Oh, the looks I get when I'm wearing this "non-sweatshirt". As someone who speaks sarcasm as a second language, I'm all for a witty, ironic, statement piece. But, like the shirt implies, it's much more than just an excuse to be more sarcastic than I usually am. This sweatshirt is from Sudara, another amazing brand committed to rescuing and reestablishing victims of human trafficking around the world. So, when someone asks me what exactly my shirt is if it's not a sweatshirt, I tell them that it empowers a woman who was trapped in sexual slavery. That usually gets their attention long enough for me to explain the realities of trafficking (and this month when I wear it as part of my Dressember mini-capsule, I get to explain about the campaign as well. Double win).
As the next installment in my series of spotlights on brands that are fighting human trafficking, I got to chat a little bit with Casey and Erika, two of the amazing people behind Sudara, to get a little more info about how and why they do what they do.
Sudara is now an internationally known organization, featured on some pretty large-scale outlets, but we all have to start somewhere. Can you tell us a little bit about the backstory of Sudara?
In 2005, founder Shannon Keith took a trip to India that opened her eyes to a tragedy occurring daily to women and girls throughout the country. She could hardly believe what she witnessed in India’s Red Light Districts—modern day slavery. Shannon listened to story after story of young girls being sold into the sex trade by their families, orphans picked up off the street by pimps, and even young mothers just trying to get enough money to feed their children.
She returned back to the U.S. and gathered friends to help do something to change the situation she witnessed. The team knew that without safe, steady employment, the women she met stood little chance of surviving outside of the brothels. They identified a group of like-minded partners in India who were compelled to work together with any women looking for a way out of the Red Light Districts. Together, the team created a simple pattern that could be used to teach anyone how to sew and provide them with a skilled-trade.
In 2006, Sudara hired the first 6 employees in their first-ever sewing center partnership and began teaching each woman the skills needed to become seamstresses. And our first pair of PUNJAMMIES® loungewear was produced. Since that time, our relationships have grown into multiple sewing center partnerships and hundreds of women have gained a new community and safe place to work and heal.
How does Sudara specifically help at-risk women or ones who are already victims of human trafficking?
We create pathways and opportunities for women to support themselves and their families so that they are less vulnerable to trafficking and can live in freedom. We do this by partnering with local sewing and skills-training centers in India that provide living-wages, holistic care and benefits.
Living wages are important to us because it takes into consideration the need to provide for oneself and a family; it’s, on average, double the fair-trade or minimum wage baseline for this type of work. It’s also important to us that every woman has the freedom to choose her own pathway in life, so we look for partners that can offer other skills-training programs and job placement services.
A living wage and skills-training aren't enough, though, when you think about the support that someone may need to rise above their current situation. So we donate additional funds that are invested in providing education for the children of the women, safe housing for those needing to escape abuse, health and wellness services, and micro-loan opportunities for those who would like to start their own business once they've acquired the necessary skills and experience at the centers.
You work specifically in India — what's something that someone who hasn't been there personally might not know about the culture? I'd love to travel there one day!
We hope you get to travel to India one day! John Rajah, our director of India Operations, recently shared that National Geographic ranked Chennai as the world’s second best food city (and Chennai was the only Indian city on the list).
What can SL&Co. readers do to support your work?
We appreciate your readers with a heart for fighting human trafficking and empowering women. One of the things you’ll hear us say a lot is that each of us have “purchase power”. And we are called to be responsible with our dollars. EVERY single purchase you make is a vote for or against freedom.
So, here are 3 things you can do:
1. Support social good companies through buying their goods and services. We all need to think about the supply chain. We need to think about who is making the products we want or buy on a regular basis. We need to consistently ask ourselves if we know (or care!) about how a product was made. The answer to that simple question will lead down two very different life paths.
2. Demand that retailers or businesses you patronize have a transparent supply chain; demand that they treat their people and our planet well.
3. Learn more about human trafficking issues in India and in the US, and speak to others about the issues from an informed position.
And, just for fun, what's your favorite product Sudara makes?
The Dhana slouch, it is a great fit for lounging around the house or day wear. The super silky rayon has incredible drape and feel!