Small Colorado company steps up to help Florida outdoor retailers

How one tiny bag company can make a huge difference.

Merle O’Brien felt devastated when she learned Hurricane Irma pummeled a place that she holds dear. For 15 years, O’Brien has chosen the Florida’s Keys to snorkel, fish, and kayak with her kids. She still has not been able to get in touch with friends from the area.

OLOVESM owner Merle O'Brien donates bags to Florida outdoor retailers
O’Brien holds her handmade tote bag that she’ll be donating to Florida outdoor retailers impacted by Hurricane Irma. Courtesy of Merle O’Brien

After reading our article on how Florida retailers were impacted by Irma, she instantly felt compelled to help. O’Brien is the owner and designer of Aspen, Colorado-based OLOVESM, a small company making a variety of handmade bags, including totes, laptop cases, cross body bags, diaper bags, and more. When she read Joe Butler’s call to action for vendors, it struck a nerve she couldn’t ignore.

In the article, Butler, owner of Black Creek Outfitters in Jacksonville, called upon vendors to step up by donating products or selling them at a discount to stores impacted by the storm. “If I were a vendor, I’d look to make sure I can help stores in the area for next six to eight months during the winter season,” he suggested.

Despite not working with many stores in the impacted area, she decided to donate her handmade tote bag anyway to anyone in the outdoor industry whose business was hurt by Irma.

“I think it’s totally awesome that somebody would do that,” said Butler. He says it couldn’t be coming at a better time since from a cash flow perspective, things are difficult right now. “With customers having so many other expenses right now, like hurricane deductibles, they’re not going to spend more at retail.”

OLOVESM tote bag donated to Hurricane Irma relief
Style and fabrics of totes will vary.Courtesy

Her offer is remarkably generous, especially for a brand that is a home-based business shipping products from her garage. Every bag is sewn by contract sewers in Boulder County, and they can be found in 75 to 100 stores nationwide, including yoga studios and hospitals.

She is donating 100 tote bags for free to negatively impacted outdoor specialty stores that was hit by Hurricane Irma with a limit on 10 bags per store. “Stores can then sell them for whatever they choose to, but as a reference, I usually sell the bags for $38,” she explains. Retailers also have the option to buy more bags at 60 percent off wholesale. “Buyers can create mark-ups that provide a better profit margin.”

OLOVESM tote bag donated to Hurricane Irma relief
O’Brien plans to donate 100 bags at no cost.Courtesy

“I choose to donate our classic tote bag over our popular cross body bag because it weighs less, and I wanted the shipping to be as cheap as possible.” O’Brien describes her classic tote bag as one that is versatile, machine-washable, and they’re made for the outdoors. She says they fold up easily, are lightweight, and have many uses, including shopping, travel, and using with kids.

“I feel that this is so important to give store owners some relief so they can rebuild their businesses and livelihoods,” says O’Brien.

Merle O'Brien owner of OLOVESM
OLOVESM is based out of O’Brien’s home in Aspen, Colorado.Courtesy

O’Brien is proof that no matter who or where you are, or how small your business is, you can make a profound impact in the outdoor industry. This gesture is a powerful statement about everything that’s great about the outdoor industry, and how together, we are stronger.

If you want to work with OLOVESM and take advantage of O’Brien’s generous offer, contact her through her website or by e-mailing her at merle@sopris.net.