Melanie Cole and Vicky DeRouchey’s Innovative Gear Bags Empower Water-Lovers to Live Their Best Lives

By Stef Tschida

Melanie Cole jolted straight up in bed and looked at the clock. It was 4 a.m. The house was pitch-black and silent. She had just awoken from a deep sleep with an idea for a product. Furiously scribbling on a bedside notepad, she wrote “not your mother’s fanny pack” and a few other details that would eventually change the course of her life and the life of Vicky DeRouchey, her spouse and business partner.

When Melanie first had that middle-of-the-night idea she and Vicky were 50 and 60 years old. They’d been working together at the same technology company for years, but after nearly two decades they’d become disenchanted and were ready for a change. Vicky had survived not one, but two battles with breast cancer, and she believed more than ever that nothing should be taken for granted. They agreed it was never too late to chase a dream and imagined launching a business together.

They’d spent much of their lives enjoying the Land of 10,000 Lakes—their home state of Minnesota—and loved traveling near and far, spending time in and around water. Melanie had lost two phones after dropping them in the lake and each time she was amazed at how quickly they sank. Both had often expressed frustration about having to leave their phones and other valuables behind or stashed away, out of use, when enjoying time at the lake or ocean.

Ugo Wear is the business Melanie dreamt about. Launched in 2012 with a Kickstarter campaign that raised twice their initial goal, the couple brought to market the first and only small profile, watertight gear bag of its kind. Built with thermostatic polyurethane fabric and the UgoZIP waterproof zipper, Ugo is designed to keep a phone dry while at the same time preventing it from sinking. The stylish case protects your smartphone and small valuables like keys, credit cards and even medications. Plus, you can use your phone while it’s in the case—for taking selfies, sharing your adventures on social media and much more.

Beyond its practical use, Melanie and Vicky had a bigger vision for a product that provided a sense of freedom and safety for anyone who wondered what to do with their phone while experiencing everything the world has to offer. That’s exactly what they’ve created. Ugo Wear’s tagline is “Dare to Be Free,” and for Melanie and Vicky, it’s much more than a slogan. It represents how Ugo Wear has empowered them—and anyone who uses their products—to live their best lives.

Today, Melanie and Vicky are energized by running their own company and fully dedicated to Ugo Wear. They personally demo their product at sporting trade shows across the country, getting to interact directly with users. Based on that user interaction, Ugo Wear expanded to include tablet cases. They also develop philanthropic relationships, and direct proceeds from sales of special-edition products to benefit various organizations.

Perhaps most importantly, Melanie and Vicky are enjoying every minute of the freedom that Ugo Wear provides. The duo personally exemplifies another, unofficial tagline they have for their business and lives: SPF—spontaneous, passionate and fun.

For more information about Melanie and Vicky’s business, visit

Photo credit: a.m. photography for Publish Her Story

About the Author

Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and lifelong storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.

About Publish Her

Publish Her is a female-founded publisher dedicated to elevating the words, writing and stories of women. We are passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to make publishing an attainable, exciting and collaborative process for all. Publish Her specializes in print-on-demand books, workbooks, journals, magazines and more.