The first time Jessica Hendricks visited Cambodia, she couldn’t shake the horrific sight of young girls being rounded up outside of bars and sold into sexual slavery. Then 20 years old, she was serving as an English instructor in Thailand.
And though her teaching stint eventually came to an end, her job as an activist had only just begun. Hendricks returned to the Southeast Asian country three years later and departed only after securing connections with local artisans and anti-trafficking organizations. Back home, the New York native pulled together a superstar team, and The Brave Collection was born.
Boasting simple, fair trade bracelets, part of the line’s proceeds go to organizations in Cambodia and the U.S. that fight to end human trafficking. Beneficiaries include The Somaly Mam Foundation, Made By Survivors, and My Sisters’ Place.
We spoke with Hendricks about The Brave Collection’s selection of bracelets, using fashion for social good, and what else we can do to help put an end to modern-day slavery. Are you ready to be brave?
The bracelets all mean "brave" in Khmer. Why was that word so perfect to describe these survivors and this project?
“When I was in Cambodia, I met girls who were survivors of crimes too horrible for me to even comprehend. I expected them to be bitter and angry or perhaps just numb. I was caught completely off guard when these ‘victims’ I had been picturing began chatting and giggling with me as if we were old friends! These girls were warm, vulnerable, sweet teenagers, like I had been at their age. The resilience it must take to go from being someone’s property to a bright young woman is astounding. The word ‘brave’ doesn’t do these women justice, but it serves as a small salute to their strength.”
What does "brave" mean to you?
“For me personally, bravery is about highlighting the things about myself that are unique, and allowing those traits to flourish. When you become brave enough to celebrate your own originality, you tap into a compass you didn’t know you had.”
How did you come up with the "Courage is contagious" tagline?
“I didn’t! I was in a car ride home after Thanksgiving with my parents, sister and my sister’s boyfriend (a marketing guru), and took advantage of this captive audience by asking them to brainstorm a tagline for Brave. My sister’s boyfriend is the one who finally came up with ‘Courage is contagious’, and we all loved it right away.”
What makes these bracelets special?
“Our bracelets were created to make the sensitive and taboo issue of modern day slavery more approachable, by giving our audience an easy opportunity to spread awareness to their friends and families. Each fair-trade brass bracelet is crafted by hand in Cambodia, providing a job opportunity to at-risk and exploited artisans in a country where artisans were killed in genocide less than 40 years ago. It’s a powerful statement.”
What do you believe the biggest misconception is about victims of human trafficking?
“There are so many misconceptions –that trafficking only affects women, that victims “chose” to prostitute themselves, or that trafficking only exists in developing countries. I think the biggest misconception has to do with this label we subconsciously place on a person who’s suffered in their past, that they are weak or pitiable. In reality, an individual who’s been able to overcome adversity and face their future with optimism is unfathomably strong and brave.”
What inspired you to use fashion for social good?
“I grew up working at my mother’s jewelry boutique. I saw how powerful and sentimental jewelry is, how intimate it is to wear something on your body every day. The issue of slavery can feel very antiquated and far away, so using jewelry as a platform to make this issue feel personal was very compelling.”
What was most shocking to you as you were learning about human trafficking?
“Both the age at which girls are trafficked (some as young as four), and the brutality that exists in brothels, especially in Cambodia. What desperation and anger a person must feel to treat a young girl with so much violence is completely beyond my comprehension. The human capacity for evil is astounding.”
What was the best piece of feedback you’ve received about the project?
“It’s really just the little things, like someone telling me they looked to their bracelet for strength at a job interview or doctor’s appointment. Knowing the bracelet is inspiring someone on a very personal level is so wonderful to hear.”
What else can young women do to help survivors of human trafficking?
“The reason I decided to create a jewelry line was to make our audience active in this fight -- using their bracelet to spark a conversation. Becoming an active participant in this cause by educating yourself about the issues, or contacting local non-profits to see how you can pitch in is incredible work because it’s making this issue personal to you. Check out Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and go to NotForSaleCampaign.org to learn more. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest; we work hard to keep our audience looped in.”
Images courtesy of Jessica Hendricks and The Brave Collection