Today, I am so happy to be able to introduce you to Maggie Duckworth and her involvement with an incredibly impactful event taking place in New York City next week, Be the Voice.
I met Maggie a month ago during a FIG (Fashion Industries Group) meeting. I have been wanting to combine my love of fashion to my faith in a more concrete way which lead me to attend this faith and fashion group. Maggie and I bonded immediately especially after she told me about Be the Voice. This cause is close to my heart as my mother worked in a garment factory under very poor working conditions, for many years, after she arrived here from Puerto Rico. As you might recall, I also participated in Stop Traffic back in 2011, a fashion show that raised awareness of human trafficking within the fashion industry.
These shared interests made for an instant connection between Maggie and myself and I just had to invite her to explain, in her own words, what Be the the Voice is all about. Fashion does not happen in a vacuum. There are many people, global societies affected in the process of making clothes and accessories. I am on the journey to continued awareness in this area, I hope this helps you to travel on the same road as well.
When I was a young girl growing up in a small community in Northern Georgia I dreamed of one day moving to New York City and pursuing an education in fashion design. It was all I could talk about. I would fill notebooks full of drawings of fancy dresses and wedding gowns. I do not know where this dream came from but I held it close.
Earlier this year I was heartbroken as I heard the stories that came out of Bangladesh about an eight-story garment factory that caught fire and collapsed on the employees working inside. Over 400 people died that day. Human beings died making clothes! That thought is unimaginable to me, but it is very real. The workers had families. My own grandmother worked in a sock mill in Alabama until she retired. She was so very poor, but at least she had been paid minimum wage and never went to work worried if she would die at the factory.
As I thought about my grandmother I began to think about all of the children who were left orphaned by the fire. Tears flowed as I thought about the holes left in these families. I then thought about the workers and all of the dreams that died that day with them. Dreams to build better futures for themselves and for their children. It has been many years since I was that young girl dreaming of a life in New York pursuing fashion. It took many years and hard work, but I have been able to make those dreams come true. Why couldn't the factory workers enjoy such blessings? These questions began to plague me.
I had known peripherally about the horrors of sweat shops and modern day slavery, but I had not put much thought into how my actions contributed to the harm of others. Out of sight out of mind. I then began to think of when I (someday) create my own line of clothes. Who would make them? Would I show integrity in the conditions the designs were produced or would I just look at the financial bottom line?
I began to research and I learned a lot about human trafficking. There are so many gruesome facets of modern day slavery that many of us know nothing about. Sex trafficking has wrecked havoc in the lives of many. Then there is labor trafficking which can range from someone being forced to work in a person’s home as a servant, forced to work in fields to gather crops, or to work in factories making consumer goods in inhumane conditions with little or no pay.
I started to wonder what I could do to help make a difference in the fight against human trafficking. How could I educate consumers on where the products they purchase come from but also give them an alternative?
On a Sunday a few months ago I confided those thoughts to a sweet friend over a slice of carrot cake. She happened to work for Price of Life (www.priceoflifenyc.org) an organization whose mission is "to educate and mobilize the community to fight modern day slavery.” My friend then told me about a partnership that was beginning between Price of Life, Nomi Network (www.nominetwork.org) and Bajalia Trading Company (www.bajalia.com). In October the three organizations, as partners, would put together a pop-up shop in Soho. This pop-up shop was envisioned as a way to reach consumers and give them the opportunity to purchase products made by free people from all over the world who had been rescued from slavery or who were at risk. These three organizations are out there in the world changing lives. I got really excited about being a part of this mission. My friend put me in contact with Nomi Network and I became the Volunteer Coordinator of the shop now known as, Be the Voice: Speak Up and Shop ("Be the Voice"). The creation of Be the Voice has been an adventure. The team is made up of volunteers and members of Price of Life, Nomi Network and Bajalia staff. It has been a joy to work with this outstanding team.
I am happy to announce that Be the Voice will be open October 7-29th in Soho at Voce Di (41-43 Grand Street). The shop will sell all slave free/free trade products created by free people across the globe. The launch party will take place,
Tuesday, October 8th at 6:30 PM. Bring a friend, shop, and hear the Voice of Child Soldiers during the panel session.
As part of the effort to educate consumers there will be two additional evenings of panel discussions at 6:30 PM: October 16th: Voices of Sex Trafficking and October 22nd: Voices of Labor Trafficking. You are welcome to join us for these informative events as well.
If you would like to attend the launch party or one of the panel discussions please visit: http://www.nominetwork.org/en/voiceoftrafficking/.
Be the Voice is still in need of volunteers to work 4 hour shifts. The store will be open 11 AM to 7PM Monday through Saturday and until 8:30 PM on October 8, 16 and 22. Be the Voice will also need people to assist with hospitality during the three evenings. If you are interested in volunteering or would like to learn more please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maggie Duckworth is the author of this guest blog and the Volunteer Coordinator for Be the Voice: Speak Up and Shop. Maggie would like to thank Nellie Escalante for giving her the opportunity to share today and for Nellie's tremendous support in this endeavor. Nellie--you're the best!