Meet Susan Clayton, Baltimore Runner-Turned-Entrepreneur
Baltimore resident and avid runner Susan Clayton founded WhitePaws RunMitts, an outdoor gear and apparel company best known for its patented, convertible, thumbless mittens with inside pockets for hand warmers.
Susan initially conceived the idea for her glove design while serving as a coach with Back on My Feet, which organizes early morning runs with people experiencing homelessness across the city of Baltimore. During harsh winters, Susan’s hands got extremely cold on runs. One day, she saw a friend running with socks on their hands and thought, “I could make something better than that!”
And that’s exactly what Susan did when she created WhitePaws RunMitts.
In 2020, Susan saw a major uptick in her business. George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement created a rallying cry for consumers to support Black-owned small businesses. As one of only two Black-owned gear company owners in the U.S. at the time, she garnered additional attention from media and prospective customers.
However, it wasn’t until major outdoor retailer REI expressed a desire to sell Susan’s product at select stores that the need to scale her business operations became apparent.
In February 2022, Susan turned to the Empower by GoDaddy program and Impact Hub Baltimore for help. She soon learned to leverage GoDaddy products to establish her company’s digital presence and online store. Launched in 2017, Empower by GoDaddy equips entrepreneurs in underserved communities with training, tools and peer networks to accelerate their business journeys.
As Susan continued to grow and invest in her business, 2022 brought an exciting opportunity to fulfill an order putting RunMitts on the shelves in 80 REI stores. But supply chain issues and the lack of capital to purchase all the fabric she needed to satisfy demand posed major challenges.
The events of this year were pivotal for the growth of my business,” said Susan. With a mammoth order from REI, I needed funding badly and so I competed in Baltimore Homecoming’s Crab Tank pitch competition for $25,000. There was so much riding on this competition; it would change my life. I could gain financing for manufacturing and scale my business to new heights.”
It was also during this time that GoDaddy started filming Susan’s journey for the fourth season of its award-winning docuseries Made in America. As part of GoDaddy’s commitment to making opportunity more inclusive for all, Made in America’s purpose is to showcase stories of everyday entrepreneurs, particularly those who have overcome a lack of access to resources and other barriers to business success. The fourth season told the inspiring stories of Baltimore entrepreneurs, including Susan.
“The skills I learned through Empower Baltimore gave me the confidence to advocate for my business,” said Susan. “My investment in myself paid off, and I successfully won the pitch competition and received the funding I needed to succeed.”
Reflecting on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day earlier this month, Susan wanted to remind small business owners like herself that you don’t need a big, world-changing idea to start a company. It can simply be about building a better future for yourself and those around you.
“Throughout my time running with Back on My Feet and now executing on my own business endeavors, I truly believe that nobody runs alone,” said Susan. “Thinking of a business idea will only get you so far. You need a community of people to lift you up and support your journey.”
Empower by GoDaddy Spotlight Series: By partnering with diverse local nonprofits around the world, Empower by GoDaddy aims to reach those who haven’t otherwise had access by offering skills training, resources, and mentoring to help accelerate their business journeys. This article is part of the Empower by GoDaddy spotlight series that shines a light on the individuals who make this unique initiative possible.