How Tracey Cugno’s Sole Obsession Became a Successful Accessory Line

Tracey Cugno's love affair with shoes has blossomed into a homegrown line of travel bags, face masks and accessories, all with a silver lining.
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Photography courtesy of Tracey Cugno / Leigh Travel

Tracey Cugno opened her trunk. Her shoes were everywhere, having rolled out of their makeshift carrier, a recycling bag.

There has to be a better way, she thought, to travel with shoes. 

So the Westerly resident designed a prototype, a soft travel bag with adjustable vertical compartments that kept her shoes separate from clothing and other items. After a few modifications and test runs, the ShoeCase — and Leigh Travel — was born.

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Photography courtesy of Tracey Cugno / Leigh Travel

That was in August 2019. Cugno has since expanded the product line to include totes and duffel bags, backpacks, face masks, travel blankets and pillows, and a collection crafted from recycled plastic bottles. Every piece is woven through with delicate silver fibers that keep the bags and accessories odor-, mold- and mildew-free (silver has antimicrobial properties that keep bacteria from growing). 

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Photography courtesy of Tracey Cugno / Leigh Travel

“We love our bags because they’re beautiful, but there’s also such science behind them,” she says. “It’s truly our silver lining.” 

An avid traveler with a background in airport retail stores, Cugno has spent countless hours driving to sales calls and passing through airports. She’s seen her share of poorly designed luggage, of people struggling with their bags, folks with bad posture — all issues that factored into her streamlined, unisex designs. Which all have, of course, plenty of room for shoes. Add in rubber feet for easy packing, plenty of pockets and zippers, and luggage handle pass-throughs, and you’ve got a nylon-sheathed recipe for success.

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Westerly resident Tracey Cugno founded Leigh Travel in August 2019. Photography courtesy of Tracey Cugno / Leigh Travel

In June 2020, she opened a store on Thames Street in Newport, sharing space with Azzul, a retailer of sneakers and shoes hand-crafted in Portugal. In late March, she opened a shop inside Bradley International Airport just over the border in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. And she’s looking into new designs: maybe wheeled, hard-case luggage, belt bags and crossbody messenger bags, which men in particular are requesting, she says.

As a new summer season opens in the City by the Sea, Cugno is optimistic. After two years of dwindling tourism numbers, she thinks visitors will once again flock to the salt-sprayed city, especially now that international travelers can visit the country. 

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Photography courtesy of Tracey Cugno / Leigh Travel

“I feel like this is our time,” she says. “Travelers are back and we’re ready for them.” Leigh Travel, 192 Thames St., Newport; Bradley International Airport, Windsor Locks, Connecticut, shop-leigh.com