Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
placeholder article
placeholder article

Penn Student Yali Derman: Philanthropist and Designer

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Penn chapter.

Nursing junior and cancer survivor Yali Derman transformed her experience with the disease into something beautiful to share with the world. Derman, who fought cancer twice, is a tote-bag designer. During her second bout with the disease, she required a bone marrow transplant, which kept her in isolation for a year. Derman says the time in isolation inspired Yali’s Carry On, Derman’s line of tote bags that raise money for the Children’s Memorial Hospital located in Chicago, Illinois. Although Derman was inspired by her own cancer experience, she explained thather bags are for everyone, not only cancer survivors. The bags are available for purchase on her website, yaliscarryon.com. Her Campus spoke with Derman about Yali’s Carry On.

How did you begin making these bags?
During my second bout with illness, I had to spend an entire year in isolation and during this time I found my creative voice. I was looking to tell my story in some way.
I wanted to transform my experience into something different and I wanted to be able to overcome my illness. I would take the paisley bandanas that were supposed to cover my hairless head and sew them into bags. This became my signature line.

Can you tell us about the name of your line, Yali’s Carry On?

The name “Carry On” means carrying on in the face of medical baggage or baggage [in life in general]. The paisley pattern is a symbol for overcoming a challenge in my life. It is a symbol of transforming my experience in to something different.Every bag has a lot of symbolism because my vision is that the bags are fun, functional and beautiful but they also have meaning because it inspires others to overcome challenges in their lives.

And your bags raise money for charity?

It has been extremely satisfying because my bags raise money for charity. So far we have raised about $100,000 for Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago to create a creative arts play space in the hospital for pediatric oncology patients. I was able to find my voice and I want others to be able to find their own.

What is the symbolism behind the peacock?

The peacock is a bird that replaces its feathers annually so it’s a symbol of renewal and new beginnings. There are 18 different colors on the peacock and this is the symbol of the vibrancy of life. The entire tail of the peacock is made up of a unique paisley pattern reminiscent of the bandannas individuals wear when they lose their hair to chemotherapy treatments.  No paisley is alike to show everyone’s individual story. Every paisley joins and it tells a collective story and the tail truncates out — starts narrow and takes over the bag — since everyone’s story is wide and intricate and it expands. We’re growing individuals. The hearts emphasize the importance of love and support from family and friends in any challenging experience to keep you grounded.

What’s next?

It’s hard to put a timeline on things because balancing academics with production overseas is challenging. Within the next year or two, I see a smaller piece coming out but currently I’m working on this bag.

One thing that’s important to note about this bag… it was designed to have meaning to a vast group of people. Because it’s a tote bag, anyone can carry it. Bags tell a life story – people carry their life in their bag and they tell a lot about them.

Grace Ortelere is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, pursuing a psychology major. She writes about crime and is an assistant news editor for her school's student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian. Grace went abroad to Paris for a semester, where she babysat for a French family and traveled to many other cities--her favorite was Barcelona! She's social chair of her sorority, Sigma Kappa, and likes to ski, hike and paraglide.