Ethical Spotlight || Sudara, Made From Hope

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. 

*Pieces featured in this post: Not A Sweatshirt Sweatshirt, Inspire Tee, Mina Capri, Kaveri Full Pant

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.

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.

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!

To learn more about human trafficking, get the stats here, or read my interview with Dressember founder, Blythe Hill. 

**For the month of December, a portion of the proceeds from my e-course The Art of Simple Living, will be donated to IJM through my Dressember team. Sign up here!**

Creating a Mini-Capsule || Dressember Edition

If you've been around these part for a while, you'll know that this post combines two of my biggest passions in life (capsule wardrobes and ending human trafficking), so naturally, I'm pretty excited about it. I've been highlighting brands that fight human trafficking all November-long (and will keep going this month too!), and now December is finally here and with it comes one of the biggest campaigns against human trafficking in the world. If you're not familiar with Dressember, take a quick peek at my interview with the founder here and then join our team here (excuse my shameless plug, I'm really passionate about this campaign, you guys). 

One of the biggest questions I've gotten about Dressember so far is how to make it work with only a few dresses, as many of my readers already have fairly limited wardrobes. The people behind the campaign make it pretty clear that the movement isn't meant to be an excuse for a shopping spree to stock up on dresses, but rather, it's meant to stretch your creativity by wearing a dress (or a few dresses) as your flag for an entire month. 

I decided to create a mini-capsule for the occasion, so that I wouldn't be scrambling for pieces, and so I could already have a pretty good idea of outfits I could create before the month even started. Obviously, it's only the first day of the month, so my pieces are subject to change a bit (meaning I might swap out a few sweaters for others in my closet, not that I'm going shopping for new items). 

Hopefully this mini-capsule will give you a concrete visual of how to make an already limited wardrobe work on even more strict parameters. I'm so excited to mix and match these pieces — be sure to follow along on Instagram and Facebook to see how I style them everyday (or semi-everyday...) 

The Dresses: 5

These are the five dresses I'll be wearing all month long. Five may feel like not nearly enough (I know I had closer to 8 last year), but to me right now it feels like a lot. They're all pretty versatile and neutral, so I'm excited to layer and get creative! 

(From Left to Right: Black Long Sleeved dress @ Amour Vert via ThredUp, Blush short sleeved @ LA Relaxed, Black Shift Dress @ Sotela via IMBY, Sweater dress @ Target (during my pre-ethical shopping days), Olive turtleneck swing dress @ Dressember via Elegantees

Tops & Sweaters: 6

(Grey turtleneck @ H&M via ThredUP, Green cropped sweater @ an Instagram shop (I can't remember which one...), Flannel @ thrifted years ago, Chambray @ old old Target, Striped top @ H&M, Black Sweatshirt @ Sudara (an AMAZING brand fighting human trafficking that may or may not grace this website next week ;). 

Cardigans: 3

(Tribal cardigan @ old old Forever 21, Grey Duster @ Penny Thrift, Cream cardi @ ASOS) 

Bottoms: 2

(Plus lots of tights)

(Jeans @ Madewell via ThredUP, Leggings @ GirlfriendCollective - HIGHLY recommend these leggings people). 

That's it! If you're worried about creating your own mini-capsule for the month, don't hesitate to reach out. Again, the pieces are subject to change, but I'll update as the month goes on. 

I'm so excited to be leading a team this year (join us!) and am confident that we'll accomplish amazing things this month. LETS DO THIS. 

Carry A Cause || An Interview with Malia Designs

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. 

How A Dress Can Change the World || An Interview with Dressember Founder Blythe Hill + Giveaway!

You know the tightening feeling in your heart that happens when you're confronted with a huge issue that you feel you can do nothing about? The world is full of so much hurt and when faced with overwhelming numbers and statistics, it makes the influence of a single person seem minuscule in comparison. 

That's how I felt when I thought about human trafficking. I've always had a heart for the issue, but when I learned about how heartbreakingly vast the problem was, it felt like there was nothing I could do to make a difference. I'm not a lawyer, I can't travel to foreign countries and pull women and children out of the reach of entrapment, I can't even donate hundreds of dollars to aid people who can. I felt hopeless. 

The facts are these: there are over 20 million people (men, women and children) in slavery around the world, and about 80% of the victims are sexually exploited. According to Equality Now, sex slavery is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. It's not just an over-seas issue either. The FBI reported that, although it's impossible to put an exact number on the amount of domestic victims, it happens all over the country (likely in your city), particularly on interstate traffic. The victims are primarily at-risk women and children, sometimes as young as 8 or 9, and can do virtually nothing to escape on their own. 

Overwhelmed? You're not alone. 

Blythe Hill, the founder of the Dressember Foundation, felt the same way, but didn't let her feeling of overwhelm stop her from doing something about it. I had the chance to speak with her a little bit about the history of Dressember, and what their goals are for this year's campaign. 

Human trafficking feels like an untouchable issue that "normal people" can make no impact on. However, Blythe Hill, the founder of the Dressember movement, believes lasting change happens one person, and one dress, at a time. Join the movement and read more about an amazing movement in our interview with Blythe.

The concept behind Dressember is simple: you commit to wearing dresses for the entire month of December. The dress acts as a "flag" and conversation starter (because, really, who is crazy enough to wear dresses in the coldest season the year?), and ultimately, as a way to raise awareness and funds for victims of sex trafficking. Dressember is aligned with A21 and the International Justice Mission and expects this year to be the biggest yet. To join, sign up here.(SL&Co. is hosting our own team and we'd love to have you on it!) 

*read till the end to enter to win the Dressember swing dress ;) 

Tell us a little bit about the backstory of Dressember and how it all started.  

BH: I came up with the idea while I was in college. I was feeling like I needed a creative outlet, but didn't have much free time. I decided to try a personal style challenge, and came up with the idea to where a dress every day for a month. The next full month was December, and I came up with the name Dressember. Since I love puns, that pretty much sealed the deal. 

Why do you think a seemingly simple idea sparked such powerful change around the world?

BH: For years, I had been looking for a way to engage in the fight against modern day slavery. I didn't have much money to give, and I wasn't pursuing a career in social work, law, psychology, or any field that seemed to connect to making a difference, so I felt powerless. When I decided to align Dressember with anti-trafficking, it came out of that long-standing desire to engage. What has been remarkable is that so many other women must have been feeling the same way-- eager to physically engage in the fight to end human trafficking-- because it has spread so much and grown so quickly. 

Many SL&Co. readers already have fairly limited wardrobes- what would you say to someone who is nervous about the thought of wearing a dress for 31 days? 

BH: Often people hear about Dressember and think they need to go buy a bunch of dresses-- you don't! You can share with friends, sisters, roommates, or consider taking on the extra challenge of wearing the same dress every day all month. I've done that for about 3 of the last 7 Dressember seasons, and I'm always surprised by how limitations stimulate creativity. If someone is nervous about wearing dresses for other reasons than wardrobe limitations, I'd encourage them to check our FAQ page-- we address cold weather, jobs that require pants, and more. 

I didn’t have much money to give, and I wasn’t pursuing a career in social work, law, psychology, or any field that seemed to connect to making a difference, so I felt powerless. When I decided to align Dressember with anti-trafficking, it came out of that long-standing desire to engage.

Besides joining in the Dressember challenge, what is something "regular people" can do to help fight human trafficking either locally or globally? 

BH: Honestly, spreading awareness about the issue is a HUGE need. People still think this doesn't happen, or that it only happens in poor countries. Slavery exists today in every major city in the world, and here in the US at truck stops, massage parlors, around every major sporting event, and more. The children of the US foster system are especially at risk-- when they run away or go missing, no one is looking for them. Traffickers target them for this reason.

How much have Dressember participants raised in the past? Do you have a new goal for this year's campaign?

BH: In three years, thousands of women have raised over $1.5 million. We hope to raise $1.5 million this year alone!

When you're not inspiring people around the world to put a stop to human trafficking, what do you enjoy doing?

BH: Haha-- that makes me sound so magnanimous! Honestly, I'm just a normal person-- I love binge watching netflix (currently re-watching Gilmore Girls), reading, crafting, and cooking (shout out to Blue Apron for making cooking less intimidating for me)! 

Now for the giveaway!


Blythe was sweet enough to offer a FREE Dressember dress from their collaboration with Elegantees to one lucky SL&Co. reader (it's the one pictured- I'm obsessed, SO soft and versatile). Enter here:

Never underestimate the power of simply using your voice. Together we CAN stop human trafficking. Join our team here!