Mafia Bags co-founders (and siblings) Marcos and Paz Mafia knew they were on to something good when word quickly spread in Buenos Aires, Argentina of their one-of-a-kind bags handmade from Marcos’s old kitesurfing sails. Following his mother’s advice, who proposed he ‘do something with all of (the) old sails’ that accumulated in his room during his time as a professional kitesurfer, Marcos and Paz started making the bags from used windsurfing, kitesurfing and boating sails. They were a huge hit.
Not long afterwards, Marcos was on a plane to San Francisco where he set-up Mafia Bags in California, with the intention of creating a business focused on making the most positive social and environmental impacts possible. All of the bags are made using donated sails, some by local refugees – even the boxes used for shipping are all ‘pre-loved.’ To date, Mafia Bags has saved 8,200 yards of sail from ending up in landfills.
Marcos reveals his biggest challenges, and greatest rewards, as a purpose-driven startup founder – and how taking his mom’s advice about cleaning out all of those ‘old sails’ from his room helped launched a successful global business!
What were you doing before you started Mafia Bags? And what inspired you to launch a purpose-driven business?
I was fascinated by the ocean my whole life…I was born that way! As a kid, I would go surfing, sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. I thought I was pretty good with kitesurfing and did it to the point where I was professional.
At one point, I was traveling and suddenly half of my whole room was covered with sails. And my mother said ‘Why don’t you do something with all of these old sails?’ At the time I was traveling a lot and … I thought we could probably do backpacks…so that’s how we came up with the idea.
We were also thinking we could use the backpack to carry our wetsuits and stuff and those were the first that we made. We shared them with our family and our friends…and people liked them and started buying them…and it started growing in an organic way.
Tell me the story behind your launch. How did you start Mafia Bags in the U.S. after launching in Argentina?
The company started in Buenos Aires where we started making our first bags. Then I came to the U.S. for the first time in 2013…and I thought if we want to build the company…we should be based in California.
So after my first trip to the U.S., I moved to San Francisco. Mafia Argentina is still running and making bags for the local market in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. We started new manufacturing to make bags in the U.S. Both companies make the same product but…we don’t ship things from one place to the other, we try to keep our carbon footprint really low.
How do you source all of the kiteboarding, windsurfing & boating sails to make the bags?
(Spending) so many years in the sailing industry, I know a lot of people that sail. So we created an exchange program where people send us their old sail and we give them a free bag of their own sail, so that’s how we got (people) engaged. And they love that everyday they use a bag that was pushing their boat, so they mean a lot.
(Mafia Bags then uses the additional material from the donated sails to make bags for general sale).
What positive social and environmental impacts are you making with Mafia Bags?
Our business is based on re-using sails and other materials. Sails can’t be recycled because they’re nylon based…so they have to be used up. Making bags, we’re keeping the sails as they are, but also keeping them from going to the landfill.
We re-use other materials. We work with Vans shoe company to re-use banners from their surfing events and we do two big projects, one in California and one in Hawaii. So, it’s the same concept, we turn those (banners) which people think is waste, to something you can sell..and is almost a piece of art.
We keep our sales and manufacturing local …so everything’s really connected. We work with non-profits to engage our customers in environmental and social issues. Here in the U.S. we work with Sustainable Surf, a non-profit trying to help solve ocean-related issues.
In the social aspect, we work with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). (They work with) refugees who come to the U.S. in search of a better life and we’re very happy…to have our bags made by these amazing people.
There are also other things we do…all of the shipping we’re doing from our office gets shipped with re-used boxes. We have a small stamp that we add to the box that says ‘Re-used box, 14.5 gallons of water saved. Keep it going!’ We believe people should have the (opportunity) of repairing their bags for free if something happens so have a commitment that we’re going to help our customers.
What’s been your biggest challenge as a purpose-driven entrepreneur?
Mafia Bags was born as a sustainable company…that’s how we were founded and that’s how we work.
On the other side, it’s like ‘OK, you want to change (things), change the way you think’…(it’s about) the community around your company, the people that believe in the way you do business, and engaging more people in that way of thinking.
Our bags are made in the U.S, they are all one-of-a-kind. The hard part …is for (people) to understand how we make everything in the company. But I think the things that make the business hard for us, are the things that make us unique.
What’s been the most fun or rewarding part of your startup journey?
Working for customers and people that are really happy with their bags…we’re not working for investors, we’re working for the customer – that’s the main goal of the company. That’s our biggest achievement (check out How To Know Your Customer: 5 Proven Ways to Better Understand Your Audience).
Something that also makes me happy is going surfing after work – it makes everyday an amazing day!
What’s the best advice you would give to an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to make a difference?
The main thing is doing things for love, really loving the product, what you’re doing – it’s not for the money.
Did this post inspire you? Then please don’t let it stop there!
THANK YOU:-) You just made a positive impact, how easy was that?!