While shopping the other day, I came across a festive purple and yellow messenger bag made from a recycled plastic banner. Its brand was "Mission Wear" and it was made by Robin, according to its label.

Founded in 2006, Mission Wear creates products that are all about determination and redemption. It started when founder Beth McWhirter was mentoring Carrie, a woman who was trying to break free from a life of addiction and prostitution.

Beth says, "She and I tried to find employment for about 4 months with no success. After that she ended up relapsing, going back to drugs and prostitution. I couldn't help but think that if she had had the stability of a job opportunity, she might not have relapsed."

Beth also was bothered by the fact the the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic bags annually. So after her twins started pre-school, she combined these two problems and started teaching women with life challenges how to sew fun and attractive reusable bags.

"I wanted to promote environmental products as well as awareness about how plastic bags are really harmful to our environment and encourage individual responsibility."

Mission Wear has had around 32 women go through the program since 2006, and typically employs 7 or 8 at a time. The goal is to get them back on their feet after they've experienced homelessness, addiction, incarceration or domestic abuse. "Mission Wear offers at-risk women a job opportunity that they most likely will not be able to get in the workplace with their backgrounds," Beth explains.

Beth works with local assistance programs to recruit her employees. "We have several connections with agencies in Denver that direct women who are coming out of prison or drug rehab," she says, "and when we have job openings, we simply give a call out to those agencies to see if they have any clients that know how to sew or would be interested in working in a sewing business."

The majority of the material used in making the bags is donated-old blue jeans, colorful linens, and sewing supplies are all appreciated. Mission Wear's top sellers are the totes made from recycled banners, and you can even request a custom bag with your own recycled banner. There is also a selection of up-cycled fabric bags, cotton blend bags and miscellaneous items such as wallets and wine bottle sleeves.

The products can be purchased from the online store, or at various locations throughout the city.

Beth finds that the biggest challenge in running a nonprofit is finding enough money to support it, and having enough hours in the day. But it's all worth it "to see our employees succeed in becoming self-sufficient and reaching their personal goals."

Her advice to someone who wants to start a nonprofit? "Do something that you really believe in. There are sacrifices that you cannot anticipate."

Check out the video interview with one of Mission Wear's success stories.

The Denver Public Library is a Cooperating Collection of the Foundation Center and provides a core collection of Foundation Center materials, including the Foundation Directory Online. Please contact the Nonprofit Center if you’d like to make an appointment to learn how these resources can benefit your nonprofit organization:

720-865-1363 or

Written by Lisa on April 30, 2012


Anonymous on May 4, 2012


What a great idea! Thanks for sharing this.

Chris on May 5, 2012


great post, Lisa! I want one of those cool bags!

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