In fact, despite continued inflationary pressures that have caused many consumers to rethink their spending habits, the Portland, Maine-based brand — which makes handmade, sustainable bags and other home decor, such as outdoor pillows and doormats from recycled sails — has grown during the pandemic.
In the last 12 months, Sea Bags revenues have grown by more than 60 percent — 97 percent in the last three years. The business has also increased its store footprint by approximately 50 percent since 2020, today counting 45 brick-and-mortar locations in its fleet, up from 20 in 2019 and in new markets, including Michigan, Florida and California; increased its pre-pandemic workforce of 150 people to more than 200, and doubled the size of its Maine-based manufacturing space from 15,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet. Sea Bags has also collaborated with Vera Bradley, Life Is Good, Mount Gay Rum and Vineyard Vines, among others. In addition, Sea Bags launched a new website in late 2020 for a more user-friendly experience with increased speed and added traffic capacity.
“This is a very exciting time for Sea Bags,” said Don Oakes, Sea Bags’ chief executive officer.
It’s also a sizable expansion for an accessible luxury brand that sells handbags priced north of $200 each, discretionary items that are normally the first thing consumers pass on during uncertain times.
But Oakes said the combination of increased brand awareness from the growing store fleet and long-lasting products has helped the company weather the storm.
“Our store locations and unique products have allowed us to prosper during these challenging times,” the CEO told WWD, explaining that pandemic-related real estate deals allowed the business to open more stores than originally planned, and many times in markets that were previously unaffordable. “Over the years, we’ve learned that the best way to understand our brand and to experience our product is in person, and that’s why stores have become our largest channel. We anticipate the current economic environment will present opportunities for future growth and retail expansion, as was the case in 2020.”
“Our core message on sustainability also seems to be resonating with more and more people as awareness of the importance of recycling and reuse continues to increase, as well as the public’s renewed emphasis on buying goods like ours that are made in the U.S.,” Oakes added.
Also, since the company is based in Maine and all products are made in the U.S., Oakes said the company has not had to deal with ongoing supply chain challenges.
“Sea Bags was founded on the mission of creating and keeping jobs in the U.S. as well as saving sails from landfills,” he explained. “Most years our growth has only been limited by our ability to increase production. After the incredible growth we experienced [in 2021], we’ve been putting together plans to double our output in the next few years. We always say that our supply chain is Maine first, New England second, the U.S. third, and it stops there.”
Sea Bags was started by Hannah Kubiak, who in 1999 was living aboard her father’s sailboat in Maine. As a hobby, Kubiak started making bags from recycled sail cloth. Since Kubiak was sewing the bags by hand, she could only produce about 40 a year.
But her bags managed to catch the attention of Beth Shissler, who began buying them in bulk and reselling them at her mother’s gift shop. In 2006, the duo decided to partner and Sea Bags the business was born.
“We’re in locations where people like to visit and vacation,” Oakes said. “So it’s a great time to be introduced to our brand and discover our products. Every one of our products are unique and no two are exactly alike.”