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Taylor and Nikki Strout, a husband-and-wife team from Cape Elizabeth, had been producing garments for fishermen since 2012 — including sweatshirts that were geared to specific fisheries. For some time they’d been developing an idea for tote bags and backpacks that are heavy duty canvas with a bottom stitched from old fishermen’s waders. That company is now called Rugged Seas, and demand for its products skyrocketed during the pandemic and just after they’d gotten good feedback at the annual Fishermen’s Forum conference. Mainebiz featured the company in a story that was among its most-read this spring.
Mainebiz recently caught up with Nikki Strout to get an update. Taylor Strout was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where he spends part of the year as a commercial fisherman.
Mainebiz: How did your business start out?
Nikki Strout: It was 2012, Taylor came back from Dutch [Harbor], and he was saying how everyone there has their fishery-specific gear. It’s a pride thing. You know who was with what fishery. We sold them locally.
MB: How did Rugged Seas develop out of that?
NS: We were familiar with working waterfront struggles, and we wanted to bring more attention to the fishery. We looked at what everyone uses, the bibs. We had an idea for how to recycle them [as part of a bag]. We felt like they told a story. People who purchase them knew a fisherman actually wore them. What’s helped us is we’re actually a fishing family.
MB: Going into the spring, Rugged Seas was really more of an idea. How did it take off during the pandemic?
NS: We were at the Fishermen’s Forum in March, right before everything was shut down. Things were already starting to change quickly. We kept saying it wasn’t the right time [to launch the product], but someone said to us, “People need a happy thing right now.” We set up a website.
MB: How did you establish relationships with retailers and vendors?
NS: We’d worked with Vessel Services in Portland because they were selling the sweatshirts. With Hamilton Marine, it took longer to convince, but once they saw the designs they loved it. I think we had credibility. This model wouldn’t have worked if we weren’t from a fishing family. Vessel Services introduced us to [New Bedford, Mass.-based fishing apparel producer] Guy Cotten. From them we got their remnant cloth pieces. Their American CEO, Patrick Jaquet, said to Taylor, “It’s incredible timing — I was just about to throw all this away.” Taylor drove down there — his truck was packed full of material, which was then packed into our garage.
MB: How did you get set up with Rogue Wear, the Lewiston-based company that produces the bags?
NS: Chris Kast, who does branding for us, put us in touch with Mark Rodrigue at Rogue Wear. He didn’t initially see the possibilities. We had to prove to him that our story was catching on.
MB: What about the branding. How did that come about?
NS: Taylor started the logo probably two-and-a-half years ago. He came up with the channel marker idea. Chris [Kast] came up with the name. We had a graphic designer, Mali Welch, who helped develop the logo and website. We’re working with an attorney on trademarks.
MB: What’s next?
NS: We got a huge spike in interest after the original Mainebiz story and “207” featured us. We’ve gotten suggestions for other bags, including a larger clutch. Our goal one day is to have a bricks-and-mortar store. We’re talking with the North Atlantic Cluster about some trade. We’re thinking of coming up with a Dutch Harbor bag and a Long Island bag.
MB: Very entrepreneurial!
NS: We don’t really think of ourselves as entrepreneurs. Taylor’s a commercial fisherman; I’m a nurse practitioner. It’s our story. That’s why it’s easy to tell.
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