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The Laga Handbags Story

tsunami 2004

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck off the coast of Southeast Asia the day after Christmas, 2004, reportedly killed over 285,000 people of which 185,000 died in the province of Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia alone. Homes and loved ones were swept away by the water.

In Orange, California, day trader Roy van Broekhuizen received a call from Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, asking if he would lead tsunami relief teams to Indonesia to help with the relief efforts.

Roy arrived with his 1st volunteer team from the church a few weeks after the disaster.

The memories of dead bodies, destruction, chaos, disaster, helplessness and more will remain in his mind forever.

Crying over bodies, bandaging the injured and working with the people to rebuild tattered lives, that first trip to Banda Aceh changed Roy’s life forever. He arrived back home after that first trip with his suitcase full of cashews, coffee and anything else he could think of to sell and raise more money for these survivors.

Roy said to wife, Louise, “Honey, I have to go back. I have to go back.”

It was on Roy’s trip in June 2005, to Banda Aceh that Louise decided to quit her job and join Roy in the relief effort. Amid the chaos and destruction, Roy and Louise worked together to bring relief wherever and however they could. On that trip, Louise was introduced to a little handicraft shop filled with beautiful handmade handbags and accessories that had been stitched on old fashioned treadle sewing machines, without electricity, embroidery which was hand-guided with traditional Acehnese patterns that had been passed on from generation to generation.

The story touched and grabbed her heart.

After returning home with samples of handbags sewn by women of the “Land of the Beautiful People,” Louise held a home party August 2006 in their home and invited 20 friends in an effort to share their story and photos she took on her first trip to Banda Aceh. She was able to raise enough funds to go back and purchase more of these amazing works of art. There were several more such home parties and, due to the overwhelming response to this effort, Roy and Louise continued to bring back more and more handbags with each trip. Then the idea hit: this could be the perfect way to impact many lives both in Aceh province as well as in the United States and especially for the tsunami survivors they were trying to help. It was then that Laga Handbags was born.

“In the Acehnese language, Laga(k) means beautiful.”

On their next trip back, Roy and Louise used the funds they raised to rent a workshop for twelve women who had lost everything that fateful December day. Their goal was to help them rebuild their lives and their community – training them to make quality handbags and accessories that could be appreciated by women in the United States and worldwide.

Louise gave each handbag a name that represents what Laga means to the women in Indonesia. Harapan means “hope.” Damai means “peace.” Selalu means “always.” And hearts sang when, years later, they introduced Ria, which means “cheerful!”

tsunami 2004

Laga Handbags


After four years, Laga Handbags was blessed with the opportunity to be featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show on April 13, 2010, these twelve women became celebrities in their own right. Orders began pouring in which afforded Roy and Louise the funds to hire and train more survivors. Little by little, the workshop grew full and they began reaching out into the village community to enlist more willing workers and artisans, providing more and more training and subsequently many more jobs.

Today, Laga Handbags is a haven of peace, hope and love, providing income and education for many women and men and their families, in Laga’s workshop as well as in the homes of women with small children and the co-ops they formed throughout the villages.

Each handbag sewn and sold is a labor of love, from one woman to another. Stitched lovingly by hand on a treadle sewing machine without electricity, the patterns guided by hand, lined with rich synthetic silk-satin and embellished with intricate metal detailing. All of Laga handbags have tiny feet to protect the intricate stitching on the bottom and most take more than a single day to sew; no two are ever identical, each one is an individual piece of art, even the Smithsonian took notice and put in an order.

Laga Handbags and Accessories make beautifully unique one-of-a-kind gifts for someone special. As Oprah said, “If you’re going to give a gift, why not give one that gives back?” And if you choose to keep one for yourself, you will absolutely love your Laga. Even more than that, you will love knowing your purchase gives back, enriching the lives of families in a country that has had more than its fair share of struggle.

The Founders, Roy & Louise van Broekhuizen

Roy van Broekhuizen’s family left Indonesia November 1957 on the Dutch ship “Orange” when he was nine years of age, of Dutch and Indonesian descent, and arrived in the middle of winter at the port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Four years later (1961) the van Broekhuizen parents with 6 children immigrated to the United States, 2 more children (girls) were born in the USA.

Louise Meulstee was born in The Hague, Netherlands and, as fate would have it, her parents were also born in Indonesia of Dutch and Indonesian descent. As a matter of fact, Roy and Louise’s mothers had been childhood friends and faithfully stayed in touch over the years. Louise’s family also immigrated to the United States in 1961, when she was six years old. It was years later, on August 30, 1987, that Roy and Louise joined their lives together. With their history, it is not by mere chance that the two would form a union that would touch the lives of so many people across the oceans. They hope their work blesses you here in the United States and worldwide as you consider becoming an integral part in rebuilding lives — one handbag at a time.

Roy and Louise give all profits back to helping more survivors and local artisans

Celebrities in their Own Right; The Women of Laga Handbags

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