By Lisa Marie Dahm | Special to NHN
Give any gently used piece of denim children’s clothing to Sue Lifschiz and, within a few hours, she can transform it into looking like a brand-new, paniolo-style ensemble most parents would love.
With just a Spartan sewing machine, the former elementary school librarian shopped for, designed and constructed an entire line of children’s cowboy denim clothing in a mere month. The North Kohala resident plans to debut her newest endeavor at the Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival in Waimea Saturday under the name “Paniolo Kidz.”
“I had seen a similar thing (the cowboy kids style) on the mainland,” Lifschiz said. She felt the look would fit perfectly in North Kohala.
The line, from infants to a youth size seven, offers inspired, well-constructed matching sets and single items that include fringed jackets, shorts, pants, skirts, dresses and even hats and purses. She first buys the cowboy and Hawaii-themed fabrics, as well as fringe and ribbon, usually online. With it, Lifschiz embellishes vintage Levi’s, Wranglers, OshKosh and other name brands she finds at area thrift stores to create her unique styles.
“I am a thrift shop addict,” she said. “This supports my habit.”
The speed and quality with which she designs the clothes are not the most remarkable part of Lifschiz’s story. Not only is she a quick and natural fashion designer, she does the work while living with Parkinson’s disease, a condition that affects more than 1.5 million Americans, including well-known people, such as Michael J. Fox, Janet Reno and Muhammad Ali. About a million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease.
“I am open about the Parkinson’s,” Lifschiz said. “I want people to be aware.”
Diagnosed 10 years ago, Lifschiz has a tremor in her right hand that is controlled through medicine. Instead of succumbing to the disease, Lifschiz channeled her struggle into her natural creativity.
After a trip to Japan about five years ago, she began making and selling book-sized cloth purses and Japanese-style necklaces under the name Sue Dee Originals. She also designs other jewelry, often using beads she makes from Polymer clay.
She also makes note cards with photos taken by her husband, Julian, and donates them to North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea to sell in the gift shop.
“I think people with Parkinson’s have a special creativity,” Lifschiz said.
According to the National Institute of Health, Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking, and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination. There is no known cure for Parkinson’s.
She describes her I-can-do-it attitude as a strong force in her life that propels her inventiveness. She said her tremor seems to disappear when she is doing her craft work.
“I have one terrible disease; it’s when I see something, I think ‘I can do that,’” Lifschiz said.
Lifschiz is dedicated to Parkinson’s education and awareness. She attends a support group in California, where she lives part time and she serves as an ear of support through phone calls, emails and visits for others who are newly diagnosed or struggling.
Lifschiz believes exercise and creative outlets help slow the progression of Parkinson’s. She also has participated three times in the Unity Walk, an April event for Parkinson’s research funding in New York City.
As for the cure for her creativity, with her Paniolo Kidz line, Lifschiz may just have found her remedy.
To purchase from Paniolo Kidz, visit Lifschiz at the Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival at her booth in the Parker Center.
To view Lifschiz’s other work or for more information on Parkinson’s disease, visit the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation website at pdf.org/en/gallery/artist/515.