The Ties That Bind

Buoyed by her time on the water, one Mainer finds a fitting way to give back.

Sea Bags bag
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In the five years that she lived in Maine, the water always beckoned to Brenda Scanlon. She and her husband would stroll along Portland’s Eastern Promenade and gaze at the panoply of yachts, and dories in the harbor. They took sailing lessons, and eventually bought a 19-foot boat of their own.

“We absolutely fell in love with it,” she says.

The Scanlons moved to Florida, where Brenda joined a women’s sailing group called the Luffing Lassies and getting on the water became a part of her weekly routine. She learned how to tack and jibe, how to right a boat after capsizing, and how to catch just enough puffs in her jib to win a regatta.

“I like the celebration I feel after I’ve done something I didn’t think I could,” she says.

She also cherished the friendships she made along the way. Her fellow sailors became a close-knit crew, and the bonds they forged carried over to their on-land lives.

“I felt like I’d found my tribe,” she says.

When Scanlon spotted a Sea Bags wristlet on a visit to Portland, it seemed like the perfect memento of her new passion. She loved its colorful telltale (used on a boat to indicate wind direction and considered good luck), and she appreciated its sustainability story.

“I love that Sea Bags is taking something that may have ended up in a landfill and giving it a new purpose,” she says.

After learning that she could have Sea Bags custom made from sails she supplied, Scanlon got to work collecting retired sails from the club. She flew to Maine with 17 sails, packed in the biggest suitcase she could find and an oversize duffle, and brought them to the Sea Bags headquarters, on Portland’s Custom House Wharf.

The bags the company made from the sails were used to support the sailing club that had fostered Scanlon’s cherished time on the water: they became prizes for youth regattas, gifts, and fundraisers to create scholarships so all kids could have an opportunity to find the same confidence and friendship that Scanlon has discovered on the water.

“Everyone should have the chance to get out there,” Scanlon says, “and experience that independence and joy.”

8,000+ SAILS

collected annually to be recycled and made into one-of-a-kind bags

700+ TONS

of material saved from landfills since Sea Bags launched in 1999

Brenda Scanlon and her Sea Bags bags
Courtesy of Brenda Scanlon

Sea Bags recently opened a store near Scanlon’s home in Sarasota, so she no longer has to travel to Maine to get that one-of-a-kind accessory or trade in her sails for a custom-made bag. She treasures having a piece of Maine within close reach. “I just love what they do and what they stand for,” she says.

The Sarasota location is one of 39 Sea Bags stores nationwide, everywhere from Bar Harbor to California’s Carmel Bay, the shores of Lake Michigan to Florida’s Key West. The brand’s new flagship store, in Portland, showcases their recycled sail cloth products alongside decorative surprises like a sailboat and marine salvage.

It’s also a stone’s throw from the company’s headquarters and factory store, where you can still see the unique totes being stitched, one at a time, from sails saved from the trash heap.