Brave, Bold, Beautiful: Norton and Hodges Sets the Standard in Southern Fashion
Suzette Bussey’s brave, bold and beautiful fashion company proves to be a reflection of her personal triumphs and steadfast belief in sustainability.
Suzette Bussey discusses the intersection of ethics and fashion, battling breast cancer and Southern living.
Charleston-based, luxury accessory company Norton and Hodges has been featured in Garden & Gun, Charleston Magazine, NYFW, People and more, but founder Suzette Bussey’s message is the same principle she shares with South magazine. Each of the company’s core values—responsible sourcing of materials, economic empowerment for women, respect for nature, 80% women majority supply chain, supporting Black entrepreneurs and wildlife conservation efforts—reverberates in Bussey’s words. She walks the walk.
Bussey’s battle with breast cancer has grounded her in the essence of living boldly. She shares, “Cancer has been one of my greatest teachers to this point. The experience taught me just how powerful my mindset is… Be bold and believe that you will survive and thrive no matter what.”
“Bold” is a concept that permeates Norton and Hodges unapologetic advocacy for conservation and female empowerment as well as their vibrant designs. Inspired by the majesty of Africa, Norton and Hodges luxury, artisan accessories are intriguing to the eye and unwaveringly stylish.
Read on for more on Norton and Hodges—origin, inspiration and mission—and visit nortonandhodges.com to browse exquisite accessories and luxury goods.
South: Where did the name Norton and Hodges come from?
Suzette Bussey: [My husband and I] named the company after grandmothers on both sides of the family who really influenced us. My Grammy Norton always looked elegant, was so artistic and collected vintage jewelry. Ben’s grandmother, Beverly Fite, is always fashionable and is a real steel magnolia.
S: You came to Charleston and never left. How did you get from Pennsylvania to the South?
SB: I was recruited to play softball in college and chose Charleston Southern University.
S: Was your first trip to Africa your honeymoon?
SB: I had been to Egypt but had never visited Southern Africa before our honeymoon.
From NortonAndHodges.com: “The company strives to employ women at every point of the value chain in Africa and in the United States. 80% of the company’s products are proudly bench-crafted by a team of female artisans in Savannah, Georgia.”
S: Can you tell me how you pick these women? How do you go about sourcing employees across the world?
SB: Building relationships is very important to me, so that’s how we approach business. By understanding our potential partners—what they need, what their goals are, making sure our values align and communicating openly—we can build a lasting relationship that works for both parties.
I make a considerate effort to always look for female artisans—women-owned or women-led businesses. It’s not always easy to find them but they are there. Sometimes I find them by traveling and just talking to people in markets, like Sarah in Ghana. If I can’t find them on my own, I ask for referrals from people in my network. That’s how I was connected to Port City Sewing in Savannah just as they were getting started.
S: How did/do you pick the small family farms in Texas, South Africa and Namibia? And why Texas?
SB: Norton and Hodges selects farms that are committed to conservation and sustainability through a set of protocols that we developed. We select them by visiting the farms to understand how they are run or by referrals from people in our network that understand our values.
There are a lot of people in Texas that do good work preserving land and spend their own time and money ensuring many species thrive. It’s important to support them if we can because conservation is not cheap.
When we were designing our debut Damara collar collection, which is our take on the Southern women’s indispensable accessory (a scarf), we wanted to bring in some of the influence from our travels out west. So, we decided to use Axis deer because not only is it beautiful but is a great example of successful conservation efforts helping a species to thrive. We found farms that had hides that were a by-product of harvesting for food.
From NortonAndHodges.com: “The company has a goal to have 100% traceability from farm to design by the end of 2020, and to have zero waste in that same time frame.”
S: This is a pretty bold statement (no pun intended)—how do you plan on achieving these goals?
SB: While we are 100% traceable on our exotic hides (like zebra and alligator), our goal is to be able to trace our bovine leather and suede, too. Unfortunately, that is a big goal and will take a few years to achieve. To achieve this big goal, we will have to reimagine the design process. We will have to pre-select farms that meet our standards, pre-purchase hides and tag them so we can follow them from farm to tannery to our design table. We will have to design collections and colors ways even earlier to be able to accommodate the lengthy time for the tanning process. But to us, it will be worth all the extra effort to be able to know exactly what farms we are supporting.
S: Obviously you use ethical standards in the sourcing of any fur and feathers. What do you say to those who oppose the use of fur and hides, etc.?
SB: I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer and I respect everyone’s personal opinions on this issue. For me, I look to nature as my teacher. There are omnivores, herbivores and carnivores, and they all contribute to the overall environment. I prefer to use materials that will naturally decompose and that are a by-product of feeding people. I am not totally comfortable using materials that won’t break down without very specific processes or facilities.
Norton and Hodges innately opposes the inhumane treatment of animals. The company adheres to the highest ethical standards in the sourcing of fur and feathers. No endangered or threatened species are used in any Norton and Hodges products. The impact of materials on the environment is regularly evaluated and looked at by the company. For example, Norton and Hodges will not source new faux fur, a petroleum by-product that never disintegrates, as opposed to natural materials like leather and silk. Norton and Hodges actively works to repurpose existing materials where possible, such as up-cycled vintage fur and faux fur collars, and has a goal of 100% zero waste.
S: You are an avid hunter. How do you explain that to any critics you may have? Do you hunt in Africa?
SB: I grew up in a household where hunting and fishing were not only traditions but also a way to celebrate the bounty of the natural resources around us. Around the world, and especially in Africa, if something doesn’t have value, whether as a food source or by providing employment, then it’s not protected. Sustainable conservation is one of the many approaches we can use to create constant value, so the beautiful spaces and the animals are protected. This approach also helps maintain healthy populations, ensure biodiversity and feeds people who might not otherwise have a consistent source of protein.
The leather and other natural materials we use are byproducts of feeding people. Every part that we use honors the life of the animal and allows us to educate people about our responsibility to cherish the animals and land around us and help them to thrive. It is our duty to respect the life of the animal by not wasting any part and using every part well, whether it’s for a beautiful cuff or a small earring.
S: Tell us about your advocacy now with breast cancer. From zero to stage 2 must have been quite the shock. We have read a lot about your story, do you have to worry for your future, or are you out of the woods completely, (or is that not a question you can answer?)
SB: It was an extremely scary experience, but I had an incredible medical team at Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center and a wonderful support group of friends and family to help me through it.
Breast cancer is unfortunately becoming more common but is totally treatable. We live in a time where if breast cancer is detected early, it is treatable, and the survival rates are very good.
Once you have cancer, I think it’s always in the back of your mind, and that experience will always be a part of me. I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer and I am BRCA-1 positive, so I will always have to monitor my health a little closer than most. There are protocols and advancements for this type of cancer that are ever-changing, so I follow them to ensure my best chances of survival.
S: What is the single most important thing you took away, or piece of advice you would give to someone in the situation you faced? How can they be bold?
SB: Cancer has been one of my greatest teachers to this point. The experience taught me just how powerful my mindset is.. Be bold and believe that you will survive and thrive no matter what.
S: We ask everyone where their favorite places to eat, play, stay and shop in the South—can you tell us some of those?
Out of all the questions, this is the most difficult one to answer!
Eat: My go-to places in Charleston are Oak Steakhouse and Malagon. Chez Fonfon Birmingham. And a little place called Indian Pass Raw Bar.
Stay: We always try to stay at a Kessler Collection property. I love how each hotel has a personality and that just about every part of the space is a piece of art. The Cloister at Sea Island is another favorite spot.
Shop: Satchel and Paris Market in Savannah. The Poppy Caravan which is a traveling luxury shopping experience. Highland Park Village in Dallas; There are great little finds at the G & G Fieldshop.
Play: Thomasville, GA is so much fun and always has great festivals. Sea Island, GA for short getaways. You will always find us boating, fishing or crabbing in the brackish waters of the Lowcountry. Shelling and enjoying the crystal-clear water on the Gulf of Mexico on the Forgotten Coast. Driving around the South and discovering new little places to explore.