I love this concept for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's about helping women help themselves and improve their own lives and the lives of their families, not by simply doling out charity, but by giving those in need the skills required to break the cycle. Secondly, it acknowledges the vital importance of self-confidence and the close connection that exists for so many between appearance and feeling like you can take on the world.
I put out a call to everyone I knew for handbags that were no longer in use and that women were prepared to give away to a worthy charity, if only to make room for a new purchase. The response has been amazing. As I type there are over 100 handbags sitting in my hallway, ready to be taken to Dress for Success Melbourne's office. What has been most beautiful about this process is the stories connected with these handbags.
A divine plush, red velvet, leather edged number finished with chunky gold hardware came my way barely touched. When I commented on its pristine condition the owner told me how her girlfriend had given it to her for a recent birthday. Unfortunately the birthday was quickly followed by a falling out between the two. The woman felt such pain over the broken relationship she could no longer bear to use the bag.
Then there was the woman who donated a little black JAG number, a gift to her from her late mother. Her mother had purchased the bag spontaneously for the woman on their last mother-daughter shopping trip, three months before she died of cancer. The woman admitted she had never actually used the bag, but she had kept it because of what it represented; a mother's love for her daughter, a moment of female bonding, to attempt to express in some way that complex web of emotions that often defines mother-daughter relationships. The opportunity for her mother's kindness to now be shared with someone else felt somewhat appropriate she said. A chance to let go without feeling the guilt that often comes with disposing of an item imbued with sentiment.
There were bags gifted to wives by husbands who were now very much ex-husbands, and women who were donating bags they felt belonged to their past, the women they once were and had made a conscious choice to leave behind.
These stories made me realise just how intrinsically connected women are to their handbags. What we sling over our shoulders are not just something to lug our stuff around in, they are in many cases much loved and considered reflections of who we are, or who we were when we purchased them. The brands we favour, the materials we seek out say so much about who we are, where we have come from and where we want to head.
There are those who save up for a Louis Vuitton, viewing it as the crown jewel of their collection, while there are some who prefer a new and funky Kate Hill every season. There are women who opt to carry around a fabric and hessian pouch, viewing their choice as reflective of their environmental concerns and there are those happy with the instant gratification of a replica designer bag. There are the understated individuals who cling to their timeless Chanel padded number, confident in the knowledge that it is often all one needs to evoke an air of elegance while there are the lucky few who cement themselves as a member of the fabulously wealthy by toting the highly coveted Hermes Birkin.