Featured Founder: Susan Elwer, Spoonful Apparel

Susan Elwer’s Apparel Business Has Subsidized More Than 120,000 Meals for Kids in the U.S.

By Chris Olsen

Susan Elwer’s Whyography is one of more than 30 stories featured in the “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose” book. To purchase the book, visit the Marketplace page.

Susan is also the recipient of a micro grant from My Founder Story, a program dedicated to providing resources to female-identifying founders. Since 2018, more than $220,000 in grants and services have been donated to women business owners. To learn more and apply, visit our grants page.

Feeling embarrassed by a parent is a rite of passage for most teens. Susan Elwer felt something more like shame. Every week, as she and her mother walked up and down the grocery store aisles, she’d fixate on what was about to happen next. They’d get to the checkout, and when it was time to pay, Susan’s mom would present the cashier with food stamps. Susan wanted to disappear. She just wanted to blend in with the rest of the families she saw paying with cash and happily leaving the store with big bags of groceries.

Growing up poor and relying on government assistance for food and medical care was hard on Susan’s entire family. There were many times they had to go without things others took for granted. As a single parent, her mom did the best she could with what she had. Susan earned money babysitting to help out and focused on getting good grades in school. She was determined to go to college, get a good job, and pull herself out of poverty.

Susan was always interested in helping others. She studied criminal justice in college. She interned for and eventually ran the supervised visitation program for a residential treatment center. After she got married, Susan shifted gears and worked in the corporate sector. Only she wasn’t inspired by the work. After two children and a decade as a stay-at-home mom, Susan started thinking about her career again. She accepted a position at a public elementary school, assisting teachers and working directly with students who needed extra support. When Susan learned about a 4-year-old boy who’d gone without lunch the first three months of the school year, she made an extra brown-bag lunch every day until the school connected the boy’s family with the services they needed. She hadn’t forgotten what it was like to feel pangs of hunger deep in her belly, making it difficult to concentrate on studying or chores or just being a kid.

Susan felt something begin to rumble inside her again, but this time it was a desire to make a bigger impact—to feed more kids. Then one Sunday in church, the words from the sermon seemed to be aimed directly at her: “Don’t judge, just love.” She envisioned designing T-shirts with messages of love and acceptance and selling them to provide meals for hungry kids. She researched giveback businesses and realized she could have the most impact as a social enterprise donating a portion of the proceeds from merchandise sales to organizations already working to end hunger. She officially launched Spoonful Apparel in 2017.

Susan believes we are all here for a unique purpose, and through that purpose we make the world a better place. She says her purpose was placed in her heart that day in church. In three years, Spoonful has helped subsidize over 120,000 meals for kids in communities across the United States—proof of purpose in action.

About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.

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