As kids across America look forward (antsy, some of them, no doubt) to Christmas break, it’s a good time to give a shout-out to one of the Portland design scene’s more heartwarming first-semester stories: Will Leather Goods’ “Give Will” program, which has outfitted thousands of kids in Portland and beyond with sharp-looking, high-quality backpacks.
“We make these in the same factories as we make our main product lines,” notes Will designer Jonathan Liberty. “There’s extra stitching, extra rivets, heavyweight nylon, and extra leather. I have two kids, and they’re hard on their packs. We built these to last.”
The packs—which are, indeed, an impressive species of kid-gear, with poppy colors and a rugged, durable cool to their look—debuted in September, when the Eugene-based family firm distributed 4,500 packs at eight Portland schools. The longer-range goal is to give 500,000 packs to kids across the nation, with an emphasis on low-income schools. Meanwhile, the bags retail for $85-$95. While the program is not structured as a Toms-style buy-one-give-one operation, proceeds support future bag donations.
“In some cases, we know that this bag will be the nicest accessory a kid has for awhile,” Liberty says. “They may never have had a new backpack of their own before. It’s really validating to see the joy when they get one.”
Meanwhile, company founder William Adler points to one particularly distinctive design feature: a space on the back of the bag that invites students to write out their life dreams. “Often, nobody is asking kids what their aspirations are,” the former actor and leather-industry veteran says. “My purpose is to inspire and help people feel creative.”