Maria Lester, founder and CEO of Skidaddle Bags was born in Managua, Nicaragua in 1972, 6 days before one of the largest earthquakes in the country’s history. She was very fortunate that her mother had the wits and strength to run into the nursery and save her from a building which was falling apart as they exited. Decades later, a mother herself, Maria saved her own daughter, Maiya, from a life-threatening situation – type 1 diabetes. Maiya, who was diagnosed at the age of 4, is Maria’s inspiration for Skidaddle. One day Maiya said, “I only wish I could have a happy bag to hold my supplies.” And shortly thereafter, Maria went to work designing.
What was life like in Nicaragua? When did you move to the U.S?
I grew up in a loving family that nurtured our education and promoted our individual talents. My three siblings and I lived in Nicaragua until 1979 when the Sandinista War drove us out of the country and forced my father to close his successful businesses. My father had been a renowned pharmacist and we were immersed in the world of medicine from an early age.
After the war my siblings and I started a new life with our grandmother, first in San Francisco and then in Florida where I went to elementary, middle school, high school and some college. While in Florida I met my husband who was studying to be an attorney.
When did you become interested in design?
I can remember when I was around 5 years old I would ruffle through my mom’s closet picking out and enjoying her wardrobe collection. Like most girls, I was interested in fashion from an early age, however, I really had a passion for design as well.
As I grew older I developed an even stronger passion for the fashion industry. I had been accepted to the International Fine Arts College in Miami Beach. Fate, however, intervened and I got married to my husband instead.
Luckily, I was able to land a job at Neiman Marcus in Bal Harbour as a designated selling specialist (DSA) for the Louis Feraud Couture Collections where I learned a great deal about design and the fashion industry. A few years later my husband graduated from law school and I left my position to start a family.
Your daughter Maiya was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of four. Did you notice any changes in Maiya prior to her diagnosis?
A week prior to Maiya’s diagnosis, we became concerned about her behavior. Her teacher and I met and discussed her unusual behavior. We just thought she was being a difficult four- year-old and nothing more. The teacher’s assistant, however, who had been a nurse for 14 years prior to her working at the school, noticed some signs of juvenile diabetes and brought them to my attention. The frequent trips to the bathroom, and constant thirst. I wasted no time and made a doctor’s appointment the next day.
On November 10th, 2004, on the morning of my beloved grandmother’s death, I learned that my baby girl had type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. At first I was devastated and very frightened of the unknown. We had a very difficult time of adjustment. We had a very challenging time checking her blood sugar and were in a constant state of alert, which drained us, to say the least.
How is Maiya today?
Maiya is doing very well today. We are fortunate that she is such a bright and brave little girl. She is an excellent student with a passion for animals. Thankfully, Maiya has been able to grow and adjust to her condition, but it hasn’t been easy. School is never easy for a child but, for children with a special need it becomes twice as hard.
Can you tell us about the moment you conceived of the idea of designer diabetes bags?
One day Maiya came up to me with tears in her eyes and told me that her bag made her sad and she was embarrassed that she had to carry her “ugly” diabetes bag everywhere. It’s at that point that Skidaddle Bags was born.
I immediately began to figure out if there was a way to design a bag that was functional but also designed with a fashion flair. After a couple of prototypes I could see how much my daughter enjoyed her “happy bag”. I started to think that I could create the same joy on other children and adults who were living with diabetes. Skidaddle Bags was founded in 2007 and since then I have been creating highly functional and beautifully fashionable diabetes supply bags, clutches, meter bags, fannie packs, hipster bags and messenger bags.
I hope to be able to continue to grow my company and fulfill my mission to help brighten the days of people living with diabetes.