Helping Handbags

Maryann Wohlwend is on a mission with her signature bags.
In the do-good fashion department, Maryann Wohlwend has expanded her home-based business to address more dire problems than helping stylish women have an “it” handbag for the next party.

“I’m taking a wildly different international turn that I never expected,” says Wohlwend, the designer behind the notoriously chic MaryannBags, which got their name because loyal clients passing one another around town would ask: “Is that a Maryann bag?”

Now she can also tell clients that their purchase has a purpose. Last year, Wohlwend rerouted her business mission. The Hudson mother of two asked herself, “How can we propel MaryannBags to feed women in India?”

After years of selling her one-of-a-kinds through a range of venues, from Nordstrom trunk shows to couture boutiques, Wohlwend realized her growing brand could really go places.

In February 2007, Wohlwend connected with her church and Hudson-based missionary Diane Amon, who told Wohlwend about a group of Filipino women who had been rescued from living under a bridge in the Philippines’ Cagayan de Oro City.

“I felt this inspiration that came through me and said, ‘I can do this as a business with a purpose and not just to satisfy myself,’ ” Wohlwend says. “It was amazing to me to think that a handbag company could be something that could help others.”

By March 2007, Wohlwend began working with The House of Transformation women’s shelter in the Philippines to manufacture the bags. Now, she has partnered with the India Gospel League. Her international partners are paid a wage that exceeds fair trade standards, which Wohlwend hopes will improve economic stability in their villages.

“It’s a handbag business, but for me, it’s about the relationship,” Wohlwend says of her “sisters” throughout the globe. From them she will draw inspiration that translates into bag designs with fine embroidery and vibrant silk variations.

Wearable art that feeds hungry women in India? Buying a designer handbag never felt so ... good.
 
[ In the Bag ]
MaryannBags are known for their fabric collage facades and signature sparrow’s nest shape. Each is one-of-a-kind and inspired by the women across the globe who help Wohlwend produce them. “The bags end up being beautiful art objects at the end,” she says.
<< Sparrow’s Nest
Both bags are made with silk, Chantilly lace and freshwater pearls. $95
<< Gypsy Bag
Made with painted fine silk, ivory lace appliqué and a faux suede strap. $159

MaryannBags are available at Lingg  Showroom, 28500 Chagrin Blvd. The venue will feature a special showing of Maryann Bags on Aug. 15. Visit maryannbags.com or shop etsy.com for select styles.
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