When Jamie Parker moved to Santa Rosa Beach in 2013, she didn’t know what she was going to do. She just knew she needed to be … live … do … great.
Parker spent her entire adult life in her family’s cabinetry business in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When she relocated to the Emerald Coast, all she felt she had was her passion for teaching yoga and a blank canvas.
“I was teaching yoga at the time,” Parker said. “And so, I was always carrying my mat to class and I would see these mat carriers, you know? I’m like, those are the most non-functional things ever.”
“So, I literally just started going home and I was like, ‘OK, I love big bags. I love buckles.’ And, I just started sketching out these designs. I always laugh and say, ‘I can’t draw a stick person,’ but I can sketch some bags now and it’s kind of therapeutic and I love it.”
And, that’s how it started – Maha Loka – with an Oklahoma girl and yoga teacher. But, Parker, who doesn’t consider herself a typical artist, isn’t designing your typical bag. Now featured in Glamour, Vogue, GQ and Condé Nast Traveler, Maha Loka is more of a belief system than a bag.
Maha Loka means “great world,” Parker said, deriving her brand’s identity from Sanskrit. But, it’s the slogan beneath the brand that has deep meaning for Parker.
“The slogan underneath the logo is “Be. Live. Do. Great.” And, it’s in that order for a reason,” Parker explained. “I really do feel like you have to be a good person first and then you’ve got to live that out. So, you see it and then you ‘do,’ right?
“And, I feel like that’s kind of how it has to be, you know, in order for there to be some authenticity behind it.”
Using her entrepreneurial upbringing, Parker started what she said was never meant to be a hobby; she was thinking “global company and big brand” from the beginning. And, she has certainly nailed the global part in the first three years of her business, launching production runs in El Salvador and Kenya.
“My dad was like, ‘Jamie, you’ve got to start small,’” she said, laughing. “But, I never thought small.”
Part of Parker’s mantra in creating her bags has been ethos, sustainability and transparency. Her new partner in Kenya, which works with big designers like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood, believed the same.
“It took months and months of communicating with them before they finally agreed to look at my prototypes,” said Parker, who will make her first trip to Kenya in late 2019. “For me, it’s all about the communities it’s impacting, how much water is being used, the story of their production.”
And, the bags do tell a story – literally. Each of her signature “Do Great” totes, created from canvas and recycled inner tube tires, comes with a tag that is completely traceable, allowing its purchasers to scan a QR code and trace the history of the bag. The prototype for her “Be Great” yoga bag incorporates Piñatex, a textile derived from pineapple leaf fiber that offers a second source of income for South American farmers. It is a multi-functional piece, with space for a computer to be carried and can function as a backpack. Her “Live Great” yoga bag is 100 percent waterproof. Three new prototypes are currently in the works.
In Kenya, there are up to 17 different communities that can be involved in a bag’s production. One community, for example, might craft the eyelets, while another might strip and clean its materials.
It’s a full-circle moment for Parker, whose dad started his business in a garage, growing to a team of 65 and creating the ultimate American dream for their family. Now, she is working out of her own garage. Her future plans include a local warehouse and certification as a B Corp, a designation for companies that meet the highest standards for social and environmental performance and public transparency.
“I’m trying to move forward in this world, leading the way to a different kind of corporation. I want to be a part of that movement,” she said.
“There are some days I’m like, ‘I can’t jump off this ledge. Like, another ledge. Really? I don’t want to jump off this. But, I end up always pushing myself off. I think you have to be willing to fly.”
Shop Maha Loka bags and learn more about the brand at The Maha Loka.