Young contest winners team with Newport designer on leather handbags to raise money for Mariners Christian School


Drawings by two Mariners Christian School students inspired two leather purses made by a Newport Beach handbag designer for auction at a school fundraiser. And a limited number will be sold online to help raise money for the Costa Mesa campus.

Suzan Lee Paek of Suzan Lee Designs chose fifth-grader Mary Jane Pfaff, 11, and sixth-grader Kawaii Sanita, 12, as winners in a schoolwide contest in which more than 100 designs were submitted by students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The contest was formed in hope of “encouraging the next generation of artists,” Lee Paek said.


Some students turned in pizza- and hot dog-shaped handbags, while others attached swatches of fabric they had in mind.

Lee Paek said she took the top 10 designs in the contest to her manufacturer in Seoul, South Korea, and she ultimately chose Mary Jane’s and Kawaii’s entries because they would work well with the python and lizard leather she uses to make her handbags.

“I didn’t want to create something that wouldn’t sell at their auction,” Lee Paek said. “I wanted to monetarily give back to their school and make sure it was something a person could carry and use.”

Starting bids on the purses at Friday night’s auction: $500.

The bags also will be available for purchase on Lee Paek’s website,

Mary Jane’s winning design was a purple and yellow cross-body handbag with a silver buckle. It was one of seven drawings she submitted for the contest.

Mary Jane said she envisioned creating a bag that would go with a fancy dress. She researched popular designers and looked at Lee Paek’s website for inspiration and guidance.

“Now that I see how good it turned out, I can totally see myself making more different designs,” Mary Jane said. “I have so many ideas. I just need to put them down on paper and create them.”

Kawaii drew a handbag with a collage of colors to create a “simple but classy” look. Lee Paek added a floral patch to the final product.

“Making art and drawing is fun for me,” Kawaii said. “I like expressing my imagining into designs, and at home I design purses and dresses.”

“I’m sure they’re told by parents that they’re talented,” Lee Paek said. “But it’s very special when it comes from a stranger.”

She said she wishes she could have created bags from all the submissions she received but hopes the experience will encourage the students to pursue their art.

Twitter: @vegapriscella