Designer Nakia Wong takes the forgotten and turns them into beautiful handcrafted bags. Items found in Hope Town Canvas were once used as sails on even the most rugged boats. Although due to growth in the business the company has now begun to purchase sailcloth. “When we first started, everything was made from recycled sail cloths because we had that available to us. It’s a great material to use, it’s authentic and it creates no waste. About two years ago, we decided we would purchase sailcloth as well because we wanted to make bags out of fresh new strong material. The recycled sail sometimes has its downfall where it’s sometimes too worn that it doesn't’ make a larger bag. Now with the new sail cloth, you can get a stronger, more durable bag that can last you a lifetime,” Nakia says.
Nakia is the owner of a popular homemade bag store, Hope Town Canvas; located on charming Hope Town. For those of you unfamiliar with Hope Town, it is a small town located on the small yet remote island of Hope Town in Elbow Cay, Abaco. A true Bahamian in all forms, Nakia was born in Nassau and spent summers in Hope Town as a child. When her parents retired, they moved to Abaco and Nakia joined them full-time in 2006.
For as long as she can remember, art has always been her passion. Although recalling her very first piece is difficult, she wagers that it was probably a piece for her mom involving horses, another one of her loves. “I loved going to school and doing artwork and stuff like that. However, as much as I loved art, I opted not to go to art school. I wished I had gone but when I was done with high school (St. Augustine’s College), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I did my general education classes to start. I decided that the best degree to get a job would be marketing so I went to business school, it was after all the closest thing to my artsy world. I always took an art class here and there because I’m an artist. I love to draw, paint and colour but I went to business school so I’m also very entrepreneurial. Working and doing something I can create has turned out to be the perfect mix,” she says.
Nakia fondly recalls how she stumbled across the idea of creating bags out of sail, “The inspiration mostly came from my backyard. My husband’s grandfather owned a sailboat rental company in the 70s, ABC Charters. It has since then shut down, but we lived on their property and there were always stacks of old sails and my husband and his family had thought before on how they could utilize it and make it a great idea. At the time, I was working at Home Fabrics, Marsh Harbour which I opened and worked there for five years and I was very much into the fabric world. So, with the sails sitting there I thought of making sail-bags but I didn’t know how to sew, so at that point, I began to self-teach myself how to sew. I started experimenting and learning with the help of my husband, Andrew Wilhoyte and his father Clay.”
As simple as the bags may look, they’re all unique artworks hand-drawn by Nakia. They started as sketches in her sketchbooks and evolved into beautiful keepsakes. As an artist, she believes it’s her job to keep the designs fresh and because of that, every bag is unique, no design is repeated, and she challenges herself daily to meet the demands of customers. “The bags are my artwork; every single bag is unique and one of a kind. I don’t repeat fabrics, every season we do new fabrics. Even if the bag has the same fabric, it may have a different colour bottom or different colour zipper. The stitching may be different coloured, so nothing is duplicated. Everyone gets their own unique bag,” she says.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Abaco, you would notice quickly it’s a boat town. In fact, the island has been the boating capital of The Bahamas from colonial times. It’s a chain of islands which includes a coastline, that’s filled with protected harbours that hold marinas and resorts. The waters are shallow and protected making it the best place to sail and explore. It’s no wonder that sails are often left there after they’ve served their purposes on boats.
Even though Hope Town is located on the island of the Abacos, its uniqueness shines as bright as a diamond. Its streets tell its own story, as it’s normally littered with families and small golf carts, as cars aren’t allowed. The entire island is picturesque, yet this isn’t what tourists seem to love the most, it’s the feeling that time stops and nothing else matters while you’re in the moment visiting Hope Town. Who wants to leave? No one, but all good things must come to an end and when they do, the pieces from Hope Town Canvas are a little reminder that you can take a piece of The Bahamas home with you.
With the help of her husband, Nakia began watching YouTube videos to pick up tips and tricks. In the Spring of 2013, she left Home Fabrics to begin making bags; by the summer she had already picked up her first employee, a gentleman who still works with her to this day. In a business that requires lots of hands and help, it’s no surprise that within the first two years, Nakia realized she was going to need a bit of help. She hired a second person, this time someone she had worked with at Home Fabrics. It’s now their fifth year and there are nine employees and everyone plays a special part on the production line.
So how does she do it? For Nakia, an organized assembly line of workers makes production time a little faster. “Production is very hands-on, we clean the sails, decide which type of bag we’re going to make as different types of sails make different types of bags. We then cut them; I have a main cutter who does 90 per cent of the cutting. Back in the day, I used to do the cutting, the sewing, the cleaning – pretty much everything. The portions of different materials get cut and then we sew in an assembly line. I oversee the whole design of the bag, I sew all the front stitching, all the design. I then designate the logo, where it goes on every bag and then I pass it along to someone who then sews the interior. The next person will zipper it and then passes it on to another until it’s closed. Once the sewing is done, the third half of the labour starts and it’s putting in marine-grade zippers and grommets. We then grommet each bag, which creates the handles for the roping then we put little cords on all of our zippers pulls – this requires a bit more man-handling,” she explains.
If you’re worried about what “man-handling” does to your future bag, don’t worry as it’s a part of quality control to ensure the bag is strong and durable. “If it can’t handle a little man-handling in the studio then it’s not going to be good for the customers,” Nakia says.
The reaction to the bags and the quality of it has been nothing short of incredible. The popularity still amazes Nakia. “We’ve had an extremely great reaction to our product, which is amazing. We have grown so much, and the demand has been extreme. I never anticipated the product being so popular and I’m still very humbled by it and it amazes me how someone may know about us, yet they’ve never even been to Hope Town,” she says.
If Hope Town is on your Christmas list, move quickly as Silver Airways is having a fare sale to The Bahamas including the Abacos!