to me but those international ones really make my heart flutter.
Q: Celebrities love your creations – how did you manage to get on Hollywood’s radar?
Ironically once again it was the power of the Internet. I was discovered by a PR lady that represents a juried group of artisans at high profile gifting events. She asked me to apply to the group and I did, low and behold I was accepted. As part of that group we have the opportunity to have items at the celebrity SWAG events that her firm organizes or be part of the special opportunity to gift a celebrity or stylist directly. I have had the honor to be part of a variety of those events and one-off gifting opportunities. From this exposure I have developed a very nice celebrity clientele, but unless I have permission, my lips are sealed as to who my customers are. I do have a spot on my website that I share photos and info as I can. Nia Peeple has been one of my biggest and most vocal celebrity clients. I now have had enough exposure from these events that I am getting special requests from celebrity stylists as well. Lots of things are in the pipeline, so keep an eye out!
Q: What is your favorite thing to create, and why?
I think jewelry often reflects the phase of life one is in. When you are engaged, you celebrate that with a diamond ring, when you marry you seal that with a ring. When I was a young professional I wore jewelry that was vibrant, trendy, and made a statement. Now that I am a little older, I prefer jewelry that is classic and can be worn with jeans and a t-shirt as well as a cocktail dress. I love making that classic item that someone wants to buy and wear all of the time because they feel it represents them. I get a lot of custom orders for promise rings, wedding bands, commitment ceremony rings, anniversary rings, and general I Love You rings. Those are probably the most special thing for me to make, knowing that something I am crafting, with love, will go to someone to represent their love and be with them daily for a lifetime of memories. It is a honor to be asked to be part of someone’s life in such an important, symbolic and almost intimate way.
Q: You are an engineer by training. What did you do in your “former” life and how can we encourage more kids to get interested in engineering?
I think a lot of people have a misconception on what engineering is and what engineers do, I know I did. And in this high-tech town it is easy to think of immediately associate engineering as computer engineering. There are so very many forms of engineering that fit all kinds of personalities and strengths. I was in Materials Engineering with a focus on polymers, adhesives and sealants. It is a very creative, hands-on and product-based engineering that lead me to a successful career in sporting goods product development. The Engineering Open Houses at the University are also great ways to explore with your child the variety of field that are out there. Camps and clubs are another fun way to inspire young minds. My parents will be the first to tell you that when I went to Space Camp as a child it was absolutly life changing for me. I know we all worry about what will our child be when they grow up, I do! But the best thing we can do is just give them a lot of positive exposure to many careers and fields so that they can make informed decisions.
Q: What did you learn about your marriage when you renovated a farmhouse with your husband?
There is so much I learned about myself, my husband, and our relationship during the renovation of our farmhouse. First of all it gave me a whole new reason to respect and love my husband, he is an amazingly intelligent and talented man. There was no task that he was not willing to jump head first into and tackle. His work ethic is amazing, he is like a robot — will work for hours until something is completed to a high level of quality. However he is such a hard worker and has such an keen ability to fix anything that sometimes he would forget that not all of us can sustain performance at his level or inherently understand how to do all that he can do. So I had to learn how to communicate my thresholds of ability and understanding rather than take his frustrations personally. At times I needed to remind him to verbalize to me more what I needed to do to help him because I was not telepathic. At first we were a little snippy with each other, he was frustrated that I didn’t just do what he needed do and I was frustrated because I didn’t know what I needed to do. Once we accepted that we have different styles of communication and learned how better to verbalize our needs, the jobs went much smoother. Communication is key, and I think that goes for all relationships. When we look back at the photos of all the work we did, we are reminded of the good job we did together and the great things we accomplished as a team. All of those petty frustrations and obstacles we initially had don’t seem to be part of the story anymore.
Q: What is the future of Susan Harbourt Designs?
Susan Harbourt Designs has had expereinced so much growth this past year, more than I had ever expected in such a short time. It is so exciting to see the momentum that it has gained and where it is all going. Future plans for business are to become structured enough that I design seasonal product lines to launch. It would be fabulous to see more of my designs on TV, in movies, and in magazines as well! I also want to get a better foothold in the wholesale / boutique market so I can have a more consistent production schedule. I am now at that threshold of growth where I am looking to take on some part time help…ideally another Chambana Mommy looking for something to do during the school day!
Nominate a mom or dad to know — today! Contact us!