by Hannah Gray | Photography by Jimmy Johnston
Carrying a Whitby handbag signifies two very important things: great taste and a passion for humanity. After learning how the multibillion-dollar business of human trafficking affects young girls, forcing them into prostitution and forced servitude, Whitby founder/designer Brittni Adams sought a way to help out and fight back. But with a problem so vast and permeating — it is one of the world’s largest organized crime networks — how could she even begin to make a tangible impact? By “pouring education into girls,” asserts Adams in her own words. So in 2014 she created Whitby Handbags in an effort to enact change. For every handbag that is sold, one girl will receive a year of education.
Through a partnership with a like-minded nonprofit, Whitby plans to finance a year of schooling for 23 girls between the ages of 6 and 16 with their fall 2015 line. The first class to be sponsored resides in the town of La Croix, Haiti, a place plagued by poverty and a large restavek (children who are forced into indentured or domestic servitude) population. Because of La Croix’s situation, the girls who live there are significantly more at risk of falling into the life-shattering spiral of human trafficking. The town also has no public education system to speak of, so sending children to school costs money — that’s where Whitby comes in.
The first product, dubbed the Codet Satchel after a little girl Adams met in La Croix, comes in four colors of luxurious Italian leather. Though timeless in shape and elegant in material and finishes, it is the inside of each American-made satchel where the true beauty lies. Printed with drawings by the very girls the bags will benefit, the lining allows for an incorporation of “some human piece” into each model. Bright, eye-catching fabric intended to start a conversation about the dire need for change is the best marketing ploy for Whitby’s prerogative: solving “the problem of girls not having access to education.”
Education fights modern-day slavery by providing an alternative to girls who, until activists like Adams, had none. Without access to education, the lives of threatened girls are very bleak. Child marriages, high mortality rates for those who give birth before the age of 15, limited options for jobs, a lack of empowerment and an absence of literacy are all consequences faced by those who do not have the privilege to participate in something so many others take for granted. With an unwavering focus on generating a conversation, spreading awareness and simply empowering vulnerable girls, Whitby truly is changing the worlds of those who need it most by investing in their futures.