Good as Gold

Editor's note: Congratulations to Victoria Paskett, who has won the Erin Flett bag from AU.

Recently, we were able to chat with John Milburn, the man behind AU Inc., a Maine-based company that has created totes and luggage since 1968. You may remember the Bag Lady chain of retail stores, a local chain that sold bags at a discount. Those were the retail side of AU (short for Accessories Unlimited), which did a brisk business sewing private-label products for such companies as Laura Ashley. Back then, AU had 1,400 possible products in its pattern lineup.

When Milburn took the helm in 2004, he wanted to find a way to maintain the company's integrity,  streamline the offerings and build the brand. And he has succeeded by really getting to know AU's core customer.

"We're very aware of who she is and what we need to do to fit into her world," Milburn says.

She likes traditional prints, such as damask, but with a hip twist. She wants a bag that will mesh easily into her existing wardrobe, but she's willing to take a chance with an unexpected "neutral" like Dunegrass, a chartreusey green from AU's new line designed by Erin Flett. And she wants something a little more complex than your average tote bag. That's why such products as AU's signature Raincoat Cotton line of patterned travel bags and day bags are so successful. Garnet Hill recently started carrying the line, and they've been very popular.

Milburn believes AU's recent partnership with Flett, a Portland-based designer, will only add to that success and give the brand a distinctive look and feel. Flett's debut collection — ocean-inspired, windswept, abstract patterns in deep blue, soft gray, tangerine and the aforementioned Dunegrass — has been a hit so far. Her fall collection — a modern interpretation of traditional floral and damask patterns in brown, turquoise and royal blue hues — promises to be equally enticing.

As the brand evolves, Milburn says, one thing will remain the same: AU's commitment to Maine.

"As a Maine brand, we really enjoy the fact that we're based in the state," Milburn says. "It's a lifestyle."

For more information about AU, click here.


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