The Little Birdie Pillow Co., like many small businesses, began with handmade gifts for friends. With a longstanding family history of manufacturing and a shared gene of creativity, what happened next was inevitable.
Susan Hardin’s father and grandfather before him were both manufacturers. In fact, the factory where The Little Birdie Co. creates pillows in Calhoun City, Miss., once produced mens’ jeans under Susan’s grandfather’s leadership. Susan’s husband-turned-business-partner, Tony, had made a living in manufacturing as well, printing sports-related products like stadium seats. Their three daughters were in college when they began making pillows for them to give to their sorority sisters as gifts, using a piece of Tony’s printing equipment.
“We have six children, and three daughters at the time were at Mississippi State, and in a sorority,” Susan said.
“They are all very creative and they put two-and-two together and thought, ‘We could do some designs and have Daddy print them.’ They were the ones to see the potential.”
At the time, Susan was working as a high school English teacher with no intentions of starting a company. The business began slowly, first with a booth at a local store showcasing their customizable designs. Soon, one booth became two, and eventually, The Little Birdie Co. expanded into other markets in the state. In summer of 2015, Susan attended her first Mississippi Wholesale Market with some encouragement from customers and friends.
“When I took them, I thought, ‘I will be thrilled just to get one order,’” she said.
“We had a ton of orders. We decided to try the Atlanta market, and the pillows did really well there, too. So, I decided to step out in faith and quit my teaching job and see where the pillow business could go.”
It was a family project from the beginning, with Susan and her oldest daughters, Emily, Sarah and Reagan, on design and Tony in charge of production. The two sons were even called in from time to time for heavy lifting. Fast forward two years, and The Little Birdie Pillow Co. is both Tony and Susan’s full-time gig and employs eight people daily and up to 15 during market season.
Their three oldest birds have flown the nest, but they still contribute designs and help follow trends from afar and during brainstorming sessions while they’re home to visit. The variety of pillows is in large part because of their different tastes and talents, each brings their own inspirations to the table.
Aside from pillows, two other passions of the Hardin’s are missions and adoption, and the family is actively involved in both. The youngest Hardin daughter, Addie Grace, was adopted from Poptup Peten, Guatemala, more than ten years ago. The Little Birdie Pillow Co. offers the Addie pillow in her honor; the profits from each pillow sold go to support the people of Guatemala. The Hardins also partner with individuals to help with mission trip and adoption fundraising by giving them pillows at cost and letting them use the difference made to support their cause.
“It’s very important to me, because God has blessed us so much, to give back in any way we can,” Susan said.
What started in Calhoun City has spread to most states in the country, but Susan still feels partial to the small-town stores.
“The local stores are our bread and butter, so I really cater to them and help them find things that are unique to their area,” she said.
“I like to give them more personal attention, because they’re the ones who helped us get started.”
Little Birdie Pillow Co. offers designs for any style, age or location. The most popular of their pillows are the ones that can be customized with last names, wedding dates, fandoms and home towns and states. Other categories include collegiate, children’s, farmhouse, scriptural, seasonal and romantic. These pillows cover the gamut from minimalist to watercolored by hand.
“I think one of the reasons our pillows have been popular, is because they are an attractive, easy way to change your décor seasonally without a huge investment,” Susan said.
“We try to have something for everybody.”