How This Accessories Brand Helped A Woman Start Her Own Factory Across The World

Photo: Courtesy of Masha Maltsava/Poolside Bags.
It looks like we're gearing up for another summer filled with wicker and straw totes, and we're glad the trend is back for (at least) one more season of structured, beach-ready carryalls that actually hold all your crap. There are myriad versions of the woven accessories on offer, but Poolside Bags' take on the trend stands out: You may have spotted the New York-based brand's leather-handled totes, festooned with hand-embroidered cheeky, zeitgeist-y phrases and song lyrics in bright, thick yarn.
Before there were bags, there was merch: After initially launching Poolside Collective as a concept shop with e-comm and brick-and-mortar store in Montauk selling products from emerging fashion and accessories brands, as well as "Poolside"-emblazoned tees, lighters, and hats, co-founder Ashleigh Hults decided to launch a bag line called Poolside Bags with her friend Alicia Murphy. The concept came about while the pals were on vacation in St. Barths for Murphy's birthday. "We couldn't find a beach bag that we liked; we were looking for something classic with a twist, something unexpected," Hults said. "We loved the French market tote silhouette, but wanted to modernize it with embroidered rap lyrics and relevant, pop culture sayings."
The accessories brand came about as a happy accident, basically. "When we made our sample bags, we never intended to start a business," Hults said. "We knew the product was something that we wanted as consumers, so we assumed others might want it too; we didn't have a business plan or sales goals, we simply made a few samples to see how friends would react." There was then interest in personalizing the bags with, say, nicknames or inside jokes; now, the brand is getting orders for bachelorette parties, bridal showers, and birthdays. (If you go the custom route, you can choose your yarn color and phrase, on any of the brand's silhouettes, which start at $125.)
As Poolside Bags came to fruition, the pair ended up changing course production-wise, and, in the process, helping another woman thousands of miles away launch a business of her own. How, exactly? The first facility Hults and Murphy worked with was a male-run factory in Morocco: "We quickly realized that he was difficult to work with; he wouldn't put our label inside the bags and he was trying to steal our relationships; it was also very hard to manage quality control," Hults said. "One of the women who worked for him reached out to us and told us that she admired our brand and recognized our momentum; she wanted to start her own business, and wondered if we would be her first customer, so we gave it a chance and, after seeing some sample bags from her, we completely moved our production."
The decision paid off: "Quality improved tremendously and we felt like we were empowering a woman to start her own business at the same time that we were starting ours," Hults said, noting that working directly with one manufacturer has helped Poolside Bags make sturdier, better-made pieces, and also test-drive custom shapes. "It's been amazing to connect with other women around the world through this creative passion project, it gives a lot of meaning to our lives, and to our business." (It's a side hustle for both Hults and Murphy: the former is public relations director at Bandier, and the latter has an eponymous interior design firm in Montauk.)
Next up, the brand is working on designing a luxury line of bags with exotic leather and unique detailing, in addition to "leaning in on the custom embroidery front" via towels, bandanas, and hats. Hults' boutique, Poolside Collective, will roll out an all-natural SPF-packed coconot body oil this summer (there's already a scent, Poolside No. 1, that's sold out in-store and online).
Ahead, check out some of Poolside Bags' designs and witty sayings, including the styles slung on the arms of celebs like Gigi Hadid and Emma Roberts.