“If I had a job that I hated, it would be hard to get up in the morning.”
Luckily, she adores her job.
Bettina Braisted, , began her custom flag business nearly 30 years ago creating flags for customers that range from astronauts to sailors.
“I like what I do because it is creative,” Braisted said as she was finishing up work on a pirate themed flag she displayed at the 107th New York Boat Show at the Javits Center earlier this month. Last week, Braisted was named 2012 Booth Exhibitor of the Year at the annual New York Boat Show at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
As an entrepeneur and American craftswoman, Braisted has had a booth at the annual New York Boat Show since 1988. The organizers of the show, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said they chose Braisted because of her dedication to her craft and because her flags are one hundred percent made in America.
She has outlasted and outsold other exhibitors by having a product that has enduring appeal to the show’s attendees. Her flags are personalized insignia for power boaters and sailors and are keeping alive a rich cultural tradition of nautical symbology that predates radio and GPS technologies. They are each sewn by hand at Braisted's shop at 155 Boston Post Road, by herself and her full-time assistant.
Braisted is proud not only of the quality and durability of her flags---they weather the elements much better than mass-produced computer silk-screened flags---but also of the fact that she is among a dwindling number of American business owners who sell goods made in this country by Americans for fair wages.
“It was very nice to be recognized for thirty years of doing boat shows, making sure that each customer gets his/her own dreams and wishes represented in a unique design,” Braisted said. She thanked the National Marine Manufacturers Association and considered it a great honor to receive the award. “My fellow exhibitors are like a second family to me. I call them 'the boat show gypsies.' I have met so many wonderful and interesting people through this show,” Braisted said.
Braisted and staff were one of 376 exhibitors at the 2012 show, which ran from January 4 to 8.
The 61-year-old Braisted, a native of Cos Cob, was introduced to the sport of sailing as a small girl by her father, who was an Olympic class sailor in the late 1940s.
Her mother, a Spanish teacher known for her thrift, passed along her talent for design and her skill as a seamstress. Braisted started her own business out of her home in 1982. Originally intent on creating hand bags from old sails, Braisted soon discovered a niche market for nautical flags containing personal designs.
She makes about 2,000 flags a year, and her flags have been used in yacht club commissioning ceremonies, at weddings, university graduations and as signage for local businesses. In 2002, the space shuttle Endeavor’s crew, including then Commander Mark Kelly, the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, launched into space with a commemorative flag created by Braisted proudly displayed in the shuttle’s aft flight deck.
To celebrate thirty years of business achievement, Braisted is planning an open house and party July 29, 2012, the anniversary of The Sailbag Lady. She plans to invite members of the public and to express thanks to the shoreline community for their wonderful support.
In a cottage-turned-shop behind her Madison home, Braisted works on a 40-year-old sturdy sewing machine making her creations from individual patterns she herself creates either with a client’s wishes and feedback or from her own imagination – she is an artist as well as a talented seamstress.
The Sailbag Lady creates flags for families and weddings, boats and shops, homes and companies and beyond, there’s an opportunity for a flag just about anywhere, including the 2001 Space Shuttle Endeavor.
“What could be better,” she asked rhetorically.
The Sailbag Lady’s website is colorful and complete with all the details on how to create and order a custom flag or banner created by hand in a small hometown shop.
Amanda Norris contributed to this article.