In the past ltwo years Jimeale has held fund-raising cocktail parties in New York to raise a total of $70,000 (Dh256,000) for the New York-based charity, Boarding for Breast Cancer (B4BC). Image Credit: Silvia Baron/ANM

They are the arm candy touted around town and down the red carpet by Hollywood stars such as Cameron Diaz, Eva Mendes, Isla Fisher and Sarah Wynter. But the Dubai-inspired totes by designer Jimeale Jorgensen are goody bags too. That's because the beautiful burnt orange, pink and fuchsia designs - inspired by the desert textures - are not only selling fast in Dubai Mall's Bloomingdale's Home Store, but they are raising much-needed funds to support breast cancer charities.

And that's because Jorgensen, 33, is a businesswoman with her heart in the right place. In the four years since she started this business, she has not only managed to create a successful brand but has also begun to give back a lot to society. "I started my business in the middle of a retail recession. Nobody was buying, but when I began getting orders, I knew I had to give back," she says.

In the last two years she has held fund-raising cocktail parties in New York to raise a total of $70,000 (Dh256,000) for the New York-based charity, Boarding for Breast Cancer (B4BC). Ten per cent of the profit proceeds from all her pink bag sales go to the New York-based Libby Ross Breast Cancer foundation, which helps survivors cope with life and prepares them for chemotherapy. "I got to travel around the world and have been so lucky. I am fortunate that no one in my family was ever touched by breast cancer. But my heart goes out to young women who lose their lives because of a mis-diagnosis," says Jorgensen.

"I had begun supporting breast cancer and through newsletters of B4BC after I learnt about a young woman who could have been saved with early intervention. That is when I decided I wanted to educate and create awareness about breast cancer. Those deaths could be prevented and I wanted to tell all young girls that this cancer is treatable.

"You know your body, you can spot the symptoms in time; if you are not satisfied with one doctor's prognosis, go to another. Know enough about breast cancer and seek the right guidance and help," says the designer, who besides raising funds has tried to send out messages to her clientele through her collection. "In each of my bags there is a swing tag that carries a message about breast cancer. When I sell 25,000 bags I know that at least 25,000 people would have read that message. These are simple ‘did you know?' facts about cancer that are provided by doctors working on breast cancer research. For instance, one of them reads: ‘Did you know breast cancer is 96 per cent curable totally, if detected early?'

"I am not sure how many read the message seriously, but I think it is more about creating awareness so people can understand and know their body and increase chances of early detection."

Jorgensen, who launched her men's collection of bags in Dubai this month, fell in love with the city when she visited it for the first time in October last year. "When Bloomingdale's invited me to launch my collection last year, I had no clue of the kind of place Dubai is. I just came here with an open mind and fell in love with the city.

"In fact, I later learned that I had a link to Arabia through my name. My name (Jimeale means beautiful in Arabic) is inspired by a beautiful racehorse which won a race in my hometown Melbourne the year I was born. My father loved it so much that he decided to name his first born after the winning horse.

"When I came here, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty and elegance of the place. I soaked up the warmth of the place, sat on the deck of my hotel and watched the beautiful sunset, walked down the beach, went on a camel ride in the dunes and went back to New York with all these beautiful memories.

"Dubai had been such a pretty setting with the sun and the desert and had such a calming feeling. I really wanted my next collection to reflect pink, orange and be clean lines. When Bloomingdale's asked me to launch a New York collection, the burnt orange was inspired by the desert sunset. This year on my return trip I decided to bring the red, white and blue stripes reminiscent of New York to Dubai along with the black men's collection."

Throwing out the rule book

Spontaneity and following the call of her heart have been prime motivators for Jorgensen. Her business model is unconventional as she follows no rule book in setting up her enterprise. It all began a little over four years ago. Jorgensen had gone to spend the night with a bunch of girls at the bachelorette party of her best friend Alexandria in Miami, US. "I noticed her cosmetic bag was so unfashionable... as though it belonged to my grandma. I decided to buy her a smart cosmetic bag and looked around everywhere. Unable to find anything that was smart, neat and affordable, I decided I would launch my own collection.

"I had no experience in designing or business and I had no idea where the money would come from, but in my head I knew this would succeed. I sat down and sketched two or three designs," recalls Jorgensen who was then working in human resources. Not everyone was as convinced about it as she was. "I just took the leap of faith. I had no business plan, no experience in designing, but I had a passion, a dream and was willing to work hard for it to succeed. I never went back to people who began by asking me for a business plan - I called them ‘haters'," says Jorgensen who went from three basic designs to 350 different items in 13 colours in four years after having started with her meagre savings of $5000 (Dh18,000).

Fired by her passion, Jorgensen began by looking around for ideas. She went on a month-long trip to China where she met with bag manufacturers. She visited ten factories for different aspects of bags - zippers, material, clasps… "I had no idea about bags, but by the end of my visit I had been transformed into a bag genius," she says. She had provided designs to the manufacturers and returned to New York with sample bags. "When I look back, I think the initial samples were hideous, but over time they evolved into a real brand."

Charitable work grows with the business

The people who took her bags seriously were her clients and many of them were celebrities who helped her use her brand to raise funds for the two charities. Jorgensen plans to do a lot for society as her business grows. "It's only four years and already I am donating a lot of my bags for many causes. I think I have been so fortunate in having products that are sold in 16 countries. I think it is part of what I do to give back to the community so I do what I can and hope I set a good example for giving back with my teams and other people. I intend to expand my charity work in the forthcoming years."

Jorgensen attributes her success and perseverance to a very no-nonsense upbringing in a suburban Melbourne home. "We were three siblings, I was the oldest and I have a brother and sister. My father was then an automotive parts manufacturer and I had a stay-at-home mum. But no one fussed over us. We could play for hours in the neighbour's garden, with other children, jumping over sprinklers in the lawn...

"We took turns feeding our animals - two dogs, a cat and a horse - and if we were late for dinner, it was taken away. I think the most important lesson I learnt as a child was to be resourceful and imaginative. That upbringing gave me the right values in life," says Jorgensen, who owns two dogs, two cats and a horse.

Jorgensen can never forget her first deal four years ago. "I had no clue how business deals were done and here I was at a department store in Santa Monica, US, meeting the sales person. The woman just went, ‘I want this, that and that' and paid me $564! That felt so good! Then I was thankful to be in one department store, I never thought I would be in so many! I think I found the right niche. People love stylish functionality and my bags work hard while looking good. I feel eventually that is the purpose of fashion. I do not think it is frivolous. Fashion is a constant throughout all parts of life - it all comes from designers setting a trend and colour scheme. My bags have set a trend."

Jorgensen is gung ho on charity and business. She plans to diversity Jimeale into bed-linen, pillow covers and duvet covers with the same philosophy of keeping clean lines, uncomplicated, functional yet chic designs. She has also founded the Jimeale Foundation to raise money for prostrate cancer and children and animal welfare charities. She plans to settle down soon with her fiancé Andrew Hede.

Making a difference

  • Who: Jimeale Jorgensen
  • What: Designs travel bags and accessories and raises money for breast cancer and other charities
  • Why: She feels precious little is being done to save young girls who've lost their battle to breast cancer because of a wrong diagnosis
  • Where: New York, USA