Purses with purpose: Whitby helps fund education for underprivileged girls

The sale of all of the company’s Codet satchels will pay for schooling for a class of 23 girls in Haiti
Photograph by Brittni Adams

You’d be hard-pressed to describe most luxury handbags as having a “social mission,” unless you count impressing the wearer’s friends at a cocktail party. Not so for Atlanta-based Whitby Handbags’ line of Saffiano leather arm candy, which helps fund education for underprivileged girls around the globe.

Buy one Codet satchel, send a girl in Haiti to school for a year. The background is one of the bag’s linings, designed by 16-year-old Christela.

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Founder and creative director Brittni Adams, who has a master’s certificate in nonprofit management, launched Whitby this fall with the debut of the Codet satchel. A large, structured bag made of Italian leather with gold-plated hardware, from the outside the Codet is beautiful and functional enough to satisfy any luxury shopper. But its most compelling detail by far is the silk-cotton lining, printed with one of 23 bright, whimsical drawings by a class of schoolgirls in La Croix, Haiti, a country where poverty is rampant and most education is private. Girls especially are at risk of being pulled out of school early because of the cost, or worse, forced into domestic servitude or the sex trade. Of the bag’s $1,295 price tag, $385 goes directly to a Christian nonprofit based in Alpharetta, 410 Bridge, which supports the girls’ school and others like it in Haiti and elsewhere.

The purchase of one bag pays the tuition (including uniforms and supplies) for one girl for one year. The sale of all 230 Codet bags in this collection will fund schooling for each of the 23 members of the class in La Croix through age 18. “We believe that education is a means of prevention,” says Adams, referring to the often bleak prospects girls face.

Adams, left

Photograph by Katy Crane Lee

Tucked inside each bag is a note with information about the girl who created the artwork featured on the lining—the same girl who will benefit from its purchase—and Whitby will provide periodic updates on her education.

Adams says she hopes her bags will start conversations and provide a new entry point for donors. “Nonprofits are looking for ways to diversify sources of funding.” Her next collection is a line of clutches, at a somewhat lower price point, that will help fund the rehabilitation of a deserted girls school in Iraq.

“The fashion industry is a blank canvas for creativity,” Adams says, “and we believe in the power of creative storytelling. Our girls have a story to tell, a point of view that is worthy of being seen.”

Photograph by Brittni Adams

Meet the artist, Christela
The striking lining design shown above in the photo of the Codet bag was created by 16-year-old Christela, who hopes to become a nurse after completing school. Meet the girls behind each of the 23 linings at whitbyhandbags.com, and choose between black, gray, butter, and caramel leather.

This article originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.