'Fun, functional, stylish' pays off for Portland startup

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PORTLAND — Sea Bags, an 18-year-old Old Port startup, has reached a significant milestone, hiring its 100th employee.

“We started with two seamstresses and look where we are today,” Beth Shissler, the company’s chief operations officer, said.

“Employees who have recently joined Sea Bags come from Maine all the way to California, and hold unique experiences and skills sets,” she added.

In the past year, Sea Bags has added 47 new staff, including a new director of engineering and a new public relations manager.

While celebrating its long-hoped-for goal of adding the 100th employee to its payroll, Sea Bags is also looking forward to “achieving even greater accomplishments in the months ahead,” Don Oakes, the company’s chief executive officer, said.

Founded in 1999, Sea Bags started creating “fun, functional and stylish totes from reclaimed sail cloth,” the company’s website says.

“Today, the company makes a diverse line of totes, bags, and home goods, all featuring material from sails that were once actively used.”

The initial mission behind Sea Bags, according to Kristan Vermeulen, the new PR and social media manager, was to save used sails from going into landfills, giving the material a second life and creating local jobs.

“At Sea Bags, recycled and sustainable are not afterthoughts. They are the cornerstones of our brand,” the company website adds.

The company still manufactures its product out of a warehouse on Custom House Wharf, but has expanded its retail stores to include three locations in Maine, as well as shops in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

The hope now, Vermeulen said, is “to continue doing what we’ve been doing. We want to continue to create more jobs, open new retail locations and grow our revenue.”

Most of the Sea Bags employees are full time, according to Vermeulen.

She said employees range from those on the manufacturing floor to those in the front office, but “it all starts with our Sail Acquisition Team. This year they will have saved approximately 7,000 sails from (going into) landfills.”

When it comes to the success of Sea Bags, Vermeulen said, “Our customers have aligned with the authenticity we bring to our product.”

“Whether it’s because our commitment to keeping it made in Maine, or because we use a recycled sail, or simply because we design and produce a quality product, our customers connect,” she said.

Although it plans to continue opening brick-and-mortar stores, Vermeulen said that having a robust online presence is also key to the company’s future growth.

“Our website helps tell our story and gives customers quick and easy access to our products,” she said. “Also, our social media channels allow our customers to share pictures and comments on (the) various ways they utilize our products.”

That the company “started with just a handful of employees and has grown beyond 100 is incredible to me,” Shissler said.

“Our goal was to hit over 100 employees by 2018 and I’m proud that we surpassed this,” she said.

“We are excited to have these new employees on board, especially as we continue to grow our customer base and expand our brand throughout the East Coast.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Sea Bags, which recycles used sails into totes and other accessories, has added its 100th employee in Portland.

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