Safe from Abuse: Beulah London's Fashion for Freedom
LONDON -- Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry, one where humans prey on other humans, most often women and children.
The world is slowly waking up to this modern-day slavery and seeking ways to fight it. One clothing company in the United Kingdom is working to help bring these victims from darkness to light.
Birth of Beulah
Sonagachi is the largest sex district in Calcutta, India. Each day more than 10,000 women stand in line to sell their bodies. Some enter the world of human trafficking so their families can eat or because poverty has left them with no other option.
These images and stories changed the lives of Lady Natasha Rufus-Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan in 2009.
"A lot of the local slum girls would come to this really small production unit in the afternoons, but that was so they wouldn't be abused in the afternoons by the men in their village," Brennan said.
"We would teach them how to sew and taught them very basic skills and it was from there then that we had the idea to set up the business. So I think it was inspiring to see their story, and experiencing it first-hand really motivated us," Rufus-Isaacs added.
From that motivation, Beulah London was born.
"We both love fashion, we love dresses, we love dressing up and working in this after-care home, in the production unit in the afternoons," Brennan said. "We realized it would be amazing to teach women skills that would then make them employable to help them live this sustainable alternative livelihood. As two girls we thought, 'Let's go into fashion.'"
Beulah London is an ethical fashion label. It's making a worldwide name for itself, thanks in part to one major high-profile customer: Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge.
"When we first started the company, the vision was to have the women involved in the whole of the production," Brennan explained.
"As we grew we realized that wasn't quite possible, given their skill set. If you can imagine the average age of a girl being trafficked is 13, so there's a lot of healing that has to go on before she can go into employment," she continued. "So we decided to start small, partner up with companies on the ground who were working with women who'd been trafficked, companies like Freeset."
The organization known as Freeset works to help Indian women escape the sex trade. They not only teach useful skills, but empowerment as well.
In a video produced by the organization, some of the former victims of sex trafficking speak of the freedom they now have.
"It was a very painful life in the line. There were days when I didn't eat. Now God has taken care of me; I'm much better," one woman said.
"I've given up the line; I have freedom. I can talk with everyone and tell them I don't belong there anymore," another said.
The Butterfly Effect
Rufus-Isaacs and Brennan partner with Freeset. Customers can purchase Beulah canvas bags, which are produced directly by former trafficking victims.
They've also started the Beulah Trust, which provides money for women to learn skills like embroidery.
"Next season we'll have the embroidery on every single piece, so then every single piece has a story in a way and has had the hand of the woman make and embroider," said Rufus-Isaacs.
The embroidery will be the Beulah logo, two "B's" in the shape of a butterfly.
"It's the butterfly effect, the idea that one small change has a large effect elsewhere," Brennan said.
"It relates back to what Beulah stands for in the Bible. It talks about coming from a place of darkness into freedom," Rufus-Isaacs added. "So the concept of the butterfly becoming something beautiful out of darkness."
A Stitch of Beauty
The women who originally inspired Beulah London continue to be at the heart of every design. Each season's design concept somehow relates back to the charity side. Last season's design was Kintsugi, a type of Japanese pottery.
"It's the concept of a piece of pottery being broken and then put back together with a gold lacquer. So it's the idea that a piece is more beautiful for being broken. So we had, within the collection, these beautiful prints with a gold crack in it," Rufus-Isaacs said.
One day, each Beulah London piece will carry the touch of a woman they're working to save. Until then, you can be sure that every purchase still makes a difference.
"If someone buys into the brand, obviously that's helping the brand grow. And that's when we feel like, we really feel like we can have a big impact and involve the women," Brennan said.
It's a company with a cause and they're creating a beautiful change, one stitch at a time.