Back Story

After a debilitating injury, a Kingston woman designs an ergonomic shoulder bag that’s comfortable and functional

Margery Gaffin was an active young mom when she fell while roller-skating, severely injuring her back. During her long recovery, she complained to her husband Irwin — a leather craftsman and designer — that she couldn’t buy a shoulder bag that didn’t cause back pain when she used it. Knowing a good idea when they stumble upon it, the Kingston couple went to work, and — with the help of a medical surgeon and chiropractor — developed the Healthy Back Bag®. The ergonomically designed one-shoulder tote conforms to the way our spines naturally curve. “The more points of the bag that touch your body, the lighter it feels,” says Gaffin. “It doesn’t take away the weight of the bag, but it makes it more comfortable to wear.” The bag’s unique shape is complemented by its silver-lined interior, which is composed of pockets specially designed to hold everything from airline tickets to a folding umbrella. The pockets help keep the bag’s weight evenly distributed, “and your stuff doesn’t get all jumbled together on the bottom, like a big file drawer with no names on the folders,” notes Gaffin.

Healthy Back Bags
The Healthy Back Bag® in microfiber (left, in mauve and lemon grass), and distressed nylon

Designed in the early 1990s, the Healthy Back Bag® was soon a hit both here and abroad. The bag holds a patent, and the unique shape is trademarked — a rarity in the world of product design. Approximately three million of these totes — which are now available in seven different sizes, several fabric types (including leather), and myriad colors — have been manufactured and sold through AmeriBag, the Gaffins’ 20-year-old company based in Kingston. The bags range in price from $14 to over $200, and are sold in shops throughout the Valley, including AmeriBag’s retail outlet on Kingston’s Ulster Avenue. Who’s buying them? “Intelligent people who want functional products,” says Gaffin. “They’re for people who want to be comfortable, and carry all the stuff they need.” A new line of Healthy Back Bags®, made from recycled plastic bottles, hits the stores this month.

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Along with overseeing a multimillion-dollar business, the Gaffins remain in close touch with their local roots. A breast cancer survivor, Margery added the Cause Bag — a smaller Healthy Back Bag® that sports a pink ribbon — to her line in 2008. Last October, the company donated more than $13,000 — the proceeds from the bag’s sales — to Breast Cancer Options, a Kingston-based charity that provides support to cancer sufferers (including Gaffin herself). “They helped me a lot,” she says. “I just wanted to give something back.”

Although she’s had more than her share of health problems, Gaffin hasn’t let that affect her upbeat attitude. Even with the depressed economy, “our bags are selling like crazy. We’re like the Energizer Bunny, we just keep going and going,” she says. “You can look at my life as doom and gloom. But I prefer to make lemonade out of lemons.”


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