- October 4, 2013
Take a good look at these bags. You'll start to see a whole lot more of them as we roll into summer.
Take a good look at the lady in pink. You'll start to see a whole lot more of her, too.
Her name is Emily Stroud. She's a Sarasota native and mom-about-town, who recently quit her job as a pharmaceutical sales rep to focus on the launch of Hayden Reis, a new line of beach bags that Stroud named after her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
Made out of sailcloth, the neon totes are bound to be brighter than most of the things in your wardrobe. And, by design, they have the potential to hold just about everything in your house.
The bags are for sale at some of the swimwear boutiques around town, including the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota gift shop, where they're selling out thanks to these factors: You can't miss them, and there's nothing else like them in stock.
“The women I know like to look good when they go to the beach,” Stroud says. “These bags stand out from the regular L.L.Bean canvas totes. They're statement pieces.”
That's an understatement.
Lined with pockets and a wet bag for swimsuits, the bags are a little like Stroud: trendy, confident, practical and suited for the tropics.
A graduate of Riverview High School, the 33-year-old Sarasota native is the quintessential beachgoer.
A member of the Longboat Key Club, she spends every weekend with her family at the beach, which explains the tan and why, in addition to her totes, she decided to design a line of bikini bags, sunscreen bags and wristlets.
She's well aware of the sandy toll the beach takes on your belongings, especially when you're packing up your kids and their grimy stuff.
“It feels good to not be digging around in the blazing sun looking for sunscreen,” Stroud says. “I know where my keys are ... where my cell phone is. The bags get wet and the water just beads off.”
Stroud decided it was time to make good on her business minor from the University of Florida after she co-chaired last year's Wine, Women & Shoes fundraiser for Forty Carrots Family Center.
Part of the three-day event included a panel discussion with guest designers Diana Kelly, Kande Hall, June Simmons and Lisa Mackey.
Listening to the women's success stories, Stroud was reminded of her own dream business venture: a line of designer beach bags made out of sailcloth.
She'd sat on the concept for a while but could never find the time or the gumption to carry it out.
“It was motivating to see all these women who had an idea, or a passion or a talent,” Stroud says. “It gave me the guts to quit my job.”
On Jan. 1, Stroud's company became official, prompting its fearless leader to kick her business plan into high gear.
Despite having no sewing experience and no manufacturer, Stroud, a self-described workaholic, was on a mission. Not only did she want to keep production in the United States, she wanted the bags to be in stores by Memorial Day.
“I know,” she says wryly, “I'm nuts.”
The first thing she did was chose Dacron sailcloth as her material. Made out of polyester fibers, the fabric is the sailing industry's most popular cloth. It's lightweight, highly durable and virtually water repellent.
As someone who grew up boating in Sarasota, Stroud knew it was the perfect fit for her bags.
To differentiate her brand from other companies that make a similar product, Stroud opted not to use recycled sailcloth.
Next, she hired Sarah Lamar, a graphic designer who runs Saje Design South, a Sarasota-based company.
Together they came up with Hayden Reis' spiky sunshine logo, in addition to 12 other applique designs that would appeal to a wide range of women.
In March, she flew to Fort Wayne, Ind., to strike a deal with Vera Bradley's former manufacturer. When she realized the factory wasn't equipped to cut out the appliques, she hired a guy in North Carolina to laser cut the embellishments and ship them to Indiana.
By April, she received her first shipment of totes.
“(Opening that first box) far exceeded my wildest dreams,” Stroud says. “I always pondered starting my own business. I just never pulled the trigger on anything. With this, I just hit the ground running. I was really confident it would work.”
It's working so well, Fitness magazine expressed interest in featuring the bags in its holiday gift guide. In preparation for the exposure, Stroud is designing a line of fall bags with timeless stripes.
“They don't have to be beach bags,” she says. “I've had some women tell me they'd like a diaper bag made out this material, not that you couldn't use one now as a diaper bag.”
Evidence of the brand's popularity is being tracked all over the company's Facebook and Twitter accounts as women reveal in photographs where their Hayden Reis bags have been.
Stroud says she benefits from having a far-flung network of girlfriends with connections to retailers in other cities. Even more important: Some of the connections are to celebrities.
“I have a few people who are close to getting bags,” she says, careful to not drop names. “Definitely some A-listers, but I don't want to jinx it.”
-Heidi Kurpiela | Contributing Writer