Susan Rafetto

Peace by Piece

December 2023 IssueSusanRafetto 1223

by Lesley Kyle
Photography by Cassidy Dunn Photography

Susan Rafetto has found her dream job.

A self-declared free spirit, Susan moved to the Lowcountry from City Center Philadelphia in 2019. She lost her job there as a property manager when the company was sold. Without an obvious Plan B, Susan followed her younger daughter and son-in-law to Hilton Head. “I thought, ‘Maybe this is a window opening for me,’” said Susan. “I decided to take a leap.” Little did she know that her decision would renew a childhood passion that would soon lead to a new and rewarding career.

Susan’s mom and grandmother were her mentors, both talented artists. As a child, Susan learned to sew and make clothing while watching her mom make matching clothes for Susan and her twin sister. Susan was red, and her sister was blue. Twinning as a child fostered Susan’s strong desire to develop her own sense of individuality and style—and to not look like everyone else. She visited fabric stores with her mom where she developed an innate talent for putting colors together. Her focus changed when she married at a young age and had children. As Susan went through the motions of adulting, she parted ways—for the time being—with her passion for design and clothing. “I’ve always been a free spirit and moved around a lot with different jobs,” said Susan. “But it was a job and a paycheck: not a passion.” Susan’s young daughter even declared in a school essay project that, “My mom’s plan is to have no plan at all.”

After Susan’s mother passed away, she found herself at a tipping point in her life. “Mom was no longer here for me to ask, ‘What should I do?’” said Susan. She prayed for guidance and found her sewing machine while cleaning out her closet before moving to Hilton Head. Susan randomly selected and threw two tops from her closet on the bed that landed next to each another. As she surveyed the clothing, she determined she liked certain aspects of both pieces and thought they might work well together as one new piece. Susan shops the thrift stores to collect and sew together bits of clothing to design new one-of-a-kind pieces. She then washes, cuts, bejewels and sometimes bleaches the clothing she finds to create a new article of clothing. Wearing her unique designs, passersby would stop her to inquire where she’d purchased her clothing. Peace By Piece, Susan’s apparel company, was soon born.

Susan designs and makes men’s, women’s, children’s, and gender-fluid clothing. “Finding and reinventing clothing that tells a story and would otherwise end up in a landfill is my passion,” she said. She lives a vegan lifestyle for the animals and environment and selectively chooses the products she uses. While living as a property manager in Philly, Susan had a neighbor who would leave trash bags filled with brand new clothes (tags still on) by the fire exit. The bags needed to be moved, and Susan upcycled the discarded apparel into new fashions. But Susan’s love for her craft is so much more than upcycling and designing clothing. She creates individual pieces that move and facilitate the healing process for those who have lost people (and pets) they love.

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With the help of a videographer friend, Susan filmed a television pilot that chronicled her process. The pilot, based on the same concept as the popular HGTV series, Fixer Upper, followed Susan as she met with a woman who tragically lost both parents in a car crash. Susan transformed some treasured pieces of her parents’ clothing into new and unique fashions her client could wear and enjoy. The tv pilot culminated in a local fashion show where Susan’s new designs were revealed. Susan’s designs “allowed me the chance to open up a conversation with people about my parents,” said her grateful client. “I feel happy instead of sad—and that allows me to heal.” Susan also upcycles pillows to create handbags featuring painted pet portraits, most of whom have crossed the rainbow bridge. “I’m making a difference,” said Susan. “That made the leap worth it for me.”

Susan encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to identify what brings them joy outside of work. “Find that passion and turn it into a job,” she advised. “I love fashion. Our clothing and jewelry are how we present ourselves to the world. It would be such a boring world if we all dressed the same!”

Up Close:
Shoppers won’t find her unique creations in the many clothing shops that dot the Lowcountry landscape. On occasion, she has set up pop-up stores to sell her fashions. Her customers mostly find her by word of mouth, referrals, on Instagram, TikTok, and the many community markets around the area. You can also find Susan on Instagram: @peacebypiecehhi, @susanpeacebypiece, and @peacebypieceboutique.