LoveToKnow was thrilled to spend some time chatting with Susan Bailey, owner of RAGGEDedge Gear, sail cloth bags, and her daughter Meredith Bailey. Their bags have even captured the attention of Anna Tunnicliffe, the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist in the Laser Radial class!
The Idea for RAGGEDedge Gear Sail Cloth Bags
The idea for their unique bags and products was born from a love of sailing. It wasn't long before the family's love of sailing made it clear that there was a need for some durable, waterproof bags to carry sailing gear and other essentials needed for a day on the water. The Bailey family began making bags from sail cloth for their own personal use.
Then, Sail Cloth Wallets Were Born
Susan's daughter, Meredith, made the first sail cloth wallet during a college break, knowing the material was both durable and waterproof. It wasn't long before the family was making these items as gifts, and the rest of the story creates a fairy tale handbag business that is sure to "sail" into the sunset of success.
Beginnings of RAGGEDedge Gear
LoveToKnow (LTK): Your inspiration actually came from the need to have a place to store sailing gear. Can you tell our readers a little more about that?
RAGGEDedge Gear (REG): Sure. Like most sports, sailing requires its own gear. Also like most sports, that gear gets pretty stinky, but on top of that, sailing also has a wet factor. We noticed that our sails never seemed to smell, they dried quickly, and were easy to clean. Suze learned to sew when she was seven and has tackled all kinds of projects… It seemed logical to make our sailing gear bags out of an old sail - one less thing for the landfill and a potentially awesome gear bag that would dry quickly, be odor free, and have all the durability of a sail.
LTK: You actually started fairly simple and small by making bags out of recycled sails for your own use and as gifts for family and friends. When did the focus start to change and you realized that this was a viable business for your family?
REG: The very first bags were made about 10 years ago; since then, we have made them for a variety of people and events. Each time, people were impressed; they liked what they saw. More often than not, they asked us why we weren't doing it full time, or "for real." We never really had a good answer. Over the 10 years the bags have changed, we have made significant design and material improvements, and we have seen a very positive market response. In the back of our minds we have known for a long time that it could be a viable family business.
REG Means Quality and Style
LTK: You mention that you use traditional sail maker's techniques in the production of your products. Can you elaborate on that a bit for those of us who are not fortunate enough to be sailors?
REG: When sail makers design a sail they have to reinforce the stress points of the sail. The stress points are the corners where the sail is being pulled or held in place. An immense amount of pressure is put on the corners - as in, the entire force of the wind hitting the sail is essentially all pushed out to the corners. The reinforcements are progressively larger pieces of material sewn on top of one another that radiate out from the corner, so that right at the actual corner the sail might be five or six layers thick. We use the same technique in our bags to reinforce our stress points - where the handles attach and at the bag ends where the shoulder straps attach. In addition, all of our gear is sewn with the traditional triple step zigzag stitch, which is much stronger then a standard zigzag or straight stitch.
LTK: The colors of sails are often so vivid and vibrant. How does this inspire your designs?
REG: We both absolutely love to play with color and have really good color sense. Sometimes when we need a break, one of us will start playing with fabrics and materials just for fun to see what combinations pop, there is absolutely no limit to what we come up with!
LTK: You mentioned that you do some custom work. What types of custom work does RAGGEDedge Gear create? Can you give us some examples of the more unique projects you've worked on?
REG: Our custom bag options allow people to pick their own colors from our wide palette of available materials. People can also choose to personalize their gear with embroidery or our unique appliqué letters for a truly standout custom bag.
By far, the coolest custom job was two special request gear bags that were designed to specifically utilize certain corners of the sail with large grommets as bag ends and attachment points for the shoulder strap.
LTK: You describe your bags as making crunchy sounds when customers first use them. Why is this and how long does it take to break in a bag?
REG: The bags are "crunchy" or crisp because they are made with new sail material. Sailors judge the newness of a sail, by how "crispy" it is. The stiffness of the sail and the material is part of what makes a sail fast and resistant to stretching in the wind. Breaking in one of our bags, getting it to the point where it is soft and "loved" looking, depends on how much you use it. But one of the really cool things about this material, is that it ages well - it breaks in, but it doesn't break down. It looks used without looking worn.
LTK: Any examples of what you've personally put the bags through and seen them endure?
REG: I would have to say the worse that I have actually seen with my own eyes, is that I left my kit sitting in a pool of bleach under the bathroom sink for an undeterminable amount of time (at least two months). I pulled it out thinking the worst… The bag is going to have disintegrated, stuff inside is going to be a pile of nasty… I was wrong! The bag is fine, the only lasting evidence of the bleach incident is that it now sports an all white label, the stuff inside the kit was completely unaffected. To clean it up, all I did was empty it out and rinse the bag; there wasn't even any lasting bleach smell.
LTK: It's hard these days to find American made products, but your handbags fit that requirement. Tell us a little about why you decided to make the bags yourself in your own custom shop instead of sending out for cheap labor like so many other companies have done. What are the advantages/disadvantages and do you hope to stay a U.S. based operation in the future?
REG: We make our own bags because we like to, because it is fun, and because it is important to us to support our country and our economy. When we purchase materials and supplies, we make every effort to buy locally and to buy American. We are unwilling to sacrifice that distinction in order to stay in business; we will do whatever it takes to keep our production here. The advantages for the consumer are that at the end of the day they own gear made to be used, made to last, made by an American business building its reputation on a platform of high quality craftsmanship and innovative design.
On the RAGGEDedge of the Future
LTK: I also noticed that you've added mini wallets. Any plans to add more product lines in the future?
REG: We will be adding two new accessory bags this week: a cord organizer and small padded pouch that is good for digital gadgets, cosmetics, etc. We have plans for a couple new purses styles, a more laptop friendly messenger, and a ladies wallet.
LTK: How do you typically get an idea for a new product? Is it usually born out of necessity as the original concept was?
REG: So far it is been our own necessity, but the upcoming new purses and ladies wallets are the result of customer requests and recommendations.
LTK: Anything you'd like to add?
REG: Our social responsibility. Our eco-friendliness. Our green efforts. Right now, we are but three people, three dogs, and one small company, but we all operate with a level of awareness of our impact on the world. We support larger green efforts and are always trying to do our own small part within our daily lives and with RAGGEDedge.
The majority of our gear is made with new sailcloth, either bought directly from the mill in Putnam, NH or acquired as scraps from local sail lofts. Our decision to predominantly use new cloth was a conscious one, geared towards creating a longer lasting product that will ultimately result in less waste. In addition to that, our workroom throws out very little, as we can use scraps as small as 3/4 inch wide. When the longevity or lifetime of a specific bag (for example, purses) isn't jeopardized by the use of used cloth, we welcome the addition of recycled sailcloth to our repertoire and delight in the variety it brings to our designs.
LoveToKnow would like to thank RAGGEDedge Gear for their informative words about their exciting and innovative line of bags. You can visit their website at raggededgegear.com
By Lori Soard