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Helping Sex Trade Survivors Sew New Hope

One Florida boutique is getting survivors of human trafficking back into the fabric of society

Helping Sex Trade Survivors Sew New Hope

Before becoming a finance and administrative assistant at Rethreaded, Alyssa was a victim of sex trafficking. It started when she was 15 years old. She was moved around to different hotels and forced to have sex with men for 20 or 30 dollars, immediately handing the money over to her trafficker. She was plied with crack cocaine and then it’d be taken away, forcing her into powerful withdraws that kept her constantly begging for more.

Through a thick glass divide while Alyssa was serving two years in jail, her visiting mother told her about Rethreaded.

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The organization, founded by Kristin Keen in Jacksonville, Fla., helps survivors of the sex trade and human trafficking get back on their feet by teaching them sewing skills and business acumen, and providing them with long-term work.

“You economically empower a woman and you greatly reduce her chances of being exploited,” Keen says in a video on the organization’s website.

Employees go through a four-month training program that teaches them everything from dressing appropriately for work to the hands-on skills of the job. In the end, the women are able to make beautiful scarves, earrings, bracelets and other accessories from recycled T-shirts. The products are sold online and in Rethreaded’s Jacksonville boutique.

One Stitch at a Time

Keen hired her first full-time Rethreaded employee in 2012. Today, the business is 18-strong and has helped more than 2,200 women worldwide through its international partnerships. In addition to the accessories the Jacksonville women hand-make, Rethreaded also sells products from survivors of the sex trade around the world, such as this cognac leather purse made in Ethiopia, leather-bound journals from India, clay mugs crafted in Haiti and wooden coffee scoops that come from Kenya.

Last fall, Southwest Airlines announced a major partnership with Rethreaded in which they donated 27 pallets of leather from old airline seats. This leather is used by Rethreaded employees to create exclusive items for the Luv Seat Collection, which includes earrings, key fobs and necklaces. Later this year, Southwest and Rethreaded will launch additional products as part of the Luv Seat Corporate Gift Line, which will include portfolios and mouse pads.

Rethreaded’s business model is similar to Sari Bari, an organization Keen co-founded during her five years helping women get out of the sex trade in Kolkata, India. Today, Sari Bari has more than 120 employees. Keen is hoping Rethreaded will follow in the Indian organization’s footsteps.

“The sex trade industry has the same effect on women all over the world. It steals who they are, it steals their worth and value; they’re basically rejected,” she says. “We take all the proceeds and reinvest them back in our company. You’re literally changing the world by buying this bag.”

No matter how removed from society survivors like Alyssa are when they come to Rethreaded, Keen has faith.

“No one can tell me to give up on someone,” she says. “No one can tell me she needs to be written off, because we’ve seen women come out of hell and now they’re successful and whole and fighting for other women to have a chance.”

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