Maine Totes to Tout
Sea Bags earn praise from fashion magazines and sailors.
- By: Lorie Costigan
"What's with the tote bags?"
It was a fair question and astute observation from a Maine newcomer, one who'd seen canvas totes available everywhere from the state's signature retailer to sidewalk shops to the discount nirvana known as Renys.
"They're ubiquitous. Are they handed out at the border? Are they part of a uniform?"
Good questions, all, and my memory began to unravel a lifetime of canvas-bag exposure.
Sailors who used the off-white canvas bags to haul goodies to boats bobbing in the harbor were common enough growing up along the Maine coast. A practical way to lug, if you had a boat to lug to, I'd thought.
Years later I'd see parents dragging nautical-themed totes for tots to the daycare center, the diaper lotion, spare clothes and diapers spilling out like so many found stowaways abandoning ship. With one bag for the children, and another full of workout gear for the adults, I'd often found these landlocked, would-be sailors somewhat pitiful. (A purist at heart, anyone who did not have a boat waiting for the deposits of said tote bags, I reasoned, should find a more appropriate bag.)
By far the best use of the tote was Jim Brown's. Brown was a Down East editor in the late `80s/early `90s. He did most of his work out of the office and was always toting papers from one point to another. Seldom seen without yellow slicks, oars strapped to the roof of his car, and his dog Gaffer at his side, Brown could carry canvas with the best of them. In my mind he became the standard bearer of tote-bag use.
After Brown, there was really little reason to consider the bags again, until I learned two Maine entrepreneurs are giving used sailcloth a second life. Made from recycled sailcloth in Portland, Sea Bags are the Maine-based brainchild of Hanna Kubiak and Beth Shissler.
With the tagline "Sailed Around the Word and Recycled in Maine," Sea Bags are far enough removed from a traditional canvas tote to catch the eye - and wish lists - of fashion mavens everywhere. To be certain, these totes are not your mother's Coach clutch, yet they are highly sought by shoulder-savvy fashion gurus employed by Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair and editors of a dozen other fashion magazines. These bags have catwalk appeal.
That the Dacron, canvas or Kevlar sails retain a slight saltiness of previous work is a mark of authenticity and a trait that appeals to those who read Sailing and other magazines. That the bags can be customized with a boat owner's used sailcloth - well, that's just another in a long list of smart moves by the two business owners.
Sea Bags has teamed up with Maine Cancer Foundation to donate for a cure. Half of all proceeds for these limited edition bags will go to Maine Cancer Foundation to support research for a cure.
The owners of Sea Bags are civic minded. Specialty bags have been produced to support breast cancer research and Olympic teams. If a boat owner doesn't wish to turn sails into bags for their own use, they can donate used sailcloth to support the Sail Maine Scholarship Fund, Islesboro Yacht Club Youth Sailing Program, New Bedford Community Boating, Compass Project and Maine Maritime Academy.
Regardless of whether a bag ends up back onboard the boat its originating sail once powered, or donated, each bag is hand cut and designed with the sole motive of recycling used material and preventing yard upon yard of washed up sails from entering landfills. Sailing purists will appreciate that each rope handle is hand spliced.
I gave the three bags - one in each size made by Sea Bags - a thorough testing during a Maine March. The big bag went to the recycling center to the grocery store with ease - and style. The medium-sized bag headed to swim class and the smallest Sea Bag has been left on my desk for all to admire and would have been put to work carrying garden trowels, gloves and twine if the bags had arrived for review in mid-April.
Kubiak and Shissler have taken the desire to reduce, reuse, and recycle and have created a functioning piece of wearable art. Sea Bags are purposeful and, well, pretty. The bags are designed to be toted, not slung over the shoulder. (Those who prefer a shoulder bag can request longer handles, turning the tote to a sling.)
If I were less enamored with earth tones, I'd likely throw one on my shoulder and head to the city, head held high to be toting a Maine-made bag.
That day will have to wait for my special order, which Sea Bags will also grant. When you see a black, mid-size tote slung on a shoulder and filled with the trappings of an editorial type, just know she's come farther - and carried more canvas baggage - than any tote here-to-fore could have carried.
Sea Bags are truly totes to tout.
The official Sea Bags "Tri for a Cure" bag.
- By: Lorie Costigan