Downtown Berkley debuts its custom-designed shopping bags for a cause

Want to support downtown Berkley and a good cause? And how about looking good while doing it?

That’s what Berkley’s Downtown Development Authority is hoping for, at least. The Oakland County city’s DDA recently debuted the product of its Downtown Berkley Shopping Bag for a Cause program. What results is a custom-designed handbag from Hamtramck’s Better Life Bags.

The Better Life Bags company employs women with significant barriers to employment. The bags are hand cut and sewn in Hamtramck. Armadillo Printwear, located on Twelve Mile Road in Berkley, is the screen printer.

"The development of Downtown Berkley Shopping Bag for a Cause is a meaningful partnership between the Berkley DDA and Citizens Bank that makes an impact in our community," Rebecca Smith, founder and CEO of Better Life Bags, said in a statement.

"This project has allowed us to expand employment--an additional 300 hours of work to the women we employ--for the life of this project. In the world of the under-employed, that is significant."

The bags feature a snapshot of the birds on the Elwin & Co. Bakery mural on Coolidge Highway. That mural was created by Malt, a.k.a. Brown Bag Detroit, during the DDA’s 2017 mural program.

The bags are available for $10 each or $5 with a purchase at a number of downtown Berkley retailers, including Berkley Eyewear and Local Sunglass Co., Have You Any Wool?, The Neighbor’s Shoppe, Peninsulas, and Vitrine Gallery & Gifts.

The program is sponsored in part by Citizens Bank.

"A year ago, the Berkley DDA started looking at how it was spending its money on promotional products for its events," said Vivian Carmody, executive director of the BerkleyDDA.

"The Board decided it needed to 'walk the talk' of supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs and thus began our journey to locally sourcing a bag. We knew we needed a corporate partner, and Citizens Bank seemed the perfect match because of its emphasis on workforce development."

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.