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Maria Boustead’s bags are for life on and off the bike.
Spotlight: Maria Boustead
Bags for life on and off the bike.
Founded 2009 | Chicago, IL
“Most people didn’t get it,” said Maria Boustead, remembering the early days of Po Campo, her line of multifunctional handbags made in charming fabrics. “Don’t get me wrong. Five years ago, the bike shop owners were great. They wanted to reach out to women and they could see the utility of our bags.” To a stylish cyclist, Boustead’s vision makes perfect sense: a handbag that looks as good on your handlebars as it does on your shoulder.
Before starting her own line, Boustead worked as an industrial designer, regularly commuting across Chicago by bike. She embraced the gentle rhythm of her commute, but shopping for panniers left her unimpressed. Most were designed for pure function. Aesthetics were an afterthought. Instead, she used a bungee cord to tie down her satchel, which was by no means a stylish solution. And as anyone who has ever seen a stretched bungee go flying can tell you, it’s also a nerve-wracking one.
With her experience in design, Boustead knew she could solve this stylish cyclist dilemma. At the same time, Boustead noticed more women take up riding in street clothes. She knew she wasn’t the only one looking for a solution to this problem and many bike shop owners were trying to reach that growing market.
“I brought the bags into my first bike shop and asked to speak with the owner. I walked out having made the sale. I thought to myself, ‘We’re on our way!’”
But the bags just sat there in the shop. “The culture was different five years ago. Maybe the right context just didn’t exist yet.” She explained, “As women, when we went into bike shops, we felt like we had to toughen up. Besides, most of the time you were there, you needed to fix something. You weren’t there to have fun browsing.”
That meant no ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the subtle pattern of waxed canvas or squeals of delight at the lovely bag attached to a cruiser’s handlebars. Boustead was undeterred. “I knew I had a great product. It was something that looked right and I wanted to use it all the time. So we tried the boutiques.” But the reaction was worse. “Shoppers would say, ‘It’s cute, but I don’t ride a bike.’”
“That was so frustrating,” confessed Boustead. However, the feedback led to a new, successful strategy. “We started thinking beyond bikes and we expanded our line. Women – I mean people, really – they’re busy! They need bags that keep up with their lifestyle, and look like something they’d want to carry. Whether on or off a bike.”
“It was rough for the first couple years,” remembered Boustead. “I didn’t want to answer my phone anymore. It was always a shop owner calling because they wanted me to buy back my product.” Even today, Boustead still feels a panicky twinge when a shop’s number shows up on her caller ID. “But now everyone’s calling because they want to order more bags!”
Find great Po Campo bags now in the Momentum Shop.