Maine tote bag and accent maker Sea Baggage’ most distinguished location in Portland is, unquestionably, its 2,300 square-foot flagship retailer at 123 Industrial St., however that retailer has solely been open since 2020.
Its authentic location, and present manufacturing facility retailer, is a two-minute stroll away on the waterfront, down the slim Customized Home Wharf, squeezed in subsequent to its legendary neighbor, the Harbor Fish seafood market.
Its location is a becoming one for Sea Baggage to have gotten its begin, and never simply due to its title. The corporate, based by Hannah Kubiak in 1999, takes previous sails destined for the trash heap and turns them into cute and sturdy handmade merchandise, all hearkening again to their nautical roots.
At a look, the luggage symbolize conventional tote baggage, however the hemp rope handles are woven by hand to resemble sail ropes, and the luggage themselves bear the stitching and in some circumstances markings of the unique sails. Nonetheless others are printed with logos, scenic photos and related designs paying homage to the Pine Tree State.
“You actually aren’t going to have two of the identical,” mentioned Katie Wolitarsky, the corporate’s spokesperson.
Costs vary from $50 for small “bucket baggage” to $250 for bigger totes.
The recognition of Sea Baggage’ merchandise is mirrored within the firm’s exponential growth, from a single store greater than 20 years in the past to 50 shops unfold throughout 15 states at present, as far south as Key West, Fla., and as far west as Michigan.
The corporate additionally sells its merchandise in different retail shops.
Don Oakes, who has been the corporate’s CEO for the previous 10 years, couldn’t say for positive what number of shops Sea Baggage contracts with, however mentioned, “We’re within the a whole lot.”
Regardless of greater than $20 million in gross sales yearly, Sea Baggage is just not sitting idle. The corporate is testing a brand new retailer in California proper now and plans so as to add extra shops nationwide sooner or later.
Regardless of the expansion in quantity (the corporate produced 200,000 tote baggage and equipment in 2022 alone), Sea Baggage proudly shows an virtually stubbornly artisanal dedication to not cave to industrialized manufacturing or outsourcing to maintain up with demand. To take action, Oakes mentioned, would break what the corporate has constructed.
“It’s the authenticity of the model,” he mentioned.
Oakes insisted that Sea Baggage doesn’t automate something – each merchandise the corporate sells is made by hand, stitched in one of many firm’s two manufacturing areas, Portland and a satellite tv for pc location in South Portland. A number of the firm’s staff even assemble merchandise or elements at dwelling.
The South Portland location is the place used sails – donated by teams as giant as yacht golf equipment and as small as particular person boaters – first get processed. The fabric is formally unfit for boating however completely usable for making baggage when reduce to dimension and form. Once more, Oakes mentioned, it’s carried out by hand. The character of the work makes even designing a machine to chop the sails down inconceivable.
“The sails usually are not uniform,” he mentioned. “They’re all completely different sizes, they’re all completely different shapes, they’re all completely different weights.”
The corporate employs 300 nationwide, together with greater than 100 in Portland and South Portland.
Throughout a current go to to the Portland manufacturing facility location, April McLucas, 42, of Portland, a seven-year veteran of the corporate, was working within the again as a “kitter.” She places collectively squares of sail cloth for use as a bag’s outer layer, then others to make use of as an interior layer, together with rope and different items to connect.
Every equipment is then utilized by different staff to assemble a single bag. She will assemble as many as 200-300 kits a day. The character of utilizing donated materials, she mentioned, means each sheet of fabric, and thus each equipment, seems to be somewhat completely different.
“I like the creativity that we get to have right here, and I like that we work with recycled materials,” she mentioned.
Close by, Lisa Kronmaier, 67, additionally of Portland, labored away on an electrical stitching machine, assembling a tote bag. She got here to the corporate in 2010, after seeing an area information story about it.
As we speak, she makes about 30 baggage a day. She mentioned she loves stitching and dealing on quilts at dwelling in her spare time. She additionally loves the situation, and her fellow sewers, whom she refers to as “somewhat stitching circle.”
“Everybody will get alongside nice right here,” she mentioned. “I like being on the waterfront.”
Wolitarsky famous the corporate is sustaining its dedication to sustainability, proper all the way down to not utilizing plastic comparable to bubble wrap in its merchandise’ packaging.
Used sails are usually discarded as trash, not recycled, and over the previous 15 years the corporate has taken in an estimated 1.5 million kilos of sail materials that in any other case would have ended up in a landfill.
As we speak, Wolitarsky mentioned, the corporate takes in about 10,000 sails a yr. Donors, she mentioned, are thrilled at with the ability to put the previous sails to make use of.
“It’s unbelievable. They’ve simply discovered this outlet to maintain sails from ending up in a landfill,” she mentioned.
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