Highland Park native Yali Derman’s love for handbag design not only led her to create a purse for Kate Spade, it also launched a whole new way of blending fashion with philanthropy.
At 20 years old, Highland Park resident Yali Derman has already accomplished more than most people can hope to achieve in a lifetime. After successfully overcoming a childhood battle with cancer, Derman designed a handbag with Kate Spade in New York and created her own line of handbags called Yali’s Carry On Collection, all of which has led to thousands of dollars in donations to organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and K.I.D.S.S. for Kids. With an unsurpassed joy for life, a strong desire to help others, and a distinctive talent for creative arts, Derman has not only carried on, but has flourished, in the face of life’s challenges.
Growing up in Highland Park, Derman was inspired by creative fashion displays in the downtown storefront windows. This fascination with the artistic coupled well with her knowledge of the medical field; both of her parents, Dr. Gordon Derman and Dr. Carol Rosenberg Derman, have established noteworthy careers in health care. “This is really in my genetics—to combine the creative spirit with the health care profession,” Yali says.
Diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 4, with a recurrence at 10, Derman began the cancer journey that would eventually help spark her creativity and yield a promising outcome. During her treatment at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, she received a lifesaving bone marrow transplant from her brother, Ben, and, afterwards, went through a period of medically mandated isolation. It was at that time that she decided to express her inner voice through handbag design, which was inspired by the creative art therapies offered through the hospital’s Family Services Department. “Sometimes, the hardest story to tell is your own,” she explains. “That is where the art therapy programs really helped me, and, ultimately, this is where the ‘power of the purse’ came to be.”
Derman’s first creations were handbags simply made with bandanas. “I took the bandanas that were intended to cover my hairless head and made purses out of them,” Derman says. Soon, the hospital nurses and staff members who cared for her were all “modeling” her new handbags. “It was really empowering to give to those who were giving so much of themselves to me, not only as far as treatments and medical care, but also their personal compassion, advocacy, and recognition of me as a creative and talented person,” Derman explains.
Derman’s love for handbag design was an ongoing process that continued to develop after her successful battle with cancer. When she was 16, she was invited to design a new handbag with Kate Spade in New York, an experience facilitated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a way of celebrating Derman’s victory over leukemia. The finished product was a black handbag, to symbolize the darkness of illness, with a bright paisley interior, to indicate the vibrant and positive inner spirit of a cancer survivor. Sold as a limited edition product, the handbag raised $50,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which honored Derman and Kate Spade as donors of the year.
After the success of the Kate Spade bag, Derman knew she had found an ambition worth following. “My goal was not only to pursue my passion for handbag design, but also to translate this passion into raising funds for organizations that support therapy and creative play for seriously ill children,” she says. As a result, she began developing her own line of handbags, under the trademark of Yali’s Carry On Collection, signifying how cancer survivors carry on in the face of their medical baggage. Derman’s first Carry On creation was a pink beach tote, designed during her senior year of high school as part of a school charity project. The tote, which was sold through word of mouth, raised $10,000 , and Yali donated the proceeds to K.I.D.S.S. for Kids, an organization under the umbrella of Child and Family Services at Children’s Memorial Hospital.
Currently, Yali continues her alliance with K.I.D.S.S. for Kids through the sale of her newest Carry On handbag, a purse adorned with a peacock that comes in black or gray microfiber or khaki canvas, all of which feature leather handles. With her whole life ahead, it’s obvious that her creative spirit and undaunted optimism will take her far. “I want the power of my peacock purse, and all of the Yali’s Carry On Collection, to empower anyone to carry on in the face of their challenges,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s all about moving forward and carrying on in the face of adversity, and I think that most people can identify with that message.”
Yali Derman’s peacock purse can be purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue locations in Highland Park, Chicago, and Bala Cynwyd, Philadelphia, where Derman attends school), by calling the Saks Yali Carry On for K.I.D.S.S. order line at 847-681-5349, or by visiting yaliscarryon.com.