Coara is a 100% women-owned beach accessory brand committed to coastal conservation in the beach communities around the world that have inspired our product and brand aesthetic. We drew on years of observations from (SPF-protected!) time under the sun to create the most thoughtfully designed beach bag on the market.
How we made Coara happen, the TLDR
Our story has no shortage of ups and downs, which we realized never (ever!) end in launching and running a business. But the fastest way to share our journey is best framed through numbers:
- 2 bad-ass women who met in a design school master's program
- 1 dropped out to use the tuition refund to pay for the first production run of our beach bags
- 9 years of observing how people spend time at the beach and what they bring with them, before sketching out patterns for what we believe is the most thoughtfully designed beach bag on the market
- 6 homemade prototypes made on a $99 Singer sewing machine before leveling up to work with a "real" manufacturer
- 1 epic bag meltdown that set us back $4,300; our first "real" prototype literally melted under the hot sun
- 130+ materials tested before finding the perfect balance of durability, heat resistance, and aesthetic
- 30+ customer interviews and prototype tests to validate our idea along the way
- 5.7 million cups of coffee - roughly what we consumed while both working and studying full-time in the early days of Coara
- 18 months from the "a-ha" moment that sparked the idea until the first bag arrived in the first customer's hands
- 10% of profits dedicated to coastal conservation and marine life protection through donations to The Ocean Foundation
In it for the long read? Buckle up.
Megan is originally from New York but her career has brought her to spend the last 10 years living in California, Brazil, and Barcelona – all super different places, but known for stunning beaches. She's spent a lot of time at the beach, and thinks of them as anthropological goldmines. You can learn so much about people by just observing what they bring to the beach, how much stuff they carry, how they spend their time, how they move with the sun, and so on. All over the world, she noticed the same behaviors - like for example, people bring single-use plastic bags to separate wet swimsuits and towels from dry stuff. They bring drinks to the beach that get warm, and then don’t drink them. They ask complete strangers at the towel next to them to watch their stuff while they go for a walk or swim. The first areas in which we experience sunburn are our noses and shoulders, and most beach bags have thin straps that dig into our shoulders. When people prepare to leave the beach, they dump everything out of their beach bag to shake out sand, then put everything back in.
And in early August 2018 it clicked: the solution to all of these problems could be a beach bag that’s more thoughtfully designed for the beach and its elements. It would sift out sand, use a thick comfortable strap, separate wet from dry items, and so on. This was around the same time as her 29th birthday, and she had long promised herself to give entrepreneurship a shot and start a business by 30. So when her 29th birthday arrived, she decided to run with this beach bag idea, and bring to life the ideas loosely floating around in her heard to solve all those pain points she noticed over the years. She figured making the bag would be the hard part, and then she could build a brand around it, and sell the bags (which is hilarious now - the product part was just the first summit in a mountain range!). And it wasn't exactly convenient timing to jump into all of this. In those days, she was professionally excelling in her day job, and with that success came broader remit and a more global team. She was traveling monthly to the UK and China for work, and she had also just enrolled in a master’s program at a design school in Barcelona. She had also just been engaged and was planning her wedding. After 6 months of sewing prototypes night after night on the most basic sewing machine you could imagine, she approached Daniela, a classmate from design school, asking if she'd like to join in the journey of making the best beach bag on the market. Daniela is a beach lover from Venezuela with an incredible eye for aesthetics, a background in creative advertising, and the same scrappy, hustling work ethic as Megan, so the partnership multiplied Coara's progress from day one.
In March 2019, we flew to New York to try to convince a reputable bag manufacturer to work with us, and we were over the moon when they said yes. We were so excited to take the first professionally produced sample to the beach to test it out IRL. On a relatively normal July day at the beach (about 85’F), the bag just f*cking melted in before our eyes. It was basically vegan leather soup, and never resumed its original shape, structure, or color. We were devastated after having spent so much time and energy on making this the final design. We learned a hard lesson about the difference between heat resistance and sun load on materials, and, oh yeah, we had already sold bags through a pre-sales campaign. We were close to throwing in the towel, but from the validation and enthusiasm of early target customers we knew that we had a unique idea to bring to market. We frantically spun into action and lined up a new supply chain and manufacturers who helped us bring our beach bag dreams to life with higher quality and durability.
All of this brings us to now - the early days of our marketing and selling journey with our signature product, the Leblon Beach Bag. Designed for the modern woman who thrives on adventure but takes time to relax, the Leblon is both elegant and versatile - its beautiful clean lines and bold hardware translate perfectly from the beach to dinner to happy hour, even to the airport or office.
What makes the Leblon the most thoughtfully designed beach bag on the market?
- Its bottom opens to expose mesh that easily sifts out sand
- The waterproof pocket separates your wet bikini or towel from dry items
- The removable wristlet keeps valuables safe with you, so you don't have to ask strangers to guard them
- Thick 1.25" straps don't dig into your shoulders (especially since shoulders are extra sensitive to the sun)
- Its removable neoprene bottle sleeve keeps drinks cold, and prevents condensation from sweating onto all other contents of the bag
- The exterior pocket protects your books, iPad, or Kindle from sun heat, sand, and water
- An interior sunscreen sleeve prevents the rest of your things from greasy or chalky sunscreen residue
What's next for Coara?
We want to level up our commitment to coastal protection and conservation. Today, we donate 10% of profits to these causes, but that's just not enough for us to be able to sleep at night long term. We are currently shifting our supply chain to use both more sustainable materials, as well as more local suppliers to where we live. For example, we are testing naturally-dyed hemp instead of a polyester-canvas blend for the bag’s exterior fabric, neoprene made of 100% recycled plastic bottles for the insulated bottle sleeve, hand-woven straps from the artisans near where Daniela lives in Colombia, and testing out 100% recycled shipping boxes instead of the dyed mailer box we had previously used for packaging.
Thanks for supporting us on our journey to create the world's best beach bag. We'd love to hear from you!
Megan and Daniela