Marcos Mafia is a 23-year-old professional kitesurfing champion. His sister, Paz, is a former corporate banker. Together they launched the Mafia accessories line in 2012 in their hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The brand has managed to ride the tide from South America to Japan, Portugal, and now the United States, specifically to a storefront in the hip neighborhood of Richmond in San Francisco.
The wellspring of Mafia bags came when Marcos would ride his bike to the beach, and he needed a bag to hold his wetsuit.
“We ride on the Rio de la Plata, the river that separates Argentina from Uruguay, it’s some of the wildest waves in the world. The riding community is huge in Buenos Aires,” Marcos told Fox News Latino.
He collected a bunch of kitesurfing sails and thought they’d make great totes.
One kite can make 10 to 15 totes. “My sister’s the engineer,” he said. “She designed the pattern, and all the aspects of the bag, and now all the business side of the business.”
The bags are made in vibrant colors and come with a lifetime warrantee. They’re handmade in San Francisco, and every bag is unique.
Marcos says the first bags sold out quickly in the local surf shops. The brother and sister duo went from designing totes to backpacks, duffel bags and then a whole line.
In July 2013, Marcos visited Portland and stopped off in San Francisco.
“The first day [in San Francisco], I decided to stay,” he told FNL. “The city has all the culture, surfing and kiting I needed. I felt it was vibrating.”
To launch in the U.S., Marcos started a Kickstarter project last year, and he realized that the campaign itself could help get the name of the brand out to people. “People could buy the merchandise [when they pledged], and we knew it would spread the word of Mafia.”
The company raised more than $26,000 on Kickstarter, which allowed them to open a workshop and storefront in San Francisco.
“We’ve always kept our production in-house,” Marcos said. “Our goal is to keep things small. With the help of Kickstarter people got to know us, and we spread the word on kite surfing.”
Working with SFMade, a Bay Area non-governmental organization that connects potential employees and service providers with businesses who need help producing and showcasing their work, the Mafia group found a father-and-son team of tailors from Malaysia, and now all of the company’s bags are made by them.
“Our business is about re-using an excess of materials we already have on hand. We get used kites from around the world donated to us—from people and companies,” Marcos told FNL.
“In our business and in our lives, Paz and I are about working to empower people to start their own businesses. Our dad is an architect and our mom works with an interfaith NGO. We believe that in the end it’s about being in touch with people—our customers and our employees. We hope to change the way people think and create something unique and new with our products.”