Like so many before her, Deb Neuman recalls being a 9- or 10-year-old girl and combing beaches and harbors in Maine — near Steuben, in her case — for shells, sea glass and cast off marine goods. As an adult she does it with her five nieces and nephews when they come to visit, and, inspired by all their little oceanside finds, she has made something creative out of it.
Maine Dock Designs, Neuman’s new business venture, takes commonplace items you would find at any public wharf or beach — namely, lobster bands, rope and shiny brass buckles and snaps, which she collects from marine supply stores such as Hamilton Marine — and turns them into jewelry. Neuman got the idea last summer, while beachcombing with her family.
“It was one of those ‘aha’ moments that dates back to the days when I used to do that with my siblings,” said Neuman. “All that stuff you collect as a kid on the beach, I just kind of thought ‘Huh! You know, this could be made into something really neat.’”
Neuman did her research over the spring and summer of 2012, collecting different colors of rope and lobster bands and a variety of metal fasteners. Through a lot of trial and error, she came up with the three initial styles for Maine Dock Designs, all of which are made with heavy duty marine rope, colorful lobster bands and bright, shiny marine hooks and shackles. There’s the funky, chunky bracelet, the durable key shackle, and the impressive knotted necklace — all pieces of statement jewelry that still have a minimalist design, with bold colors easy to pair with an outfit, and a story to go along with it.
“One of the nicest things about these is that they really do remind you of the coast of Maine,” said Neuman. “I grew up on boats and on the water, so it’s nice to have a little reminder of that that you can wear year-round.”
Neuman, ever the entrepreneur, created Maine Dock Designs partially out of her own love of the ocean and partially as a teaching opportunity for her nieces and nephews.
“I wanted to get them excited about innovation and entrepreneurship, so I told them they could help me with starting this business,” said Neuman, who hosts the “Back to Business” radio program at 2 p.m. Sundays on WVOM 103.9 FM, and co-hosts the morning show with Mike Dow from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays on WABK 104.3 FM. “They helped me with the designs and the ordering and everything. It’s like getting kids a puppy. They have to learn how to do the work.”
Currently, Neuman’s designs are available online at mainedockdesigns.com, and in Blue Heron in Bangor, Balance Hair & Body in Brewer, Village Emporium in Bar Harbor, the Salty Lobster in Freeport and the House of Logan in Camden.
Though Neuman just launched her line in August, she has already had some early success. One of the first bracelets she made went to her friend Jessie Logan’s cousin, Camden resident Ellie Logan, who was on the gold medal winning 2012 Olympic U.S. women’s rowing team. When Ellie Logan was being interviewed on NBC after her win, she was wearing her red, white and blue Maine Dock Designs bracelet.
“I got a call from my niece — ‘Turn on the TV!’ And there was Matt Lauer interviewing her, and there was the bracelet,” said Neuman. “It was really exciting. It was a nice little boost.”
Though they have sold well in Maine, Neuman is pleased by the number of nationwide customers she’s had via the website.
“A young woman in Arizona sent me a note, saying she was from Maine, and she used to lobster fish, and she was terribly homesick,” said Neuman. “She said her bracelet reminded her of home every time she looked at it. I’ve had a lot of feedback along those lines.”
Neuman will introduce a fourth design in January — a new necklace, though that’s the most she’ll reveal — and for 2013 hopes to increase the number of stores she sells in. She also hopes to include a charitable element to her business.
“With the lobster bands so prominent in the design, I think it would be appropriate to do something to help out the lobster industry in Maine,” said Neuman. “It’s something I’m really passionate about.”
Key shackles are $28; bracelets are $35 and necklaces are $62. To order online, visit mainedockdesigns.com.