The BRANDED Collective Fights to End Slavery in Tennessee
Americans tend to think that the problem of slavery was solved when it was abolished after the Civil War, but in reality, human trafficking is a mostly unseen industry that continues to be prevalent around the world and even throughout the United States. Each year, over a thousand children are trafficked in Tennessee alone!
The BRANDED Collective is a jewelry company working to change that. Nashville residents Emily Landham and Lauren Carpenter first conceived of the company in 2012 under the name t-615, short for “a tribute from Nashville”. The Collective began as a group of artists who shared a desire to make a difference in Tennessee’s human trafficking problem but who themselves did not have the skill set to help directly. They envisioned a company that would sell tee shirts to raise awareness, and planned to donate 25% of their profits to End Slavery Tennessee (EST), an organization that helps to get trafficking victims back on their feet. The duo launched a fundraiser to raise the startup money; they offered 100 aluminum bracelets of their own design for sale. The bracelets sold so quickly that they decided to focus on jewelry, abandoning their original tee shirt idea. They then changed their name from t-615 to The BRANDED Collective, and people outside the Nashville area began to take notice and to understand their mission. The business has grown into a philanthropic success.
“BRANDED” refers to the practice of tattooing bar-codes or serial numbers onto trafficking victims, who are nothing more than commodities in the eyes of their captors. The Collective’s bracelets are “branded” with the likeness of these tattoos, becoming a symbol of the dehumanization the victims are subjected to.
Emily and Lauren have also incorporated a program into this project to employ newly freed trafficking victims in their company. Victims who were abducted as children or teenagers have little to no work experience when they try to enter back into society, and BRANDED Collective provides these victims with a doorway into the working world so that they can eventually gain true autonomy.
The company is an incredible triumph of innovative thinking. Newly freed victims generally need health and legal professionals, and Emily and Lauren did not have skills in those areas. Instead, they developed a powerful project using their own artistic skills. The BRANDED Collective helps victims of human trafficking not only by employing them and raising money for EST, but even more importantly by raising awareness about human trafficking in a striking way. Victims definitely need the assistance and care of doctors, lawyers, and social workers, but to truly bring about a change in the world, many others need to be presented with the truth and inspired to effect the changes that are so desperately needed in order to end this barbaric practice.. The bracelets do just that; while the jewelry is beautiful it is also a concrete and constant reminder of the horrors that human trafficking victims experience, both for those who wear them and for those who may see them and in turn ask about what they symbolize.