Portland’s Sea Bags looks to expand amid an ocean of success
Beth Shissler (left) and Hannah Kibiak run Sea Bags on Customs House Wharf in Portland. The company, which makes products from recycled sails, is expanding from 1,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet on the wharf. Buy Photo
Material waits to be sewn into products at Sea Bags on Customs House Wharf in Portland Wednesday. The company, which makes products from recycled sails, is expanding from 1,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet on the wharf. Buy Photo
Stitched and printed designs grace Sea Bags products on Customs House Wharf in Portland Wednesday. The company, which makes products from recycled sails, is expanding from 1,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet on the jordan retro wharf. Buy Photo
Alisha Majkowski marks material befor cutting it for products at Sea Bags on Customs House Wharf in Portland Wednesday. The company, which makes products from recycled sails, is expanding from 1,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet on the wharf. Buy Photo
PORTLAND, Maine The classic canvas tote has symbolized Maine for decades. But in the last few years, another bag is starting to dominate.
Sea Bags, made of recycled sail and nautical line, are crafted in Portland by a team of seamstresses and designers. The popular accessory, sold by J. Crew, Tommy Bahama and Sperry Top Sider, is suddenly everywhere.
To keep up with demand for these satchels, branded with original sail markings as well as lobster claws, anchors and assorted nautical imprints, owners Hannah Kubiak and B jordan retro eth Shissler are charting a course for success.
This fall, the company is tripling its manufacturing footprint and expects to increase hiring by 20 percent within the next year. Above their headquarters on Custom House Wharf, they have added 2,700 square jordan retro feet of space for production and are working feverishly on their spring 2014 line.
“The goal is to keep our jobs here in Maine, to gro jordan retro w our company in Maine and to do it sustainability,” said Shissler, who grew up in Topsham and left a successful career in semiconductor sales to join Sea Bags in 2006.
With 30 employees and a projection to expand to almost 50 in the near future, they are well on their way.
“This will allow us significant growth,” said Shissler, who was Sea Bags’ first wholesale customer years ago. “We are looking at extensive but sustainable growth.”
Last year Sea Bags produced and sold 42,000 items from totes to wine bags to iPad covers. The most popular tote, emblazoned with a navy blue anchor, retails for $130. They are fashioned out of old sails made of wax canvas, cotton canvas, polyester and high tech Kevlar and mylar.
In the early days, people donated sails, but now that Kubiak’s brainchild has launched scores of knockoffs, they are hard to come by.
“In the beginning, people said, ‘Oh look at these girls, they are struggling. I’ve got some old sails, I’ll just drop them off,'” said Kubiak. “Those days are long gone.”
Now they trade bags for sails and employ a full time sail acquisition manager who scours the Eastern Seaboard, West Coast and abroad for material.
With the new space, Sea Bags will enlarge its shipping department, retail space and open up overseas channels.
In the 14 years the company has been in business, its furthest shipment was Saudi Arabia. This week, Shissler was working on setting up a distribution chain in Australia.
Despite their success (or perhaps because of it), Kubiak and Shissler say keeping their product made in Maine is top priority. Sea Bags hires local stitchers, most of whom sew in the wharf retail shop for all to see, while a few work from home.
“We’ve become somewhat of a destination.
“We’ve lost an amazing skill set in the state of Maine, and these are all highly educated seamstresses. I believe there is a lot more of this that can happen in Maine,” said Shissler during a recent tour of the production floor click clacking with activity. “The textile industry goes way back in Maine and so much of the business has gone offshore.”
Sea Bags’ determination to stay on the working waterfront is a choice. materials from North Carolina thread to rope from Massachusetts.
Shissler said it would be more efficient to move from the creaky wharf to a true manufacturing space but the authenticity that consumers crave would be lost.
At travel boutique Daytrip Society in Kennebunkport, Sea Bags is a top seller year after year because of the Maine allure. “People come back multiple times and say, ‘This is the gift I give, this is the Maine gift,'” said co owner Jessica Jenkins. “They have a reputation now.”
The company that was born and branded on the wharf has no plans to end that romance. And that’s good for the economy.