Thursday, March 27, 2014

Your handbag can make you a hero

"There's change in your purse."

Love the clever duality, it's the perfect summary of Purses with a Purpose. The local, annual sale of gently used handbags started six years ago, when Kelly DeMario was fundraising for her Relay for Life team. 

Uncomfortable asking others for money, even for a reputable cause, DeMario was looking for “an easy ask, something you could ask a girlfriend,” she said. “Everyone has a purse … We take everything as long as it's still intact and someone can get a little life and use out of it.”

Kelly DeMario among a wealth of donations

All proceeds, then and now, go to the American Cancer Society. Purses with a Purpose always holds its annual sale the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend.

This year's sale will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge, 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway. The website is under construction, but the video link is live.

That first year, DeMario only asked friends and family for donations. She hosted the sale in her front yard, with hundreds of purses strung on a clothesline between two trees. The inaugural sale brought in roughly $1,000 and loads of contacts.

The next year, DeMario tapped those contacts “and it became very organic,” she said. “They asked their girlfriends … we had so many (purses) we moved to my daughter’s preschool.” By year three, DeMario knew the sale would require a large space. A blurb ran on the evening news and by the end of the night, DeMario said, “There were people lined up, willing to donate space.”

For the next several years, the former Blake Hotel in Uptown was the site of the sale and groups would hold “girls’ nights” and book rooms so they could be at the sale first thing, DeMario said. As a Mother's Day gift, one gentleman sent a friend at midnight the night before to be the first in line, so his wife could have first dibs when the sale opened.

The majority of bags are priced between $10 and $18 and higher-end bags such as Coach and Michael Kors usually sell for $50. But DeMario said it’s the volume of donations that allows them to raise money.

"People think ‘My purse is from Target or Macy’s it’s not high-end.’ That’s not what we’re shooting for. So many people just want a cute handbag,” she said. “Prices are very approachable, there’s (even) $1 purses.”

Just a few donations available for sale at the 2014 Purses with a Purpose sale May 10.
In the event's fourth year, DeMario called it a miracle when CLT-based handbag designer Martha Clifford donated her entire inventory as she transitioned into jewelry.

DeMario wasn't sure what to expect (five bags? 10 maybe?) and was floored when she picked up more than $30,000 worth of Italian leather, silk-lined handbags, donated by Clifford.

The M. Clifford designs were priced at $100, a steal considering many originally retailed for more than $400.
"I called my husband and said 'There is more value in the trunk of my Jeep than (the vehicle) is worth.'" That year, the sale raised $13,700, DeMario said.

The annual Purses with a Purpose donation kickoff will be 5-8 p.m. April 10 at The Boulevard in South End, (1440 S. Tryon Street) and will feature wine and nibbles. Those who bring a purse donation will receive 15 percent off any full priced item. (If you can't make it to the kickoff, that offer is good through April 30.)

Or, those with a donation can email to schedule a pick up, arrange to meet/drop off, or take your bags to designated donation spots, such as Boulevard. “We make it as easy as we can.”

For about four months each year, DeMario's garage becomes a holding pen for literally thousands of handbags. It's not unusual to receive a donation of 500 all at once.

Together with some friends, Relay for Life team members and volunteers, DeMario said it takes about a week prior to the sale the make sure each bag has been cleaned out, wiped down and tagged.

Last year, DeMario and friends also lobbied celebrities for their hardly-used handbags. "Based on how many requests we sent out, I wouldn't call it a success," she said. I have to beg to differ, considering they did receive donations from Carly Rae Jepsen, Patricia Heaton, Gloria Gaynor, Vivica A. Fox, Catherine Bach, Jane Seymour and Susan Sarandon.

Susan Sarandon autographed her donation to the 2013 Purses with a Purpose sale.
Vivica A. Fox sent three bags and an autographed picture for the 2013 sale.
Patricia Heaton, who played Ray Ramano's wife on "Everyone Love Raymond," was one of the celebrities to donate a bag to the 2013 Purses with a Purpose sale.
Sound like a recipe for shopping disaster? Thankfully, there’s never been any Black Friday-esque madness or what DeMario calls “purse drama.”

Happy shopping!
“It’s really funny, people are very strategic.” The first round of shoppers rush through and scoop up anything that remotely strikes their fancy, DeMario said. “They’ll have like 25 purses on their arm.” They’ll meet up with friends and sift through, while “sharks in the water” stand behind them, waiting to start negotiations. Meanwhile, other shoppers take their time, perusing the tables.

So many choices...
And after five years, aside from finding a location to host the sale, DeMario said the fundraiser essentially runs itself.

"You ask one person and it turns into a 'Let me ask my friend.' It's been organic and fun to do," she said.

"We've got a good team of people, it takes lots of hands to make it happen ...  It's fun to watch it grow as purses come in."


Jackson said...

Beautiful! This black Chanel Purse is looking absolutely adorable. I loved it. Can you tell me from where did you buy this bag?

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