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11.16.2015

New England Designer Spotlight: Sea Bags

Sea Bags Portland
A wall of totes in Sea Bags, based in Portland, Maine
The rain was misty as I turned down Portland's Custom House Wharf. The gravel crunched under my feet, and I pulled my scarf a little tighter as I passed the small coffee shop and multiple fish markets. Two seagulls flew past, fighting over a bit of bait. It seemed an unlikely location for a design shop, and Maine's 2015 Retailer of the Year. Unlikely, until you understand the ethos of Sea Bags, a Portland-based purveyor of nautical accessories. 

Sea Bags Portland
Portland's Custom House Wharf, a working waterfront that also houses Sea Bags HQ. 
"Being on Custom House Wharf is our way of contributing to the rich maritime history in Maine," states Jessica DiBiase, in Product Design and Development at Sea Bags. The company, who recycles used sails into one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted totes and accessories has grown to five brick and mortar stores, hundreds of retail partners across the country, and online at seabags.com. Despite the expansion, Sea Bags is clearly still tied to its Maine roots. I chatted with DiBiase to learn more about what it takes to turn a used sail into a quality accessory.

How did you get started at Sea Bags?

"I came here because they needed help - I was 19 when I started! I was cutting the sails and making the sewing kits. I really enjoyed making the custom designs. I continued here while I studied marketing and business at the University of Southern Maine. From there, I grew into this position."

Every single Sea Bag is hand-crafted right here in this location on a working waterfront in Portland. Does the location affect your design at all?

"It's great to have everything in house! If I'm playing around with a concept, I can jump up, grab some sail material, and test it out right here. We can also turn around samples fairly quickly. In addition, the wharf actually informs a lot of our design inspiration - for example, you can really see the lobsterman's buoys in these bucket bags. We also pull a lot of color inspiration from the wharf - there is a guy that works at one of the fish markets and he wears these bright, sea-green grundens; it is such a great color on our bags! We do have so much marine life and nautical stuff in our line, but we're tiptoeing out of it just a bit. We try to stay true to our Maine roots with plaids, buffalo-check, houndstooth, even a moose print that is really selling well. Customers like that we aren't so restricted to only nautical styles.

"It's also important to us that all Sea Bags are completely made and sourced in the United States. Our rope for the bag handles is from New England, we use the last thread manufacturers in the country, and we source our sails from actual sailors."

Sea Bags Portland
A Sea Bags seamstress creates a one-of-a-kind bag in Portland, Maine.
You work with a very non-traditional fabric. How does working with sail material affect your design and manufacturing process?

"When we get a big sail in, we'll cut multiple panels out of the sail. Each piece will be different - there will be stitching here, a grommet there, etc... so each bag will be unique, even if it comes from the same sail. It's like a crackerjack box - you'll get a little surprise element with your bag!"

Tell me a little bit about the range of your line. 

"The bold, classic appliqued designs are a little preppy, and we always keep them in our line. Our customers recognize them as iconic Sea Bags. The anchor is still one of our best selling designs!

"For a long time we were actually very limited with our design; we had to use a white sail background. We now have this dying technology that allows us to dye our sails with more intricate designs and a greater range of color options. It's great to be able to produce darker colors to create a more seasonal bag. Not everyone wants a white bag - especially year round! Now we can mix old and new - we have a dyed black clutch (the new technology) with an appliqued anchor (a Sea Bags staple). It's exciting to be able to breathe new life into our products. (Ed. note: Enter here for a chance to win your own black on black anchor clutch!)

"Most of our customers are repeat customers. They want to collect our iconic bags, and the new bags as well."

Jessica DiBiase
Jessica DiBiase, Product Development and Design at Sea Bags. DiBiase is holding the black on black envelope clutch. Enter to win this clutch here
The black on black envelope clutch being created. Enter to win this clutch here
Your customers really do seem dedicated to the brand. Do you hear a lot from them?

"Our customers are always sending us product development ideas. They like to be a part of the design process. For example, we received a lot of requests for sea turtles, so we created a Sea Turtle bag, which has done really well for us. We like to hear what our customers want to see!"

What are your top three favorite Sea Bags?

"The vintage bags! They showcase the original markings of the sail - the design of the sail is incorporated into the bag. They're sort of abstract, less deliberate. And they are all one of a kind! I like the new black on black clutch - I like that it is a subtle design, and that we have the ability to bring black bags to our customer (Ed. note: Enter here for a chance to win your own black on black clutch!). I am also a fan of our camo print."

Sea Bags Portland
Sea Bags HQ in Portland, Maine. The shop is in front, and the bags are hand-crafted in the back. 
What do you love about working at Sea Bags?

"It's important to us to be able to provide manufacturing jobs right here in Maine. We can give local people jobs, hand-crafting unique, durable products made out of material that would otherwise end up in a landfill. And that's really awesome."

Want a Sea Bag of your own? I am giving one lucky reader the Black on Black Anchor Envelope Clutch (enter here or below)! See more Sea Bags at their online shop, or visit Sea Bags in Maine, New Jersey or Massachusetts. Follow Sea Bags online on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

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Keep up with TBF! Bloglovin' | Follow by Email Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest Snapchat: Bos_Fashionista