City Islander sells bags with a message

A City Island resident is helping the needy in Africa by selling her handy bags on the Internet.

Susan Bellinson, who works as a midwife at Montefiore Medical Center and lives on City Island with her two sons, has been selling “freedom straps” over the web through her company Sucaro, and is donating a portion of the proceeds to the Nembatta Women Self Help Center in Ethiopia.

The freedom strap is a bandolier-style bag worn across the shoulder. It has the same purpose as a fanny-pack, but with three long pockets across the front, it can store just about anything. It can even be worn under coats and jackets.

“It’s called a freedom strap because it opens up a new way of carrying things,” Bellinson said. “Your hands are free, so you can do anything while you’re wearing it. You’re also free because you don’t need to worry about security. Everything fits very tight in the pockets.”

Bellinson began making the bags in 2002, and sold them mainly to friends and family. Then she took the business online in 2006.

The product can be used for anything from hiking, to kayaking, to spending a day at the zoo, Bellinson said.

She got the idea for the strap from taking care of her two young sons, and needing to constantly wear a drab fanny-pack.

“I was always looking for a really cool fanny-pack, but I could never find the right one. I wanted something nice and hands-free, so I designed a bag that could be worn around waist or shoulder,” she said.

“Then at a party I was showing the bag that I designed for myself and somebody said ‘Why don’t you design something for men,’ so I did. Then I realized everybody liked it.”

She has sold a few hundred since launching the company. After moving the manufacturing operations from a small shop in Queens to a larger facility in China, Bellinson is hoping to be able to provide bags for customers at a lower price, which should boost sales.

“At first I wanted to make sure everything was made in America,” she said. “But this way I will be able to sell the bags for a fair price.”

Bellinson said since she started selling online (at her biggest thrill is seeing the straps worn by strangers.

“I was at a winter camp with my kids and one of them told me they saw a man wearing my bag,” she said. “At first I thought it was a knock-off, but sure enough he had a Sucaro bag. He said he is a middle school teacher in the south Bronx and he wears it all day. He practically sleeps in it, he said.”

Bellinson got the idea to donate some proceeds to the Nembatta Women Self Help Center because several colleagues have volunteered there and agree that it supports needy women in a struggling area.

“My goal is to give away a lot of money to the group,” she said. “It’s small amount of dollars per bag, but if I sell 10,000 bags that means about $10,000 dollars, which could help them run the center for a year.”

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