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We’ve heard it before: You can stand up and make a difference in the fight to end forced labor and prostitution, no matter who you are. Heck, we’ve said it! And we believe it.
Businesses can do it, too. Here, three entrepreneurs share the stories of how they use their businesses to raise awareness and funds for domestic and international victims of sex trafficking. Nicole Marett of Radiant Cosmetics and Steen Jones and Jessica Stewart of COLORS discuss how they got involved, how their businesses partner with nonprofit organizations, the unique challenges they’ve faced, and what drives them to overcome them.
Tell me about your business: how it started, what you do, where it’s going.
RADIANT: I’ve always been enamored with makeup and grew up dreaming of becoming a beauty editor at a fashion magazine. I eventually moved to New York to pursue my dream and found myself very unfulfilled in what I had always wanted to do. I felt called to live overseas doing mission work with an organization called The World Race. I got to work with women who had been trafficked or were trapped in the commercial sex trade, and I felt alive. I was filled with an overwhelming sense that something had to be done. I was given a new dream: to run a makeup company that partners with human trafficking organizations financially as well as gets people involved in their own communities, especially in the United States.
Radiant Cosmetics launched at the beginning of August, so we’re going a lot of places. The whole mission behind the makeup is to end human trafficking, and we are committed to doing whatever it takes. We have several projects in the works to further incorporate raising awareness such as art shows, awareness walks, fair trade events and conferences. But we also desire to infiltrate the beauty industry and further mesh that with the world of human trafficking. We have a great project in the works with a trafficking organization in India that will launch after the holidays and it stands for all the wonderful work others are doing to end this injustice as well as our desire and love for makeup.
COLORS: COLORS’ mission is to empower the weak while practicing fair trade ideals. COLORS unofficially began in 2007 as a fundraiser called “Scarf Some Sweets” to raise money for Steen’s sister Amanda, who did outreach and missions through Youth With a Mission and Destiny Rescue. We are a social business that provides impoverished people across the world an opportunity to provide for themselves by teaching them creative skills, and also by providing an outlet to sell their hand-made goods. At the same time, we give consumers an opportunity to purchase environmentally friendly products that make a difference in another human beings life.
We are currently partnering with Destiny Rescue (DR) in Chang Rai, Thailand to provide girls rescued out of sex trafficking the opportunity to learn to crochet and provide for themselves and their families. We traveled to DR’s Thailand base at the end of January and taught four girls how to crochet, which was our dream come true! This is more than a business for us. It is a ministry. In the future, we hope to increase the amount of girls we teach as well as the skills we teach them.
You both partner with nonprofit organizations that work to rescue victims of sex trafficking, Free the Captives and Destiny Rescue. Can you each tell me about the organizations you work with, your relationships with them and why you chose to work with them?
RADIANT: Free The Captives is an incredible organization that Radiant stands behind 100%. While my experience with human trafficking came from living overseas, I really wanted it to be an issue women could relate to. So many people don’t know we still have slavery in our world, so I wanted to start with highlighting the United States, more specifically my own state. Free The Captives is based in Houston, TX. Houston is a huge hub for trafficking and it’s not a far removed issue; it’s happening in our own communities. That was the first factor in choosing to partner with them.
Free The Captives kind of fell into my lap. I had been researching and contacting other organizations and not having much luck. I randomly emailed the founder of Free The Captives and spoke with her over the phone, and her vision for her organization and what a partnership could look like really resonated with what I envisioned. After driving to Houston and seeing all the work that Free The Captives does, I knew I wanted to work with that organization. Our relationship is still forming; we are looking for unique ways to partner together apart from our financial partnership.
COLORS: Destiny Rescue actively seeks out and rescues children from sexually exploitive situations and then restores, protects, and empowers them. The average ages of the girls range from 12 to 18 years old. Destiny Rescue also has an incredible preventative program for “at risk” children at every base. They currently have bases in India, Cambodia, Mozambique, and Thailand. However, we only partner with the base in Chiang Rai, Thailand at this time. Since we traveled there in January, the number of girls at the Chiang Rai base has gone from 40 to over 80 girls.
They are very earnest in seeking out new trades and skills for the girls to learn in order for them to earn a healthy living for themselves and their families. We chose this organization because of our previous encounters with them through friends and family. Steen’s sister did outreach and missions with Destiny Rescue, and family friend Jessica Kist works for the organization. During our January trip, we built lasting relationships with the founders and staff. They were very gracious and we worked extremely well together.
How exactly does your business work with the organization you partner with?
RADIANT: The biggest way we partner together is financially. After being overseas and wanting to help all these women I realized financially many of these organizations couldn’t support them all. I also wanted to reallocate how women spend their money to find ways they could tangibly get involved and help others. As of now we give 20% of our profits directly to Free The Captives. We hope to be able to eventually increase our efforts as we grow.
Another crucial piece of partnering together is getting Radiant customers involved in working together as well. We update each other on events that Radiant is holding or Free The Captives has coming up and share that with our customers and supporters. We hope to in the future collaborate more and are excited to see how that plays out.
COLORS: We donated our time in January, travelling to Thailand to teach the girls how to crochet. We now act as a wholesaler, buying the products from the girls and selling them here in the States. We are a social business, so while not technically a non-profit, our profits are reinvested into the business with the purpose of expanding our reach and affecting the lives of more people. Our goal is to hold additional fundraisers throughout the year to help provide for any additional needs for Destiny Rescue.
Each of your businesses was founded as a response to the issue of human trafficking. How did you initially learn about the issue?
RADIANT: I had never even heard of human trafficking prior to applying for The World Race. I read a blog that someone on the trip in Thailand had written discussing the issue. I didn’t think much about it again until I moved overseas. I began to read various books and articles on the issue and was dumbfounded on how widespread human trafficking was. I was astounded to find that the United States and other first world countries were not immune; in fact they had large numbers of trafficked people as well. Eventually I got to experience it firsthand in Thailand and that’s when the issue became very personal. I had seen the faces of those who had been physically, emotionally and spiritually affected by trafficking. I know their names and that is something I simply can’t ignore.
COLORS: In preparing for past Scarf Some Sweets, we would gather and organize information about the issue of trafficking in order to inform the event attendees of what Steen’s sister was doing in Thailand and other locations. It quickly became our passion to spread awareness and make a difference in these girls’ lives.
What gave you the idea to use your business to make a difference?
RADIANT: I can’t take any credit in the idea itself. God gave me the vision for it all and I simply acted as a vehicle. Something that solidified the idea to carry out the business happened on one of my last nights in Thailand. I met a woman who had these really cool star tattoos on her fingers and I commented that I liked them. She responded by asking if my friends and I wanted some. Confused, we saw her pull out a small bottle of liquid eyeliner. For the next hour she drew stars on our fingers with that eyeliner. She didn’t speak a ton of English but I remember just laughing together a lot. In that moment, something as simple as makeup transcended any language barrier, and it’s truly something that I believe can have a huge impact.
COLORS: Our friend, Jessica Kist, who had lived in Thailand for a year, came to us (within a week of being home) with the idea of partnering with Destiny Rescue to teach the girls our trade. She thought it was a skill they would pick up quickly and enjoy, and boy did they blow us out of the water! We realized that even if the girls did not partner with us forever, they still had gained a skill that could benefit them for the rest of their lives. They could provide for their families while remaining safe.
Some of our readers may be interested in using their business or starting a new one to promote restoration among victims or raise awareness about commercial exploitation. Do you have any tangible advice for them?
RADIANT: Do it! I think using your own skills or passions is one of the best ways to get involved. I believe in the work that non-profits do and I am behind them completely. However, non-profits are not the only ones who should be giving back. The business world is a huge sphere of influence and we should be using it any and every way that we can. Women are going to continue to buy makeup, so why not let them also give back through that purchase? I love hearing about all the amazing businesses that are starting to step up to fill that need.
As far as advice, make sure this is something you’re really passionate about. Starting Radiant, I couldn’t have continued to press in when things were tough and I was concerned about finances if at the end of the day I wasn’t truly passionate about seeing the end of trafficking.
COLORS: There are so many amazing organizations that are already working to rescue victims and have a significant presence in the States and other countries. We would encourage you to find an organization that matches your ideals and passions, and work to help provide for their needs, monetary or otherwise.
What was start-up like for Radiant Cosmetics and for COLORS? Did you encounter any significant challenges?
RADIANT: Starting Radiant was an adventure, to say the least. I assumed that I would pursue this vision later in life, when I actually had some knowledge on how to run a business. But I was deeply affected by my time overseas and knew I had to do something and do it now, so I went for it. I don’t have a business degree and seeing as I was a journalism major, it’s safe to assume I don’t have a knack for numbers. Specifically, finances and all the business jargon have been incredibly challenging for me. I felt very lost, inadequate and overwhelmed. However, I had so many people willing to help and I’ve learned so much through all the struggles.
The makeup side was by far the fun part of starting Radiant. Being someone who has always loved makeup, I was in heaven getting to create it all and test it. I remember testing a million color ideas for eye shadows and just having what seemed like every inch of my skin covered in pretty colored products. Honestly, the whole experience, the good and the bad, has been very rewarding. I continue to be in awe of how many people have gotten behind the cause and have been willing to help me and this vision get off the ground from big things like building a brand to small things such as helping me fill out boring but important paperwork.
COLORS: Our business started very quickly; we were presented with the idea in September and left for Thailand in January. Be that as it may, every day and every experience is a learning process. The biggest challenge has been maintaining the momentum we experience in the winter, selling our scarves at “Scarf Some Sweets” and bringing that into the spring and summer months. We are still trying to determine what products to offer during these months that are comparable to our aesthetics.
You’ve worked directly with victims and survivors of sex trafficking. What, if anything, would you like to tell readers about your experiences or about trafficking in general?
RADIANT: The experiences I have had with women who’ve been victims of sex trafficking have been life changing. I would encourage others to get involved, reach out and see for themselves. Human trafficking is something we’re still learning about and understanding and I really feel like the first step is recognizing that it does happen and to educate ourselves. But take the next step and find a way to get involved physically, whether that be volunteering with an organization, becoming a mentor for women rescued from these situations or even going overseas. The more we begin to interact, the more we can give these women a voice.
COLORS: It is easy to distance yourself from the horrors that occur to people you have never met. When you see their faces and know their names, it is impossible to ignore. The several girls we interacted with while we were there changed our lives. When we hear of “trafficking survivors”, we see the faces of Nadidat, Min, Mor, and Kwan. For us, having those faces helps us to continue and never give up.
What draws you to the issue of trafficking? Why are you so deeply involved?
RADIANT: I think being a woman and knowing that the majority of trafficked people are women and children draws me to the issue of trafficking. I’ve always felt passionate about women’s issues and to help give a voice to those women is imperative. As I mentioned before, I know some of these women’s names. I can see their faces. How can I ignore that? How can I choose to turn a blind eye to the fact that I’ve seen their bruises and heard their stories? These women could just have easily been me, or my sister, or friends.
COLORS: Freedom is humanity’s most basic right and we’re blessed enough to experience that every day. Having their freedom stolen and being mentally, emotionally, and physically abused is an abomination for any child to have to experience. Children require the most basic of food, love, and safety, and Destiny Rescue provides all of those things. For Steen, having a little girl the age of 6 and a little boy the age of 8 brings these issues closer to home and reinforces her drive to help protect the unprotected.
Did I leave anything out that you’d like to add?
COLORS: Making a difference in the lives of these victims does not require starting a business. There are so many ways to volunteer your talents and time. This movement is on the path to changing the world and freeing hundreds of thousands of people. A little help from each and every person will go a long way.