Success, a stitch at a time |

Success, a stitch at a time

Cliff Thompson
NWS Cust-Emb 12-1-03 CS

This enthusiastic and energetic mother of two is the sole proprietor and employee of Custom Embroidery, a business she purchased in April and opened in Minturn in July. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement, many of the larger clothing-related manufacturing industries have moved offshore where it’s cheaper to manufacture things. That leaves opportunity for smaller businesses.

Caradonna says she feels she’s found a niche where being smaller, locally focused and quality-conscious outweigh the economic considerations driving other larger manufacturing businesses offshore.

Over the rattling racket of a four-head, 10 color, computer-driven embroidery machine stitching logos on tiny sweatshirts for a local school, Caradonna makes an odd admission.

“I can’t sew a stitch,” she smiles, stopping to rethread one of the sewing heads. What she doesn’t know about sewing, she makes up in what she calls “craftiness” and hands-on abilities. “I went from full-time mom to full-time business owner.”

In fact, this trim, blue eyed-blonde didn’t know a thing about embroidery before she and husband Tony purchased the business. She simply jumped into it when the opportunity presented itself. She’s already been keeping the books for her husband’s snow plowing and motorcycle businesses, so she knew what was needed on that side of the business.

All it took to fill in the rest of the blanks was some training classes from the manufacturer of the embroidery machines, and her business was off and stitching.

Like many, her first visit to Vail was a long one. She interrupted her college education at Chico State, where she was studying communications, to visit her brother here in 1986 and decided to stay.

It’s now the busy season in her shop and she’s been working killer hours nearly every day trying to fill holiday orders ranging from single-color logos to multicolored monograms on jackets. Her business, like many in ski resort towns, marches to the beat of the ski season and is busiest when the snow flies. With two young children, the time demands are significant. She started out working three days a week but finds now that filling the orders is turning into a full-time job.

She’s content for now, to be her company’s sole proprietor and employee.

For the time being she’s not interested in hiring someone to help. Her definition of quality means she’s satisfied everything is up to her standards.

“If everything isn’t exactly right it doesn’t leave,” she says. “I’m a perfectionist. If you put out good work, people will be happy.”

She’s been called upon for some pretty odd requests, but that added challenge seems to motivate her.

“If I can put it in a hoop, I can embroider it,” she says. The hoop fits onto the sewing head of the embroidery machines.

Odd as it may sound, she’s even embroidered a monogram on baby diapers being used as napkins at a baby shower. She’s made logos for Vail Resorts and for individuals, and depending on the size of the order, can have jobs ready in two to four days, she says.

Virtually any piece of art that can be scanned and digitized, can be converted into a logo.

Finding a shop space in Minturn was a happy combination of needs. She had run the business in her husband’s motorcycle shop, and has even operated it out of her garage in Eagle but found she needed more space.

“For the first time in memory, I can park my car in the garage,” she says.

So far most of her business has been the result of word of mouth. She has not yet begun to advertise, but acknowledges that step will eventually need to be taken.

One of her first orders came by way of her parents who operate the V Foundation. It’s seeking a cure for cancer and was founded in memory of late, legendary North Carolina State basketball coach, Jimmy Valvano, the college roommate of Caradonna’s father. Valvano died of cancer at 47.

Caradonna’s returning the familial favors, too.

“Everyone in my family is getting something monogrammed this holiday season,” she says. “It’s been lots of fun.”

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or

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