How the Pandemic Birthed a Beach Chair Backpack

How the Pandemic Birthed a Beach Chair Backpack

Hi, my name is Suzanne Fontaine, and this is the story of how I sort of accidentally became an inventor.

As it did for millions of others across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic drastically changed my career path. The non-profit organization I served as Executive Director was suddenly at risk of folding due to large pandemic-related reductions in revenue. To ensure the organization could weather the downturn in funding, I chose to resign so the board of directors could direct the funds earmarked for my salary and benefits toward maintaining the organization’s programs.

Faced with the deeply unappealing prospect of conducting a job search during a pandemic, I instead developed a 32-page proposal for my husband, Dave. I managed to convince him not only could we successfully join forces to grow his existing creative services business, but also that we could do our work remotely living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

The pandemic was a stark reminder that life is short and unpredictable, so we decided to seize the moment. It was a crazy seven months of planning, that included getting our temporary resident visas, selling our home and cars, and letting go of about 75% of our belongings, but at the end of October of 2020, we made the move to the place we’d been dreaming of living since our first visit in 2008.

As soon as we settled in, we began spending a lot of time at several of Vallarta’s beautiful beaches, so naturally, I needed the perfect beach chair backpack to carry my things.

I scoured the internet for hours, searching for the best beach chair for me. First, it had to be lightweight, but every beach chair backpack combo I found weighed more than 7 pounds, and that was without anything loaded inside!

Secondly, I only wanted one thing to carry – a beach chair that carries your stuff. Not a chair and a second bag, not a lot of gear. There were many decent lightweight chairs available, but none of them had the capacity to carry my things inside. 

Third, it had to be great looking, well made, easy to use and comfortable to carry.  But so much of what I found was ugly, flimsy, required a complicated setup or was a literal pain to carry… One thing I bought had a strap so thin, it nearly cut into my shoulder when I carried it. And the tiny Velcro tabs on the thing were constantly coming undone, so the whole thing would unfurl while I was walking down the sidewalk. I literally got angry every time I used it.

Since I couldn’t find anything that was quite right, I started sketching my ideal beach chair backpack: a high-quality, stylish, lightweight seat with backpack straps that also could be carried like a beach tote. Eventually, I even built a rough prototype from cardboard, remnant fabric and duct tape (since I can’t sew)! I set the prototype aside in a corner for a few weeks, but I just couldn’t get the idea out of my head. So I decided to try to bring it to life.

After a lot more thought, I hired an industrial designer to help develop technical drawings and specifications, and he introduced me to some expert manufacturers who helped us refine the design. After revising two production samples, I’m really proud of the final result. I named it the product Playamigo, which is a combination of the Spanish words for 'beach' and 'friend.' 

Playamigo ticks all the boxes for what I wanted in a portable beach chair: it weighs just a hair under five pounds, it carries my stuff and keeps it organized with lots of pockets and elastic straps, I can carry it as a backpack or as a shoulder bag, it offers support in three different positions, it collapses flat so it doesn’t take up a lot of space, it’s very well-made and it looks great.

In the summer of 2022, I tested the Playamigo concept through a Kickstarter campaign and raised more than $16,000 from 136 backers who believed in the product and helped make it a reality. The backers came from 30 US states and 14 other countries including Australia, Canada, Germany and New Zealand.

Now that our Playamigo store is open for business, I’m eager to see where in the world it will go next!

If you're looking for the perfect beach chair backpack, check out Playamigo on our website, where you can get your own! And remember to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with our latest updates and adventures!

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