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Hartland Family Business Fashioned from Love of Sailing & Repurposing

S Bence

Olli and Melissa Marban’s Hartland business revolves around sailing - particularly using old sailcloth to make items ranging from bags to iPad cases.

The funny thing is, although Melissa grew up near a lake in Washington County, sailing held no great attraction for Melissa. Her husband Olli was a different story, he started sailing professionally in his native Germany at age 17 and competed around the globe.

The two met when Melissa tagged along with friends who set off to sail in New Zealand. She babysat for their kids. “I was nannying for some friends and they were doing the America’s Cup,” Melissa says.

Melissa and Olli married and he continued to sail. “We were based in Germany. We had our one box there, and we traveled together for six years to almost every continent,” Melissa says.

They then started toying with the idea of creating a small business, named Stelluca, to make bags out of old sails. In 2005, their young family in tow, the Marbans decided to settle down near Melissa’s family in Hartland.

“He bought some sewing machines when we were in Germany and he made the bags and I said, oh I’ve seen these in every port; as long as there has been sail makers there have been people making bags out of old sails. I had seen them all over and they were all very cliché, with an anchor or a sailboat or something like that,” Melissa says.

But Olli Marban possesses some special skills. Before sailing professionally, he worked as a professional sail maker.

“He’s got the side that makes them extremely functional, like he’ll fold the seams just right and put the right kind of zipper and use the right materials, and then I get to have fun decorating with colors,” Melissa says.

Olli demonstrates the resilience of his refurbished sewing machine.

Their refurbished fleet of industrial strength machines aren’t much bigger than a Singer, but Olli says are far more resilient.

“Those machines that we used, the Adler manufacturer, we used throughout my apprenticeship, so that’s why I was very familiar with them they are the best sail making machines," Olli says. "The outside is from the 40s, but the steel casting is so much better than the new machines because there’s less movement in there. So we just put new parts in it and hung a stitching computer on the bottom."

Their collection now contains over a dozen items, including a wine bag and iPad case. Melissa says she and Olli stick to their business niche.

Credit S Bence
Materials for small purses are prepared and stored for easy assembly.

“I will cut the sails, I will put the handles on, but I don’t touch the sewing machine," Melissa says. "Because my husband sews and he’s tried to teach me before and I said, when you learn how to do the laundry, I’ll learn to how to sew, we have to have some kind of tradeoff."

The Marbans get their materials from people who are ready to replace their old sails with new ones.

“They give us a call. We give them a credit to use toward bags and they get bags made out of their sail, or made from a different sail,” Melissa explains.

Two sails lay rolled on the floor from nearby lakes. Melissa unfurls a vibrant red one. “That’s a sail that came to us from California, they gave us their sails and we gave them bags,” Melissa says.

She fashions straps from salvaged seat belts. “We found a couple of them in warehouses that have been closing and they’ll find boxes of seatbelts. People know to contact us now,” Melissa says.

Marban’s products and prices range from a $10 luggage tag to,  at the moment, the hottest item a beach tote at $185. Melissa says a mixture of online and in person selling, especially at sailing events – keep them afloat.

“We do regattas all summer, we have a trailer and we’ll pull up to a regatta,” Melissa says.

And they employ three part-time workers.

But the Marbans are not sustaining their family of four on Stelluca’s profits yet. Olli holds a research and development day job and sews at night.

The Marbans also sell sailing gear at their new Hartland location.

Up until a month ago, the Marbans ran their business out of their basement. They just cleaned up and moved into a sun-drenched space in an industrial park in Hartland.

They hope to grow the business so Olli can focus solely on his sewing expertise and at the same time encourage creative reuse of products. Melissa says it resonates with the environmental awareness she felt was more commonplace in Europe.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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