• Grady Connolly

Rugged Seas - Maine Made. Ocean Tough

What is your background? How did you get started with Rugged Seas?

"I grew up lobstering in Portland, Maine with my dad. After college I decided to get my merchant mariners license and was shipping out of the Gulf of Mexico for a few years. In 2011 I got a phone call from a captain in Dutch Harbor, Alaska asking if I wanted to come fish for him…I asked him when he needed me to start and he replied “ You leave out of Boston tomorrow.” Once I got to Dutch Harbor I noticed all of the fisherman had sweatshirts, t-shirts and hats that represented each of their fisheries. I thought to myself, we have nothing like this in Maine, so on my long night watches on the boat I started to design different gear for each fishery in the Gulf of Maine. I started printing hoodies and sold them at Vessel Services and Hamilton Marine in Portland. The fishermen seemed to really like them and I continued to make new designs each year.

My wife and I started to want to do more, we tried to brainstorm ways we could bring more attention to the fishing community and lifestyle. One day it hit me…what is the one thing all fishermen have in common and use every single day? Hauling pants….how could we utilize old hauling pants, that are commonly just thrown away, and make something new and interesting. We realized the material is completely waterproof and extremely durable and came up with the idea of making bags from used bibs…and the idea has taken off from there."

What was your first year of business like? What did it take for you to keep believing in your idea?

"Our first year of business, 2012, when we were only designing and selling hoodies was busy. I was shipping out to Alaska for several months at a time, and my wife was home, working, finishing her masters, and selling, boxing, and shipping sweatshirts out of our basement.

Our first year of business, 2018, when we started working on designing and making bags was a lot of trial and error. We would often find challenges in the process…how could we be sure we would collect enough used bibs to continue production? Where do we start in creating a design? How do we market this and continue to make the fishing industry feel this is truly about them and bring positive attention to their lifestyle?

Once we faced enough roadblocks and began to doubt our idea, we had family members pushing us to move forward. We then connected with a very good friend, Chris Kast, of Kast Branding, who helped us make the connections we needed to keep progressing. It has taken many meetings, good ideas, bad ideas, mistakes, and breakthroughs to help us see, this might just work!"

What were the top lessons learned while starting your brand?

"The top lessons we have learned in starting our brand have been, first and foremost, believe in your idea…once you start to doubt yourself or your brand it is easy to slip away from what your goal really is. Be open to others advice and suggestions…we have made some amazing connections over the last few years and through these connections we have been given, and really heard, so many pieces of advice and guidance that have only helped us to push forward."

What does 'rural entrepreneurship' mean to you? Being from Maine, what do you love about rural life?

"I think there is often this misconception that in order to be a true entrepreneur you have to live in a large, busy city, where everything is right at your fingertips. Having been able to start our brand in Portland, Maine and to be able to say ALL of our products are made right here in Maine is the true definition of rural entrepreneurship. We may not be living in New York or L.A. but Portland and the surrounding areas in Maine have everything we have needed, and MORE…and honestly Maine and the fishing community that surrounds us is what gives our brand meaning."

What is your top piece of advice for rural entrepreneurs?

"The top piece of advice we could give any rural entrepreneur is…there are connections all around you. Work to make these connections and you will only see your business grow and develop in ways you may not have envisioned."

Be sure to check out Rugged Seas on the web and on social media! Nikki and Taylor Strout are an incredible duo doing great things in Maine. Rustic Entrepreneur is fortunate to be able to share their story.


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