Age: 29 //
Occupation: Founder and Designer, Whitby Handbags //
Major: Mass Communication (Concentration: Public Relations), Minor: Dance
Tell me a little bit about why you came to Georgia College.
I really loved the history of the campus and the buildings I would be taking classes in. The idea of being able to build a close-knit community and have that one-on-one interaction with teachers was also appealing to me.
Can you tell me more about your business?
Whitby is a missional luxury handbag company dedicated to preventing the exploitation of girls around the world. Right now we operate in four countries: Haiti, Iraq, Thailand and Peru. We piloted our first collection in Haiti with the Codet Satchel in 2015. This Spring we are expanding the collection into Iraq, with the Maryamana Clutch; Peru, with the Marisol Mini-bucket Bag; and Thailand, with the Namfon Tote. We also launched leather journals that support our cause in Peru and Thailand. Essentially the idea behind a handbag company that prevents modern slavery is that women on this side of the story, like me and you, who’ve never experienced something as devastating as the threat of trafficking, have the opportunity to carry the weight of that for someone else and be reminded of that every day.
Our tagline is “carry justice” and the grand scheme of Whitby is that we produce products that women and men can carry with them everyday to be an advocate and abolitionist in their own community for girls and boys in our program.
Where does the name “Whitby” originate from?
Whitby is a town outside of London, England that the first school for girls in the world was created – in the 1800s by Saint Helena of Whitby. She saw that boys were able to receive a formal education, but girls, only if they could afford it, had private tutors or governesses. Ultimately, girls were not granted the same access to education as boys. A lot of the issues around human trafficking stem from this: that girls are seen, in some of the countries that we work in, as second-class citizens and are not granted the same opportunity to education.
I love that Saint Helena of Whitby saw the potential in girls – and wanted them to also see their own potential – and created a safe place for them to learn.
Can you take me through the production process of the handbags?
I start with an inspiration board of the colors I’m looking to do that season and some general shapes. I then decide placement of the girls’ artwork, which drives the design. All of the bags are a minimalist, timeless and classic design. We have minimal hardware and no big logos. We want the children’s artwork, which is printed on the lining, to be the focal point of our story. I do all of the designing – I’ll sketch them out and choose the leather that I think will be the right fit for the bag shape – and then I take that to my manufacturer and we create a sample. It takes a few tweaks to get the perfect sample. Once the sample is made and approved, I move onto production.
I’m based in Atlanta, but I manufacture in New York City and work with a leather manufacturer in Milan. Both are family owned and operated businesses, which allows me to keep production small and have a 100% guarantee it is being produced ethically from start to finish.
What inspired you to start Whitby handbags?
I was working doing PR and community outreach for a technology company and around the same time I discovered that modern slavery existed. I had never heard that term or that little girls were being sold for sex around the world. When you hear something like that for the first time, it’s devastating. I couldn’t exist in a world where this is happening and I wasn’t doing something about it.
I ended up going to India for about two weeks, working with a non-profit that rescued women out of sex trafficking in the red light district of Kolkata. I connected with some of the women there, but I really connected with the kids. A lot of the kids are the children of women who are workers in this district. I learned that many of them would take over their mother’s business in the next few years – coined “generational prostitution” – which is a big problem in India and Thailand. I was devastated by that. I was playing with nine-year-old girls knowing that they could be working in the red light district in a matter of years. On my way home from India I decided to begin researching prevention strategies and through my research found that the majority of existing anti-human trafficking non-profits do not have prevention programs.
I went back to school and got my Master’s in Non-Profit Management (Social Entrepreneurship focus) at UNC and wrote my business plan that tackled prevention. I saw a need and decided this was a way I could tackle this problem from a unique angle.
We’re carrying this for them so they never have to. Having that transfer of weight and making it a tangible medium that people can connect to is my goal.
What is it like to “be your own boss”?
I love it. I think there are people who work well in a structured, corporate setting, but I discovered that I don’t.
It is also extremely hard because at the end of the day every decision starts and stops with you. It is a lot of pressure, but I enjoy it. I enjoy making my own schedule and being able to determine what course I want things to take. I love to design – having full creative control over something is empowering to me.
Who are some designers or businesspersons you look up to?
Other DNVB (Digitally Native Vertical Brand) companies I look up to are Everlane, Away, Glossier, Warby Parker, M.Gemi, Rallier NYC, and Tata Harper. I also have a lot respect for the non-profit partners I work with. They are the heroes making the money Whitby raises through sales effective, impactful and life-changing for the girls.
What has been your greatest success?
So far we have educated 32 girls in Haiti, rescued four boys out of the red light district in Thailand and are about to launch a new collection to rebuild a school destroyed by ISIS in Iraq.
The success for Whitby will always be in the impact we have, not the number of bags we sell. To me, preventing exploitation in the life of even one girl is a success.