Ethical fashion is amazing in and of itself, but sometimes, you encounter brands that take the word "ethical" to a whole new level. As I was reaching out to brands to work with during this year's Dressember campaign (which starts in THREE days! Join our team here!), I was particularly inspired by the impact that Malia Designs is having around the world and how creative they are with the products they create.
I spoke to Lucia, one of the amazing people behind the brand, about how they got their start, what their big goals are and how they're making a difference for women who are at risk for human trafficking.
The brand, which has designers both in the US and Cambodia, specializes in unique, high quality accessories — like the travel wallet featured in this post. Their other products are just as unique, made with the West in mind, but featuring the heart and style of Cambodia. Many of their pieces, like their Recycled Cement Bag and Feed Bag collections, help better the local economy by recycling old bags that would have otherwise gone to waste. Furthermore, they increase opportunity for women in Cambodia by creating fair-wage, dignified jobs that keep them safe from a culture ridden with sex slavery.
Can you tell us a little bit about the backstory of Malia Designs? How did it all start?
Malia Designs was founded in 2005 by Lia Valerio. While traveling through Southeast Asia after her service in the Peace Corps, Lia witnessed the realities of human trafficking firsthand in Cambodia and recognized the need for the nation’s women to have a safe secure source of income. The idea was to bridge the gap between isolated producers in Cambodia and Western consumers by developing a fashion forward and functional line of handbags and accessories.
The majority of your products are made with recycled materials from the streets of Cambodia, can you give us a bit of a sneak peek into what the production process actually looks like?
All of our materials are sourced by our producer groups in Cambodia and primarily we use recycled or upcycled materials. For our recycled cement bag line, the bags are purchased at a market. Much like people recycle glass and aluminum for cash here, people gather the empty cement bag from the streets and they are sold at various markets. Once our producers purchase the bags they go through a very thorough washing process and they are then air dried in the sun. We actually have a great blog post if you want to check it out for additional photos and info.
I've heard that Cambodia has one of the highest rates of human trafficking. Is that why you chose to work there? How do your products benefit victims of trafficking?
1) When we started Malia Designs in 2005, human trafficking as an international human rights issue was just starting to get attention. We chose Cambodia because of our personal experience there combined with the knowledge that Cambodia was a hot bed for child sex and labor trafficking. Malia Designs has a three-pronged business model designed to fight human trafficking.
2) Malia Designs’ products are made by Fair Trade producer groups that employ disadvantaged people in Cambodia, primarily at-risk women and the disabled.
3) We offer a high-quality, fashion forward product that is geared towards the Western market. Our Fair Trade production processes and use of recycled materials are also good for the planet.
4) Malia Designs aims to fight human trafficking by donating to organizations working in this arena. Together with our philanthropic arm, Stop Traffick we have donated over $130,000 to organizations in Cambodia and the US that fight human trafficking.
Other than buying your products, what can readers of SL&Co. (or anyone wanting to make a difference) do to join in the fight against human trafficking?
Buying Fair Trade is a great way to vote with your dollars and know that the people making the products that you use and wear are not being exploited and the secure, consistent income makes them less vulnerable to be exploited in the future. I would say like with most big issues in our world, to get educated. Check out organizations and resources like UNODC Global report on human trafficking, UNICEF’s Child Trafficking page. The CNN freedom project and Free the Slaves, both have great information on what you can do to be more aware and involved both here in the states and globally. Dressember is a great campaign that is getting ready to kick off.
This travel wallet (or any of their other designs, in fact) makes the most perfect gift. It's big enough to carry on it's own if you'd rather, or to fit inside a larger purse. I haven't used anything else since I received it and I don't think I will be anytime soon.
As you choose the gifts to give your loved ones this year, or maybe pick out an item or two for your own wish list, keep brands like Malia Designs in mind. A purchase from them can change lives.