Made in Michiana: Hoof to Hanger

BRIDGMAN, Mich. -- This week our Made in Michiana series heads to Bridgman where two retirees are bringing back an old trade and jobs to the community.

For Suzy Barns this unexpected chapter of her life began at the end of a long career as a medical professional.

"Twenty years ago I bought a small cottage on the southwest coast of Ireland and I was going to retire there and I just thought what amI going to do with my day," said Barns. "I’m looking out and there is the ocean and I thought -- I don’t want to be a commercial fisherman. So the only other thing you see when you look out that window is sheep. So I decided I should figure out what to do with sheep."

With the help of some local farmers, she did.

Fast forward a few years later to 2009 and Barns took over the Sand Piper shop in Bridgman. The shop features locally and regionally made items.

Barns would often spend time using the talents she learned spinning wool on a hand machine in the front window.

"I just started doing it by hand and it became a passion and then I learned to spin the yarn and then I would knit from the yarn," said Barns.

People eventually started to take notice.

"People would come in and pop and say, do you ever sell that yarn? I’d say -- No, not really. Finally, after about the tenth person I thought, I’m an idiot," said Barns. "I’m missing a great opportunity here."

Enter Rick Fuller, a retired pilot looking to return to his hometown and help make a difference in its revitalization.

His father had actually opened the Ben Franklin store in the very location of the Sand Piper back in the 1950s.

"He decided he wanted a connection with the building and to contribute to the city and so we started talking," said Barns. "What could we to do to create jobs and to help the local agri-tourism industry and to produce a useful product?

For suzy the answer was clear.

"I said the only thing I can think of that there is a market for and a need for is fiber milling," said Barns.

Many fiber mills disappeared when manufacturing started to move mostly overseas.

"All the mills where you would take your fleece to produce were a year, year and a half wait before you would get your product back," said Barns. "So to me that says the need is there. There is a demand."

She was right.

Since opening Hoof to Hanger behind the Sand Piper, Rick and Suzy have been working non-stop. Now instead of hand spinning it’s all done by machines.

Fuller has become an expert operator and mechanic for the machines.

"We are only four months into this process and we are still in that learning curve, but already we are producing some of the finest end products that are out there on the market," said Fuller.

They now hope to expand their operations and decrease the wait time for the farmers.

"What we really want to see is a legacy created for our city, so we want to be able to hire some more workers and put on a second shift," said Barns. "We want this equipment to be running more than it’s turned off."

By the end of this year they hope to be able to stock the sandpiper and other stores across the country with more of their very own hoof to hanger yarn all made in Michiana.

Right now Hoof to Hanger employs 6 people. As they add more shifts they hope to boost that to 10 - 12 full time workers.

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