A company with roots in Maine’s sailing community announced this week that it will expand westward, with plans to open eight new retail stores, including four in Michigan and one in Carmel, California.

Sea Bags, which uses recycled sailcloth to manufacture nautical-themed handbags, totes and accessories, also will open retail stores in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as well as Edgartown and Plymouth, Massachusetts, as part of its expansion plans, the company told the Portland Press Herald this week.

Sea Bags CEO Don Oakes Photo courtesy of Sea Bags

Sea Bags’ flagship retail store and manufacturing facility is headquartered at 25 Custom House Wharf in Portland. The company, which operates 25 retail stores along the East Coast including seven stores in Maine, employs about 175 people companywide. The retail expansion will create jobs for about 30 new employees, according to Sea Bags CEO Don Oakes.

“This a very exciting time for Sea Bags as our footprint enters the Great Lakes region and the West Coast for the first time,” Oakes said in a statement. “The waterfront locations and passion for sailing that both of the regions cater to clearly aligns with our brand and our values. We look forward to connecting with the local communities and creating new jobs, all the while standing firm to our commitment of products being made in the U.S.”

Sea Bags was founded in Portland’s Old Port in 1999 by Hannah Kubiak and Beth Shissler, who said their mission was to recycle used sails and keep them out of landfills. It was incorporated officially in 2006.

The company’s Sail Trade program allows people to donate old or unused sails in trade for a Sea Bags product. Used sails can be picked up by Sea Bags or dropped off at any of its retail locations. About 20 sails a day arrive at the company’s Portland warehouse, where they are washed and cleaned before the cloth is measured and cut by designers, then transported to the Custom House Wharf production facility.

Sea Bags operates retail stores in Portland, Freeport, Camden, Rockland, Ogunquit, Boothbay Harbor and Bar Harbor. Sea Bags opened its Freeport store in 2009. The company opened three new stores in Maine last year.

Sea Bags has reclaimed over 700 tons of sailcloth material since the program started in 2017. In 2019, the company accepted 8,800 sails.

“The extensive use of reclaimed sailcloth is unique to Sea Bags,” the company said. “Signs of hard sailing can be seen in every Sea Bags creation, making them as individual as their owner.”

Used sails are sourced from Maine first, followed by New England and then the rest of the United States, according to its website. Sails are collected one at a time from a network of boaters.

If a sailor doesn’t want to accept a trade offer, he or she can designate it as a donation to benefit Sail Maine, a Portland-based, nonprofit sailing school that teaches children how to sail.

“As traditional retail stores have struggled, Sea Bags has redefined the power of brick and mortar through its unique in-store experience,” Oakes said. “To be able to walk into our stores and touch, feel and customize products based on personal interest, as well as the opportunity to trade an old sail for a product in exchange, is unlike any other.”

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