Erika McKelvey - Erika Lynn

Finalist of the The Global Goods Partners Magazine Most Socially Responsible Handbag

United States

2020 Finalist Erika McKelvey Erika Lynn


What country are your bags manufactured?
Republic of Haiti located on the island of Hispaniola.

Please explain how your bags are socially responsible?
I work with an organization in Haiti that has established a children’s home, school, medical facility and are intentionally involved working with and supporting the local community. I was given the opportunity to set up a vocational center teaching sewing and leather skills to impoverished women in partnership with this organization. While working in Haiti with these women, I was fortunate enough to be face to face with the many terrible conditions and issues that are caused by the overwhelming poverty in Haiti.  However grim I perceived it to be, I was truly inspired by their strength and willingness to strive and make each day count. Their strength, paired with dignity, shows as these women continue to stand strong with their willingness to work in the midst of all their hardships. They continue to keep smiling, moving forward and making each day better and stronger. Without these skills and this job, these women would be at risk and may have to turn to other means to provide for their family such as crime, prostitution, or selling their children into slavery.

Do you work with local/native artisans to design your bags?
We work with impoverished women in the community to make this bag.  We travel to Haiti two times a year to continue training and developing their skills. Though Haiti is filled with poverty, its beauty is in the people rising up for a better life as well as the rich blue waters that surround this Caribbean Island. This handbag was designed to reflect the joy and strength of the indomitable Haitian women, as they shine through the poverty.  The leather pocket is engraved with the slogan “Made to Change”, also written underneath in Creole, the Haitian language. Just as this handbag is “made to change”; these women’s lives have been changed and now they are the doorway for change in their community. This design offers a new and refreshing take on the life in Haiti and the beauty of this Caribbean Island.

Working Conditions. Are the manufacturers/artisans that are being employed being treated humanely, of age, and working in safe and acceptable conditions? Please explain.
The vocational center we set up is inside a safe and newly constructed compound located among the organization’s other facilities. We provide all training, sewing machines, tools, equipment, and materials for their use. The women we work with are of legal working age and treated with respect in a safe and loving environment. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the people living in poverty. These women are paid above average wages to help them provide for their families a better life. In addition, with the sewing skills these women have learned they have also been able to use these machines and materials to sew uniforms for the school and recently have been making masks for the community to protect against the Coronavirus.

Why did you choose this country to have your bags made and what made you decide to give back? How have your bags impacted this community?
I have seen, firsthand, the importance of how this trade changed the lives of people in third world countries. I grew up traveling to Romania with my family, working with street kids and orphans.  At age 13, I took over sewing machines and taught 4 orphan girls how to sew.  To this day they all still hold jobs working in sewing factories.   For the last three years I have been working with women in Haiti after being given the opportunity to start a vocational center there. The women I work with have been making all the dust-bags that the handbags I make here in the United States are sold and sent out in.   This has been my give back and I have been working with them each year to further their skills and felt the next step was to make a product that could be sold for them.  I am now in the process of teaching them the Made to Change bag that they will be able to sell to other retail organizations and it can be sold here in the US. The future goal for the Made To Change bag is to have it made in impoverished areas of other countries, like Romania, changing the style and pocket design to reflect that country.

Bag Description
Erika Lynn, Made To Change, Tote, Canvas and Cowhide, $79

See other finalists from the 2020 handbag awards