By Sean Flynn Newport Daily News, R.I.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Two entrepreneurs describe how and why they decided to go ahead with launching their brands during the pandemic.
Three entrepreneurs have opened up two different shops in the past month in spite of an economy hit by pandemic restrictions.
Tracy Cugno and Manuel Rodrigues teamed up to open a collaborative store that features products they independently developed. On the right side of Leigh x Azzul, at 192 Thames St., are the Leigh "ShoeCases" and travel bags Cugno designed, while on the left are the Azzul shoes and sneakers Rodrigues designed.
"It's been really good," said Diamond Tevyaw, the store manager. "You wouldn't expect all the business we've had, right smack in the middle of a pandemic. It's working out really well."
Kim Wald opened Wald & Sea, at 107 Spring St. on the corner of Mary Street, in mid-June. The store offers a mixture of home products, women's accessories like jewelry and handbags, and gifts for men.
"If I can make it through this, it's the COVID proof-of-concept test," Wald said. "The great thing about the store is that the Newport locals have been so supportive. It's important to have the support of the local community, as well as the tourist trade."
The two stores opened independent of each other, but The Daily News stopped in Saturday to see how the new businesses were doing in the city.
"We are optimistic," Cugno said. "When you make beautiful products with great quality, people have to see and touch them. We both decided to forge ahead."
"As COVID became a reality, I did not want to miss a summer when I could build my brand," she added.
Cugno and Rodrigues were both working with the same consultant who specializes in helping emerging brands, Cugno said.
"We both started our brands from scratch, and this is the first company store for both of us," she said.
Cugno grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut. After a stint in New York City, she moved to Narragansett and worked for years in the sales departments of two Providence radio stations and Rhode Island PBS.
She has lived in Rhode Island for more than 30 years.
She decided to open Shades, a sunglasses and eyeglasses store in Narragansett, in 2007. Since then, she has had two additional retail locations, at T.F. Greene Airport in Warwick for about 10 years and another at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut for more than five years.
During that time, she estimates she went through TSA security a couple thousand times and saw people struggling with luggage, unpacking and packing. She talked to travelers about what they liked and disliked about their travel bags.
When Cugno travels, she likes to take multiple pairs of shoes. She decided to develop travel bags with separate compartments for shoes that are adjustable depending on the sizes of the footwear, high heels or flats.
About four years ago, she started forming the Leigh ShoeCase Co. and began research for her product. She learned silver is the only natural, anti-odor, anti-microbial material, and located a manufacturer of silver yarn.
"Our bag is the first in the industry to have anti-bacterial silver throughout the lining," she said.
The cases with the adjustable, separate compartments have a patent pending, Cugno said.
The collection of travel bags, duffels, cases and packs sells for between $200 and $400, Tevlaw said.
Rodrigues, the founder of Azzul, was born and raised in Braga, Portugal. He attended Hofstra University in New York on a soccer scholarship and stayed in the states.
"The design of his collection -- the colors, the prints, fabrics -- are inspired by his upbringing in Portugal," Tevyaw said.
The Azzul shoes are genuine Italian leather and suede leather or natural canvas. The shoes are assembled by hand in Portugual all hand-embroidered and hand-stitched at small factories, she said. The footwear prices are in the $300 range.
Wald & Sea owner Wald just moved to Newport last year from California, where she lived in Laguna Beach and Mill Valley.
"I lived in Newport in 2009 and I loved it here," Wald said. "I wanted to come back."
"The premise of the store is California meets New England; we have both West Coast designs and East Coat designs," she said.
Wald grew up in Chicago, graduated from the University of New Hampshire, then left for California in her 20s for a job.
Her career was in product development, which included a lot of travel to Asia.
"I decided to make a change and I really wanted to do a store," she said. "I thought Newport would be a good place and it is."
She made plans last year and got the space in January. As she was preparing for the opening in early May, the pandemic restrictions hit.
"Some people said I shouldn't do it, but I said, 'Full steam ahead,'" she said. During the shutdown, she worked on development of an e-commerce plan, which will be coming soon.
There store's products come from all over the globe. There are straw handbags from San Francisco, hammocks from Mexico, lanterns from Morocco and indigo cloth from Africa. But there are also products from places closer to home, like ceramics from Providence, walnut and cherry cutting boards made in Rhode Island and handbags from Maine.
"Anything that has to do with home and nesting does really well," Wald said. More information about the businesses can be found at leighshoecase.com, azzul.com and waldandsea.com. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.