For this Feminist Fashion Friday, take a moment to think about the jewelry you are wearing right now – who made it? By buying it, did it help someone in need or make the world a better place? Here at The Feminist Bride jewelry often comes under scrutiny due to the wedding industrial complex or how it can sometimes negatively affect gender equality; but sometimes there’s jewelry that creates positive social welfare and makes an amazing difference in the lives of women and their families. Relevée jewelry does just that, and we love socially conscious options for weddings. Founder and Executive Director of Made by Survivors, Sarah Symons explains how Relevée jewelry is made not only by women but specifically helps survivors of human trafficking in South Asia. So if you need to buy your best ladies, your bride, your mother of the bride/groom, your local mailwoman or just a friend a gift consider Relevée jewelry first. Here’s more on how amazing and socially minded it is.
Tell me about Relevée? Relevée means ‘to rise up’ in French. Our designs are handmade from precious metals and meticulously crafted by survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable women worldwide. Relevée focuses on helping survivors of human trafficking, child marriage, child labor and other serious human rights abuses. We also focus on those [high risk youth] already in the trafficking industry, such as girls born into brothel communities or living in border towns of trafficking areas. The jewelry [the survivors make] gives them the chance to build bright futures with the help of the international charity, Made by Survivors. 100% of proceeds go to Made By Survivors, a tax-exempt charity serving women and children survivors in Asia. We give them a safe and loving place to heal and rebuild their lives with shelter, education, job training, and employment programs.
How does Made By Survivors impact the survivors’ lives? Our artisans have trained to become some of the first women goldsmiths in South Asia. Training takes about two years, and this is provided through our nonprofit, Made by Survivors. Girls can begin contributing, and earning, after about six months. Their skill guarantees them a place in a respected profession, earning a middle class wage that can transform their lives and families. Our artisans are paid well above international fair trade standards, and enjoy a safe, dignified work environment. The jewelry they make empowers them to get free and remain free forever from poverty and exploitation.
How much of the proceeds go back to the beneficiaries? 100%!
What was the motivation behind starting this non-profit? In 2004, I saw a documentary film about human trafficking and was compelled to do something to help. I soon learned that even after being rescued, many survivors remain vulnerable because they are stigmatized, poor and have little education or training. They need education and good jobs in order to take control of their lives and remain free forever, so that is what we set out to do with Made By Survivors, and then Relevée jewelry
Why did you focus on this part of the world? 13 million of the world’s estimated 29 million slaves are in India. South Asia is the hardest hit part of the world for trafficking. Millions of girls are trafficked into brothels, and their lives are devastated (or ended) by the experience.
What sets you apart from other groups that are selling similar items? We [Made by Survivors] focus on high quality, well-paid employment, not crafts or traditionally female trades that can be learned in an afternoon and are paid accordingly low, but rather a professional career that takes years to learn, and a lifetime to master, and pays a really good salary.
Do you focus on any specific types of materials or design aesthetics? Yes, we use precious metals, precious and semi-precious stones for a higher end product that will last a lifetime. Our aesthetic tends to be clean and modern. Some pieces have a subtle Asian influence. Many [pieces] are designed by the women themselves, and reflect their life experiences, their aspirations, their love of nature and their concern for social justice.
Do you have any success stories you can share? Kali was born into a very poor family, living on the streets of Calcutta under a tarp. At the age of ten, her parents sent her to work and beg at the train station. At around thirteen, she was trafficked from the train station to a brothel in Mumbai. Incredibly, after some time there, she was able to escape through a small window in the bathroom, and brought the police back to rescue two of her friends at the brothel. Sadly, her family blamed her for what happened, and for the fact that her father ‘died of a broken heart’ while she was away. They refused to let her return home to the family. She joined our jewelry program at age sixteen or seventeen, and gradually overcame her trauma and grief to become one of our most proficient jewelers. Now she earns a salary equivalent to a college graduate; her dream is become a trainer and to bring this gift to other vulnerable women. “You know those lucky people, whose every dream comes true? Well now I am one of them,” says Kali.