Jean doesn't like clutter, but she does collect several things. Among them are books, tarot decks, Fiestaware china, and handbags.
Pretty and Practical Bags and Accessories
I freely admit that I am addicted to handbags. I love all of them. I donate many to charity when I no longer have a use for them, or my tastes change. But there comes a point when practicality becomes an issue. I find that certain bags are poorly constructed and break easily, or do not have enough compartments for everything I want to carry with me. Then I noticed brightly colored bags, with their whimsical quilted patterns, many pockets to organize things, and a large variety of colored designs. I adored them immediately and slowly became more interested in this company as I saw more women carrying these handbags and other products.
The Company Is Born
Two women co-founded the company who manufactures these bags, Barbara Bradley Balkgaard, and Patricia R. Miller. They were sitting in an airport waiting for a flight out of Atlanta in 1982. Anyone who has watched a luggage carousel spin around dozens of times while trying to find their belongings can attest to the fact that most of the luggage is boring, black, and masculine looking. Or at least it used to be.
Barbara and Patricia decided that as soon as they got home, they would design a line of women’s luggage and travel accessories. When they returned home to IN, they did just that, and named the company after Barbara’s Mom, Vera. It was their mission to find a way to manufacture and market sensible, colorful, useful handbags and luggage. Barbara and Patricia never believed these brightly colored bags with lots of pockets for storage would become so popular, but the brand was born.
The company is now an internationally recognized name. Vera Bradley herself was born August 9, 1909, and apparently had a colorful and fun personality which is reflected in the goods that bear her name. She was a model for Elizabeth Arden, and a class act, with a great sense of style and grace. Vera worked for the company as a sales representative from her Miami, FL, residence, until she passed away in the early 1990’s.
Functional Products That are Made to Last
I bought my first handbag about ten years ago. But I discovered that the brand has been in business for over twenty years, and has many loyal followers. Each season new fabrics and patterns are introduced into the line, and fans eagerly await different styles of handbags and totes. As time passes, and women’s needs change, all kinds of new items continue to be added to the line, including eyeglass holders, wallets, wristlets, makeup pouches, composition notebooks, zippered ID cases, flip flops, reusable shopping bags, key ring holders, overnight bags, backpacks, laptop sleeves, e-book carriers, and suitcases with wheels and handles.
The biggest strength of the line is functionality. The bags always look stylish, yet have enough pockets for storage. One of the three bags I own is the Villager, which has six roomy, inner pockets, and two on the outside, one that zips, and one that is easily accessible, great for your cell phone, lip saver, or keys. The Villager is my choice for longer trips, although many totes are available that will nicely fit your travel needs. My bag has been stepped on while on the floor of an airplane, and after a machine wash and dry, it looks not only clean, but it looks perfect. There is a board tucked into a notch at the bottom of each bag to help hold its shape, so after the wash and drying is finished, all you need to do is replace that piece, and the bag looks fine. The colors continually change, so new designs are always available in bold and bright patterns, and there are ample conservative designs and color combinations too.
Made in the US
The home office is located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the heart of the Midwest. They are made in the US, so we Americans can feel patriotic while shopping. The company is committed to excellence, quality, and dependable customer service, plus the designs are exclusive. They have earned their sterling reputation as leaders in the gift industry because the line of items keeps growing, and people cannot seem to get enough of the stylish, quilted cotton handbags with fabrics and trims.
The products are popular with young college-aged women who need suitcases, backpacks, or laptop bags, but many older women can be seen sporting these handbags and wallets as well. The wide range of color combinations makes them irresistible.
I also have a small black handbag, about six inches wide, with a tiny red and white trim, and two small handles that drop about four inches. Despite its small size, it has three inside pockets. I wouldn’t use it for a formal occasion where a clutch would be more appropriate, but I do like to use it for more dressy affairs, as it is roomy enough for a hairbrush, wallet, a small makeup bag, your keys, and other essentials.
Vera Bradley Foundation for Beast Cancer
I was also amazed at the array of philanthropic causes these wonderful souls support. The main charity they concentrate their energies on is their foundation for breast cancer, to fund research for a cure. The leaders began raising funds for breast cancer when their friend and co-worker Mary Sloan lost her battle with this cancer in 1998.
Since then the company has raised more than ten million dollars and opened the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research Lab at the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. They donate 10% of net proceeds from sales of all pink breast cancer awareness colors or patterns to programs that provide free mammograms, meals, and transportation for women undergoing difficult cancer treatments, and for cutting-edge medical equipment.
Another philanthropic cause the company participates in is the Ride for Riley, begun on July 10, 2010. A giant red wagon joins in a parade to represent the community’s hopes for healthy children now and in the future. Also, beginning in 2007, employees and their families were asked to help participate by walking, pulling a wagon, or riding a float in the Three Rivers Festival parade in Fort Wayne, IN, for a $20.00 donation. 100% of the proceeds go to the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
A local radio station teamed up with the company to raise both funds and awareness for the Riley Hospital for Children. This hospital is committed to providing high-quality healthcare to children in an environment where they can be close to their families. This hospital is a national leader in cutting-edge research and medical education. Riley Hospital for Children provides services to any sick child, regardless of the family’s ability to pay. It is recognized as one of the best children’s hospitals in the US. You can learn more at the Riley Children's Health website.
Other Philanthropic Causes
Employees came together once again during the United Way Day of Caring, which began August 12, 1993, when a few people who wanted to help clean up the YWCA Campus did so. Over 250 volunteers showed up the first year.
This community effort has continued and evolved over the years. Now local non-profit organizations and community organizations have turned their attention to neighborhood revitalization, after-school youth programs, and painting and landscaping for other non-profit agencies. Employees get the day off with pay if they volunteer to help on the year’s chosen project. Last year a team of 150 employees helped beautify a local elementary school and raised funds to collect school supplies for the children.
As if the employees and employers did not do enough for worthy causes, in 2009 they pledged $300,000.00 to link 50 miles of biking and hiking trails across the Ft. Wayne area. This project is called Aboite New Trails. Pat Miller, VB’s co-founder, says, “We love the idea of connecting all of Fort Wayne to a better quality of life. This is a one-time chance to finish a trail corridor that improves health, safety, economic development, and community spirit. This is just too good to pass up.”
They also have an ongoing matching gifts program. They offer workers the chance to apply $1.00 for one matching dollar towards a gift of up to $100.00 per year. Any employees who serve on the board of directors may apply for a grant of up to $250.00 for any organization of their choice.
This generous company also gives both money and product donations to a wide variety of non-profit events across the whole state of Indiana. You may submit a request for charitable help for the cause of your choice by using the form available on their website if it meets the criteria listed there.
Products Change with the Times
I never dreamed the people at Vera Bradley did so much good for others when I began buying their products and decided to research the company. This is a very impressive list of activities, and it would seem this company would attract workers of high caliber since they are willing to give so freely of their time to help others.
So the next time you are admiring one of their lovely handbags, backpacks, wallets, or totes, you can feel good knowing that a percentage of the price is going to help the needy. I know you will purchase one of these colorful, sturdy products. They are simply too pretty and practical to pass up, and they make perfect gifts for the women in your life for special occasions.
Just an afterthought—when you order an item you like from Amazon, your chosen item and it's pattern are normally available in many colors. There are thumbnails to click on so you can "try" it out and see what colors you like best. Let's pretend you have a morning meeting and have a presentation on your laptop. It doesn't have to be in a purple and orange paisley laptop sleeve (though depending on your personality, that may express you well)! It will probably be available in black and white, or brown and green, something a bit tamer. Of course, many flowery and retro 1960s looks are available, too. Hallmark Crown card and gift stores usually carry VB items as well, but Amazon is cheaper and has more specials. These products make great gifts too or have fun just browsing all the great products.
© 2011 Jean Bakula
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on October 20, 2015:
VB bags are great. They have loads of compartments, which makes it easy to stay organized. I have a big weakness for handbags, and next to Coach, love Vera bags. Some are put off by the bright colors, but they make some items in solid colors now..
If you travel, they have a great carry on, perfectly sized so you don't get angry stares from the other passengers when you try to stuff something large in the overhead compartment!
Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on October 20, 2015:
Hi Jean. I am very impressed with the Vera Bradley products and the company with their worthy causes. My next handbag will definitely be a Vera Bradley. I really enjoyed learning about this company. Thank you for such a fine and useful article.
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on December 08, 2012:
I also like that these bags are made in the USA. Even Coach bags are made in China now, a turnoff, considering the pricetag! I love all the compartments Vera Bags have. I wish they would put out a line of solid colors for some of the smaller bags for dressy occasions.
Bibi on December 08, 2012:
I love that Vera bags are made in the USA. Brahim produce some of their bags on China, I don't like China quality.
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on May 07, 2012:
What creative uses for Vera Bradley products. I have chronic health issues and also carry meds with me all the time, and that's another reason why I love the compartments, it helps to stay organized. Thanks for writing in with these valuable tips!
Nancy Egan on May 07, 2012:
Did you know that that the double lipstick container also is great place for hearing aids also the key ring holder can be put over your head and attach any device you have on you (medical) and I just purchased the. Camera bag . I have Parkinson's and must carry water,pills,glasses,wallet, etc Everythiing fits and no more rummaging . I love it thanks. Over the years I must have purchased over a dozen items
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on January 09, 2012:
Hi Maria Rose,
Yes, I think the sort of 1960s retro look appeals to lots of people, just as you and I love the Vera Bradley. The line keeps adding very practical items. Take care.
Marla Rose from Aventura, Florida on January 08, 2012:
These are very ecentric handbags Jean. There absolutely gorgeous! They remind me of the Bohemian style look. I can mix and match these handbags well with most of the clothes in my closet.
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on December 12, 2011:
Aren't they great Marla? Too bad we can't go handbag shopping together! Thanks for commenting and take care.
Marla Rose from Aventura, Florida on December 12, 2011:
I love handbags too! I am a fanatic when it comes to handbags. These handbags are pretty and unique!
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on November 01, 2011:
Happy you enjoyed, I love the stuff too, or I wouldn't write about it. I don't really like "product" hubs! The stuff is so durable and cute! Take care!
mondawn on October 31, 2011:
I love Vera Bradly bags and accessories,thanks.
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on September 07, 2011:
Hi and Welcome to HP!
I thank you for commenting on my hub. I am also trying to explore American made goods. I read your profile, and know a woman in a similar situation, the non-profit closed, and she had to return to the corporate world. It's a hard transition. I belonged to a political club in my town for a few years, but was always the one who liked the philanthropic stuff more. I love the holiday toy drive, helping to keep the food pantry stocked, that kind of stuff. You must have lots of experiences to write about, I look forward to reading more!
Catherine Dean from Milledgeville, Georgia on September 07, 2011:
Thank you so much for this great Hub! I make a point in supporting American companies, especially those that do good and respect their employees. I did not know much about Bradley before your Hub. Thanks again.
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on September 03, 2011:
Well I'm always happy to alert people about new handbags. Some women believe the VB's are expensive. But believe me, they are so well made, you will have whichever you choose forever, so pick the pattern carefully! I have washed and dried all 3 of mine in the machine and dried them in the dryer. They come out looking the same as when you bought them. The quilting doesn't bunch up or anything like that. There is a board on the bottom, under a flap to hold the bad flat. You must remember to remove it before you wash. Otherwise, have fun! I love all the compartments and pockets, they are great for travel, or school. Thanks for commenting!
JIN1128 from Los Angeles, CA on September 03, 2011:
I am not familiar with Vera Bradley handbags, great hub. I can't believe there are handbags at this price range that are still made in the USA. I will check out this brand online!
Jean Bakula on August 31, 2011:
I know what you mean, there is such a variety of bags, and then they come in so many colorful patterns, it's too hard to choose. That's why you need a few :).
TinaLynn on August 16, 2011:
I love Vera Bradly bags and accessories. Whenever I decide to buy one I have the hardest time choosing which pattern I want! I like that they are not outrageous in price but they do hold up well as well.
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on August 15, 2011:
Thanks for commenting! I don't have a laptop, but I hope the laptop case is working out well. I'm sure they thought of everything, and have pockets for all your needs. Best!
texasgirlfw on August 15, 2011:
I love Vera Bradley Bags and have quite a few. They are fine quality and very practicle. I even have a Vera laptop case.
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on August 14, 2011:
You bring up a good point. Coach handbags are very popular in the last few years. I bought my first one at the suggestion of a co-worker, as I knew little of them. But they are so well made, they come wrapped in silk, and they are strong. When I work F/T, I really carry so much with me to do errands before, after work, and even sometimes on lunch. So it really is necessary to have a bag that isn't going to break when it's full of stuff. I'm not working now as I'm having a "back" flareup, so I'm trying to write more to keep busy. Hmm, I feel so less guilty, maybe I need a new bag, lol!
John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on August 14, 2011:
I believe in purchasing nice things, because they last longer. I wear inexpensive clothe, but I like wearing Hugo Boss socks. Well, to make a long story short, Hugo Boss socks last me so long, that even when I get rid of them they're still in relatively good shape. I've purchased less expensive socks, but I find myself having to replace them more often than Boss', hence spending more money in the process - the saying "you get what you pay for" holds true for many things....
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on August 13, 2011:
I get teased for the amount of handbags I have. But I realized that part of the problem was that they were poorly made, so I had to keep replacing them. I admit I love them though. I like Coach too, and have several, but they are expensive, so I use them more carefully. The Vera Bradleys are reasonable, and useful, plus they have that whimsical touch that appeals to me. Sometimes its silly little things that make us happy. Thanks for the vote!
John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on August 13, 2011:
Very unique hub. The lady that sits on the cubible next to me at work, is also into handbags. She'll coordinate with according to what she's wearing that day.... Very interesting hub - voted up
Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on August 13, 2011:
The bags have become so popular in my area, I decided to find out more. I had no idea the VB Co. did so much for their employees and others. It was a feel good write!
Hummingbird5356 on August 13, 2011:
This is a very interesting hub.