BRUNSWICK — Jared DeSimio has quite the cache of fabrics in his basement, so many that you could mistake him as a hoarder of rags.

But DeSimio’s talent for transforming them into high-priced tote bags and accessories has landed him a chance for a big break.

DeSimio is one of the 100 finalists for the “American Made” Audience Choice Award presented by celebrity home decorator Martha Stewart. The winner will be announced by the beginning of next month.

Becoming a finalist alone has given DeSimio more attention than he has ever received before, but he also a chance of winning $10,000, along with an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City and a spotlight in Stewart’s monthly magazine.

DeSimio said he entered because “it’s something that seemed attainable.”

Now all that’s standing between him and the grand prize is less than three weeks and a popular vote.

Anyone can go to DeSimio’s page on the “American Made” website and vote for him once a day until the viewer’s choice deadline on Sept. 24. As of Tuesday, he was 20 votes away from reaching the top 20 in the contest to find creative American entrepreneurs who are making “innovating, inspiring and beautiful” products.

For someone who was chosen out of 2,000 entrants, DeSimio didn’t expect to get this far.

“I just figured this would be an opportunity for me to get my name out there a little bit, even if I don’t get chosen as a finalist,” DeSimio said during a recent tour of his workshop. “Someone is going to see it. I did not anticipate being a finalist.”

DeSimio said he hopes to start his own studio and spend more time making his wares. Winning the grand prize would help him attain that goal.

“This is what I would much rather be doing,” he said, in contrast to his faculty job at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham.

Even if he doesn’t win the top spot, he would still have a chance at making the top 10, which would still give him a trip to New York along with the recognition in the magazine.

“Everyone is just trying to get their name out there, right? So there’s nothing to lose,” he said.

The 11 winners will be honored at an “American Made” event at Grand Central Station on Oct. 16, eight days after the winners are announced.

DeSimio, who started as a photographer and earned a bachelor’s of media studies at the University of Southern Maine, said he got into making bags when he entered a contest in 2008 for BaileyWorks Bags, a New Hampshire-based company.

The company had sent him a bag that he would then have to modify in a creative way. DeSimio said his bag was pretty popular in the contest, and company ended up selling it at a gallery show in New Hampshire.

After that, DeSimio said his interest grew. He now has been creating his own bags out of vintage, antique and used materials for three years. He has sold 50 bags on and at the Picnic Festival in Portland, for $125-$275 each.

DeSimio said his mother-in-law has been a major supporter in his efforts, finding troves of old cloths, duffel bags and other fabrics that are prime ingredients for creating his art.

“She has kept me stocked well on fabric,” DeSimio said as he dug through a pile. “That means military duffel bags, that means this roll of old natural canvas. This is an old antique fabric from a hand-sewn mattress. Salt bags. Feed bags.”

He said he begins making a bag by taking one of these fabrics and then finds another fabric with a contrasting color.

“Then it’s about pairing the buckles,” DeSimio said, sorting through buckles of different colors and sizes. “I’m not concerned with matching up the buckles.”

“A lot of the work goes into the riveting and the choosing of the materials. This bag is one of the more difficult bags,” he said as he held a tote bag made of an old military duffel. “This is incorporating multiple parts of a guy’s two bags.”

And the guy had a name: Sgt. McMullen. It was handwritten on the fabric.

DeSimio took out another old military duffel bag that hadn’t yet been repurposed.

“I haven’t done anything with it yet, because it’s a holy grail,” he said. This was another item his mother-in-law scored (at the Goodwill store in Belfast) and as DeSimio rolled it out on a workbench, the bag’s sacredness became clear.

The bag’s original owner had etched in all of the locations he visited during his tour in the Korean War: Camp Lejune in North Carolina, Parris Island in South Carolina, California, Japan, Inchon, Seoul.

“This is every step along the way for his military career,” DeSimio said.

And then there were a list of battles: Battle of the ImJim River, Battle of Bloody Ridge, Battle of White Horse.

DeSimio said it will take him some time to decide what to do with this material.

“Sometimes I’m worry that people think that it might be disrespectful in some way, but I don’t see it this way,” DeSimio said. “Where did I find this? Goodwill? It has already been disrespected. (My work) is elevating it a bit.”

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.

Sidebar Elements

Jared DeSimio in the basement of his Brunswick home, where he makes tote bags and other accesories out of second-hand material. Because of his work, DeSimio is a finalist for Martha Stewart’s “American Made” Viewer’s Choice contest. The winners will be announced on Oct. 8.

An extra large canvas tote bag Jared DeSimio made from a vintage Japanese mail bag. The Brunswick man sold this particular bag on in April. DeSimio said he has sold around 50 in the last three years for $125-$275 a bag.

The original owner of this military duffel bag etched the names of all the locations he visted and battles he endured during the Korean War. Jared DeSimio said this is the “Holy Grail” of all his fabrics, and it will take a while until he figures out how to incorporate it into one of his tote bags.

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