When Markey Hart Hutchinson purchased a boutique children’s clothing business in July she was met with a unique set of challenges — American-made products, sold to a very high-end niche. The 32-year-old Lexington native has risen to the challenge and is proving with The Beaufort Bonnet Company that people still want handmade, quality goods for their little ones.
“As far as being a business owner, the steepest learning curve has been the production aspect of the business,” Hutchinson said. “I purchased an existing company, and in the middle of negotiations, the original production team went in a different direction. My husband and I decided to proceed with the sale anyway. This was the scariest part. Boxes and boxes arrived in the mail with fabric and supplies, and I had to figure out how I was going to keep up with demand while trying to stay American made.”
The Beaufort Bonnet Company was founded in 2007 in Beaufort, S.C., under the name Susu & John, with the star product being the “Beaufort Bonnet” for babies and children. The line included a boy’s bucket hat, diaper covers, bloomers, jumpers and pants. Hutchinson purchased the wholesale business this year, changed the name, expanded the line to include boys’ ties, swaddle blankets, monogrammed cashmere sweaters and more, and hired Kimberly Branham Chapman as her director of sales and operations.
The Beaufort Bonnet Company products are sold at L.V. Harkness and Hopscotch. The line also can be found in South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. It has shipped as far away as the Cayman Islands, and Hutchinson said it still has a lot of growing to do.
“The original business had bonnets in over 70 locations,” she said. “Since July, we have added 15 stores to our list of retailers.”
With so many locations comes the biggest challenge for Hutchinson’s business — production.
“The products are proudly handmade in the U.S.A.,” she said. “We are working with seamstresses in North Carolina, Winchester [Ky.], Stanton [Ky.], and Lexington, and we get lots of help from some wonderful folks at a manufacturing company in Tennessee — but even there, they are handmade.
“We have quickly learned the challenges associated with being American made,” she continued. “We have to hope that customers will understand our pricepoint is because we are paying for materials right here in the states and having them made by people who can’t make a handmade bonnet with nine buttons, hand-covered roping, and a few other secret ingredients for pennies like they do in China. Our seamstresses have families to support, and their groceries cost the same as yours and mine do. When people purchase a Beaufort Bonnet, they are helping support at least six American families.”
Hutchinson noted that being American made is a bragging right, but extra support is required.