Nowadays, many big-name brands crowd Charleston’s King Street, so it’s refreshing to find a shop with Lowcountry roots. Recently opened Spartina 449 has them in spades. One step inside the breezy new storefront transports you to a cooler, more relaxed version of our small city. Whitewashed walls with accents of blue offer a simple backdrop for brightly patterned purses, gilded jewelry and beach-centric accessories. You might think shoppers would be confused by all the choices, but thanks to the store’s well-organized layout and designs inspired by the Lowcountry, Spartina 449 is an oasis of calm on bustling King Street.
Kay Stanley, founder and CEO, says that when she and her husband moved to the Lowcountry from Kansas City, she thought the change would signal the beginning of her retirement. “We wanted to take it slow,” she says, and while they encountered a carefree lifestyle on Daufuskie Island, Stanley found herself being pulled back to her passion for design.
The idea for the women’s lifestyle brand, Spartina 449, came about from a simple concept: the marriage of linen and leather. “There was nothing like it in the market,” Stanley recalls. She notes that she liked the idea of combining the durable fabric with a touch of elegance from leather. Starting with 50 women’s handbag designs that were bright, cheerful and wearable for just about any occasion, Spartina 449 has grown into a robust brand that now releases more than 1,000 products each year.
The company’s name is a nod to its beginnings on Daufuskie: Spartina alterniflora is the cordgrass that grows in saltwater marshes along the Carolina coast, and 449 is the number of the house where Stanley started the brand. The mermaid logo also pays tribute to Lowcountry lore: In olden days, sailors would report seeing mermaids off the shores of Daufuskie late at night. (“In reality,” Stanley says, “they were probably just drinking a little too much.”) Mermaids, according to Stanley, perfectly express the brand’s personality—elegant (a woman with a siren song) and playful (a mermaid leaping in the waves). “We want to convey a lifestyle,” she says. “We like beautiful things, but we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously.”
Spartina 449’s devotion to the Lowcountry goes far beyond its name and logo, though. Carrying one of Spartina’s bags means you hold a piece of history on your arm because each line focuses on a different part of the South’s past. The current spring/summer 2017 designs were inspired by Georgia’s Tybee Island and reveal subtle hints of Tybee’s history. The bright paisley pattern called “Salt Meadow” is inspired by the twists and turns of the saltwater marshes that thread through the island. (It’s also thought that Tybee comes from the Native American Euchee tribe’s word for “salt.”)
Then there’s “Tybrisa,” an interlocking, geometric oval design in navy blue and cream that spotlights the Tybrisa Pier & Pavilion, an entertainment venue at the turn of the 20th century that was the spot to see and be seen (and still is today). “Bohème’s” ocean blue paisley pattern calls out the influential French and bohemian lifestyles that are still very much a part of the island’s culture.
“I didn’t really realize or appreciate the amount of history there is in the Lowcountry until I moved here,” Stanley says. “Being able to tell some of these stories is important. I think we can learn a lot from our past—it explains why we’re here, how we live our lives.”
Amanda Black is a freelance writer and editor living in Charleston.