(2012 January RE:NEW Magazine)

Claire Hellar

“Trafficking is any act undertaken for the purpose of exploiting people. In simpler terms: lying, kidnapping, or hurting people in any way to force them to do work they don’t want to do. Often women and children are kidnapped and forced to work in factories or hotels, or else forced to work in the sex industry as slaves or prostitutes. At any given time, there are an estimated 2.5 million people around that world that are currently being exploited and forced to do labor against their will. ”

What is Freedom and Fashion?

Freedom and Fashion is a ministry that fights for justice through fashion and the arts. It’s part fashion company, and part nonprofit, but the heart is really human rights activism. Through both our own activities and by supporting and raising awareness for other human rights organizations, we fight against oppression, enslavement, poverty and sex trafficking.

What exactly does it do?

Freedom and Fashion does three things. One, we design, create, and sell our own products to raise money to fight injustice. This year, one of our main products is a tote bag that was handmade by Cambodian women who were rescued from poverty. Secondly, we continue the fight against injustice by partnering with other organizations like LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), which fights for freedom in North Korea, and Falling Whistles, which seeks to bring peace to the Congo. And thirdly, we try to teach and educate people about the problem of sex trafficking, where women, kids, and even men are kidnapped from all over the world and forced into slavery.

One of the main ways we do these three things is by holding events. Our largest event is a fashion show and fundraiser that we hold once a year. Thousands of people come to see our models show off our products and our partners’ products on the runway and to hear live music, videos, and speeches giving information about sex trafficking. At the end of the night, guests go around to all the booths and buy the jewelry, clothes, bags, and shoes that were shown by our models. All of the money goes toward the causes of our partners or to rescuing people from poverty or trafficking. It takes months to make the event happen, but it’s so worth it!

When and why did you join?

I think most good things in life happen through or because of our friends, and this was no exception. In my junior year of college, a friend of mine was in charge of the volunteers for the first Freedom and Fashion show, and she needed help. So I volunteered to help out, and even though it turned out to be way more work than I thought it would, I also saw what an inspiring, exciting thing Freedom and Fashion was trying to do. I’ve been involved with Freedom and Fashion ever since.

Who are the members?

Freedom and Fashion started out with around 5 people and now has over 30 members. It’s split into teams so there’s a Fashion Team, a Marketing Team with Public Relations/Social Media and Publishing subgroups, a Design Team, and several others. There’s also other positions like Human Resources, Events Coordinator, and even two Spokespersons.

What are they like?

There are two crazy things about Freedom and Fashion members. One is that everyone is a volunteer. To be part of Freedom and Fashion, you have to commit to volunteering for a certain number of hours a week for one year. So there’s 30 people coming in to the Freedom and Fashion office every week and working for approximately 8-12 hours with no pay. Yet everyone is so happy to be there, because everyone’s passionate about what they’re doing. Office hours are generally once a week in the evening, so people can make it after work or classes (the rest of the work is done from home or at other times in the week), and people almost always come in smiling. Everyone has different personalities and there’s also a lot of cultural diversity and a range of backgrounds – Korean, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Indian, white – so it’s always a blast hanging out at the office.

The other crazy thing is that most of the members are either still in college or just graduated. So people who are 19-22 are literally designing entire fashion lines, speaking in front of hundreds of people, and holding events that are attended by thousands. It’s a crazy testament of what God can do when you dream big and trust Him. Most of us didn’t have that much experience before joining – maybe a few projects in high school, a related class in college, and an internship. Then we joined Freedom and Fashion and had a chance to put all those skills to use and to learn new things, and suddenly we had all this responsibility. It was a bit scary at first, but also really fun – to be able to do such big things while still so young.

What exactly do you do?

I’m in charge of the yearly magazine. It’s usually about a hundred pages and we give it out at events throughout the year. The main purpose is to let people know about us, the other organizations we support, and to teach them about the injustice going on in both the U.S. and other countries, and how you can help. It takes about three months to make: my staff and I interview people, write articles, brainstorm ideas, etc. Once we’ve written everything we turn it over to the Design Team who puts it all together, adds artwork, and makes it pretty. This year’s magazine has photo-spreads, interviews, and articles on everything from how children in Africa are forced to make the chocolate we eat to what books and movies you should read/watch to learn about injustice and how to help.

How has God worked through Freedom and Fashion for you?

Doing the magazine is a lot of work, and every year I hesitate. But every year, God takes away other opportunities and makes sure that this is the one I go with. And I’ve always been happy afterward that He did. I’m always a little bit scared starting out because I worry that someone else could do a better job, but God always reassures me that I’m in the right place at the right time. I’ve also experienced a lot of frustration and sometimes depression while working at this, but it’s made me turn to God and trust in His ways.

What advice would you give to young people still in middle school and high school, who are just starting to think about the future?

I would say first of all just trust God. He has way bigger plans for you than you can even imagine, and he will make them happen. Secondly, go after things that you think are too hard or frightening for you. Whether it’s just a job working at a cafe, or applying to write for the school newspaper, or joining a club that is interesting but where everyone seems smarter than you – just gather up every bit of courage you have and go for it. No matter what, it will be a good experience because you did it. Make it a habit, and as you go, you’ll overcome bigger and bigger things, and you’ll be able to look back and see all those things that used to scare you, but you’re not scared of anymore, because you did it. Also, don’t be happy blending in with the crowd and doing what everyone else does. God has an amazing, specific life in mind for you, and you need to go out and find it.

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