Sherpani Highlights

Celebrating Our Female Cofounder for International Women's Day: Meet Maria

Sherpani was founded by Maria and Ed Ruzic, partners in both life and business. They are kind people who believe in working hard, taking risks, and embracing challenges with a can-do attitude that has served them well.

In honor of International Women's Day (March 8th), we wanted to introduce you to Maria, our female cofounder! Read on to learn more about Maria and discover her insights on womanhood, business, and adventure.

Besides being one of the minds behind Sherpani, Maria is a mother, a designer, an entrepreneur, a creative, an outdoor enthusiast, a sailor, a world traveler, and a friend to all who know her.

Maria smiling at the camera from in front of some of her designs at Sherpani headquarters in downtown Boulder, Colorado

Maria grew up in Montreal, Quebec, a city with a heavy French influence. Her passion for design and fashion was evident from a young age when she dreamed of designing ballgowns for the Paris fashion scene. Born to a mother with her own artistic talents, Maria was encouraged to pursue her interests - and pursue them she did.

After earning her degree in Fashion Design and Haute couture from Coll ège Marie-Victorin, Maria landed a job at Speedo Swimwear. Working for the brand allowed her to hone her design skills and instilled in her a reverence for high-quality gear. Though performance swimwear seemed a long way from ballgowns, Maria became enchanted by a different kind of glamour: the premium quality of products trusted by Olympic athletes. 

Speedo also paved the way for Maria to travel. This led to what everyone at Sherpani believes to be a pivotal moment in a woman's life: her first international solo trip. She was sent to a convention in Dusseldorf, Germany, where she recognized the magic of taking on a new place and figuring things out on your own.

"It was the first time I was traveling alone and my first time going to Europe. I didn't understand the language, I don't even know if I knew where I was going!" Maria mused, "But, I got around!"

A cityscape view of Dusseldorf, Germany

This game-changing experience helped Maria feel confident enough to take on the world. Before long, she was working on photoshoots in Cancun. At twenty-three, she represented her home country of Canada at an international meeting in Monte Carlo, where she combined business and pleasure by staying an extra three days.

"It was unforgettable," she said of her bonus time in Monaco, "the food, the experience, taking all of it in… it was an unforgettable trip for me."

Traveling alone taught Maria many things. She didn't worry about how things would turn out, because, as a solo traveler, she felt largely in control of them. A woman's intuition is a special tool, and one that's easiest to lean on without competing voices. Maria became a savvy world traveler by trusting herself to explore safely and competently. "You grow from it - personally and spiritually."

This empowering experience is exactly why Sherpani encourages women to explore the world; we make bags that support women's journeys of self-discovery.

A solo female traveler carrying the Prima Anti-Theft crossbody purse by Sherpani (Loden color)

Since the solo adventures of her twenties, Maria has continued to feed her wanderlust. From marveling at the streets of Venice, to "glamping" on a remote beach outside Tulum, where she sipped Mexican hot chocolate under a starry sky.

She has also celebrated her roots at the Quebec Winter Carnival. Attendees bundle up and brave frigid temps at the outdoor event that spans two weeks near the beginning of February. The notion of getting outside and wholeheartedly embracing winter is a significant one; it's evident that Maria's happy place has always been the outdoor world. "I am happiest when I'm outside - I don't care what it is."

There is one destination that has captured Maria's heart perhaps more than any other: The Abaco Islands. In the north of the Bahamas sit a slew of islands and cays that dot the turquoise waters of every sailor's dreams. This stunning place has become a great source of inspiration for the Ruzic family.

A pristine beach in the Bahamas

Maria and Ed, along with their two daughters, prefer to roll up their sleeves and put effort into their adventures. They rent a boat and navigate to remote islands where you'd be hard-pressed to find another soul. Being able to escape and relax is important to them, as is earning the pristine natural views. Removed from conveniences like cell reception, the Ruzics refer to their sailing excursions as "unplugged trips."

In the Abaco Islands, the family does more than just dive, swim, hike and play; they also collect trash. "We clean every time we go," Maria says. On the islands, the family discovered that although you can get away from people, you cannot get away from plastic. Their first-hand account of ocean plastic inspired the use of reclaimed plastic bottles in Sherpani bags. To date, Sherpani has repurposed more than 4.2 million plastic bottles through our sustainable manufacturing process.

Boating is familiar to Maria, who, after marrying Ed, settled in lively Key West. In fact, Sherpani isn't the first business venture the entrepreneurial pair took on; they used to operate a fishing and diving business. Maria led excursions and decorated retail shelves with products that supported underwater adventure.

Maria has always loved to work. The "hustle" lifestyle suits her, and when her creative juices are flowing, there's no stopping her. She has been known to fiddle with a design or rearrange a display late into the night, even into the wee hours. In Key West, Maria worked hard, played hard, and entered a new chapter of life: motherhood.

When she became a mom, something shifted. Following her long-trusted intuition, the family of three relocated to Boulder, Colorado. The Ruzics loved Colorado, having hiked, biked, and skied through the state on past adventures.

A natural view in the beautiful Colorado mountains

In fact, the outdoor scene of Boulder is what planted the seed that would become Sherpani. Being equally passionate about fashion and adventure, Maria saw a gap in the bag market of products for women that delivered on both function and style. Having lived a life centered around design and outdoor activity, she was the natural choice to create a product that would serve women better.

The Ruzics had made friends with other athletic women who were crushing their goals in challenges like marathons and triathlons. When they approached these friends with their concept for Sherpani, the female athletes were delighted. They shared how happy it would make them to match their bag to their outfit while kicking ass in male-dominated spaces.

This response confirmed what Maria already knew, and she and Ed founded Sherpani in 2002. "To be an outdoorsy woman, you don't have to look like a lumberjack," Maria says, "you can coordinate your outfit and still be able to climb Mount Everest."

A fashionable woman smiling and reaching into Sherpani's belt bag, the Hyk (Bloom color)

Though Sherpani's story is a successful one, owning a business does not come without its challenges. To face them, Maria believes wholeheartedly in perseverance. In chipping away at problems and getting creative with solutions.  While entrepreneurship is challenging by nature, Maria holds a hopeful opinion on being a female entrepreneur.

"Maybe in the big corporate world, there might still be glass ceilings, but, in the business world, I think a woman can achieve just about anything."

Maria is quick to name her mother as her biggest cheerleader. Her mother was an artist at heart but had entered the workforce under very different conditions. She worked as a secretary - one of the few roles available to women at the time - until she became pregnant. She was expected to quit her position before her belly began to show.

"From that, to where women are now… the sky is the limit," Maria says.

Maria designing Sherpani bags at Sherpani headquarters in Boulder, Colorado

Maria has taught her daughters to follow their passions and pave their own way in the world. Although she loves to work, she loves being a mom even more. Maria's favorite time of day has always been school pickup. With her youngest now in high school, Maria prioritizes collecting her daughter daily and regards the drive home as a precious window of time. She loves to witness the pressures of high school life fall away during this drive. "If you're not there for that, by the time you get home, it's gone."

Fortunately, Maria has never had to miss out on this bonding time with her kids - one of the benefits of being your own boss. Sherpani makes bags for women who define their own meaning of success, a concept that is effortlessly demonstrated by Maria and the women in her family.

This International Women's Day, we encourage you to celebrate your own wins, support women-owned businesses, and reach out to women who have positively impacted your life. We are honored to share more about Maria, the woman behind Sherpani. To know her is to know it's possible to chase after whatever you want.

A woman standing in the middle of a road facing a snow-capped mountain with wide open arms

Know that Maria (and Sheprani!) is in your corner, rooting for your wild, self-defined, success.

Happy International Women's Day!

The Sherpani Team


Shop Maria's Favorite Sherpani Styles!


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By women for women, the Sherpani Travel Blog talks about all things travel. With a new post every week on Travel Tuesday, our blog is the go-to place for unique travel guidesgeneral travel tipspersonal travel stories from women in our community, and more!

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