Grandmother’s Buttons is a company steeped, like a strong cup of tea, in history and story. It all started in a small, historic town in Louisiana where an industrious woman with uncommon passions built a thriving business with the help of her family and community. Her name is Susan Davis and she founded Grandmother’s Buttons in 1985 in her spare bedroom.
Susan has the energy of a whirling dervish mingled with the manners and charm of a southern belle. Her unique obsessions are the foundation of Grandmother’s Buttons’ successes. Few people on earth know more about old buttons than Susan does.
Susan’s talents and passions are moored in her family genetics. She inherited her artistic abilities from her mother and her love of collecting from her grandmother. For the women in Susan’s family, the reciprocity between their artistic talent and collecting is vigorous.
Susan’s parents, Miriam and Harvey, met while studying art at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge in the 1930s. Soon after graduation, the young couple bought 1,000-acres of land in St. Francisville, Louisiana, where they became farmers and raised a family.
Susan abided by her family traditions and attended college at LSU where she met her husband Donny. After graduation, Susan worked as a publicist while Donny pursued a career as a wildlife biologist. However, the young couple, like many before them, dreamed of getting back to the land and raising their children among their extended family.
So, they quit their jobs and moved to St. Francisville. Donny built a house for them on Susan’s family’s land and they started growing children, dogs, and vegetables. However, Susan quickly realized that digging in the dirt wasn’t her calling and so she started to ponder another career that would enable her to remain in St. Francisville.
Inspiration struck during a visit with her 95-year-old grandmother. Susan’s grandmother Bettie, born in 1889, was an avid recycler long before the environment was a concern for most people. One of the guiding principles of her life was to save anything that could be repurposed into another useful form. During their visit, Susan was casually digging through the contents of one of her grandmother’s thirty-plus button boxes when she plucked a jet glass button from the jumble, held it to her ear and said, “Grandma this would make a gorgeous earring.”
Susan absconded that day with all of her grandmother’s buttons and immediately started repurposing them into jewelry. A couple of months later she attended her first craft show and turned some old buttons and fifty dollars worth of other materials into a thousand bucks. It felt like alchemy and Susan was hooked. Some years and many craft shows later, Grandmother’s Buttons landed its first department store account, so Donny parked his tractor and joined his wife as the company’s business manager.
In 1994, Susan and Donny purchased a historic bank building in downtown St. Francisville with enough character and southern charm to match their own. They opened a retail store and button museum on the first floor and installed their offices and jewelry manufacturing studio on the second.
Some years later, Donny and Susan’s daughter Anna joined the business, opening a second retail store in New Orleans and doing photography, design and digital marketing for the Grandmother’s Buttons web store. Anna plans to someday take over the business she grew up in and continue her family legacy for yet another generation.
Today Grandmother’s Buttons has 25 employees, mostly women, many of whom have worked for the company for more than a dozen years. The business is the economic mainstay of their tiny community employing team members who’ve raised their children en masse and feel like family.
Together these talented women design and hand assemble over 30,000 pieces of jewelry annually that are sold in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and Europe. Grandmother’s Buttons jewelry has adorned the shelves in many notable gift shops including those in the Palace at Versailles, the Smithsonian and at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Susan’s passion for buttons has endured over the decades. To this day she travels several times a year to hunt for rare and beautiful buttons, climbing into grimy New York City lofts, bargaining with flea market vendors, spending hours digging through dusty warehouses and long-forgotten closets. She’s amassed a monumental archive of antique buttons, and other bits and pieces. If you climb the stairs to Grandmother’s Buttons’ second-floor studio, you'll see her collection exploding from every surface, nook, crevice, and corner. It's a bonanza or a torment depending on your tolerance for clutter.
When inspiration strikes, Susan and her designers incorporate her found objects into Grandmother’s Buttons jewelry designs. Sometimes, when ideas evade them, they comb through the collections until a vision dawns. Some of Grandmother’s Buttons’ most loved designs include pieces that rested in a St. Francisville cabinet for more than a decade.
Grandmother’s Buttons’ motto is to honor the button. The castings used to set antique buttons into their jewelry were made in Louisiana especially for them and were designed to preserve the integrity of the buttons by making it possible to mount them onto jewelry while keeping their shanks intact.
Grandmother’s Buttons story is one that often brings a tear to the eyes of their customers who, like Susan, her daughter Anna, and the wonderful team of women that have grown the business with them, are nostalgically reminded of playing with the contents of their grandmother’s button box.