For a cause much greater than fashion, Jessy Turnell, a junior social work major, launched Who Cares? LLC late last spring with hopes of raising awareness about social issues and, eventually, inspiring change.
“We can’t change the world if we don’t know what there is to be changed,” Turnell said.
She said she hopes to shock people into learning more about the issues by displaying realistic information and statistics on her handmade products.
Who Cares? sells handbags, T-shirts and book bags, each embroidered or screen-printed with a quote or statistic depicting social issues, such as the genocide in Darfur and international hunger.
“The statistics followed by the statement Who Cares? catches people’s eyes and hopefully drives them to research more, either about the company or about the issue,” she said. “I have a passion for people educating themselves about what is going on.”
‘Hungry x 37: 10% of America’s population is food insecure . Who Cares?’ is printed on one of the T-shirts that Turnell designed in order to draw attention to the product and, thus, the issues. ‘A child dies every three seconds from AIDS or extreme poverty,’ reads another.
“I want my products to have a handmade touch,” Turnell said. “But they should be an easy way to get a message out.”
Half of the net profits from merchandise bearing quotes are given to the Food Bank for Larimer County, an organization with which Turnell established a partnership. And she is currently working on partnerships with the Save Darfur Coalition, an organization that is working to end the Darfur genocide, and World Vision, a faith-based organization that works to combat poverty. Turnell works to establish partnerships with organizations of her choice in order to donate money to their cause from Who Cares? LLC.
“They (World Vision) are totally comfortable helping people to help people,” she said. “They’re not pushing their faith.”
If Turnell uses information from the non-profit organizations with which she partners, such as World Vision, she said she wants to channel half of the profits back into that organization, with the other half going toward producing more items.
The profits from merchandise showing the Who Cares? logo go to a general fund for situations, such as natural disasters, in which people require emergency assistance.
While in class last spring, Turnell studied advertisements for handbags. She discovered that more than $2,300 was spent last spring on one high-end name brand handbag, enough money to buy 17 AIDS victims antiretroviral drugs, the common treatment for AIDS, for an entire year.
“I saw how much was being spent and thought, ‘They’re carrying around these bags, but they’re not helping,'” Turnell said. “So I decided to change the products, and make a handbag that generates money for someone in need.”
Turnell said, although her company was created to change that, it is not meant to snub those who wish to purchase name brand handbags. It was created to raise funds and awareness.
After raising awareness, the sole purpose behind the company was to generate money for non-profit organizations that Turnell thought had an important mission, without any further personal interest driving the company forward.
The designs for the products were generated out of Turnell’s home and the start-up of the business was self-funded. Now, months later, the products are being manufactured by Instant Imprints, a Fort Collins company.
“I started with three designs,” Turnell said. “One was a bag that had clip off tags, meant to be removed and handed out. The others were regular bags and shirts.”
Turnell will sometimes attend conferences and marketing events to get the word out about her products. She also distributes pamphlets and cards on campus that display her products as well as the Web site addresses of various organizations that also work to raise awareness about social issues.
“People really have to hear your name three times to become interested,” she said.
While Turnell is a student and a mother, she has a lot on her plate as it is. But she receives plenty of support for her business from her family.
“I think it’s a great idea, but the main factor is getting recognized,” said Jim Pratt, Turnell’s husband. “Even if the business doesn’t pan out, it was done for the right reasons.”
“I am very proud of Jessy and what she’s doing,” he added. “I give her moral support and am basically a bouncing board for ideas.”
Turnell said she tries to work on the business as much as she can during the summer, but that she doesn’t have much time to work on it during the school year.
As she is trying to establish various partnerships with non-profits, she has been jumping over legal hurdles and filling out loads of paperwork, making it difficult to establish partnerships in a timely fashion.
“It’s currently more of a side project that I hope to focus more on,” she said. “But I do have school, a family to worry about and a part-time job.”
Although she has spent large amounts of money — an amount she shied away from disclosing — on starting the business, she said she prefers that it is self-funded and she would like it to stay that way in the future.
“Who knows where things will take us, but I kind of like that,” she said.
She said that way, she is only held accountable for educating people and donating to non-profits, without feeling obligated to follow the agenda of investors.
“I am so proud of what she’s doing. It’s just the latest example of what she does for people,” said Connie Pratt, Turnell’s mother-in-law. “I’m just her support, helping her with her various projects to get the company off the ground.”
For more information and links to products visit whocaresbags.com.
Staff writer Kelly Bleck and Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org