In school we’re taught slavery happened a long time ago. Africans were stolen from their lands waaaaay back in the day and brought to America to work in plantations.This happened so long ago we didn’t even have the telegraph! Can you imagine? Slavery is a thing of our sordid past and thus relegated to a few dusty and often inaccurate chapters in our history textbooks. With this knowledge it’s easy to think of slavery as something far away from us, something that doesn’t need to be grappled with, right? If you’ve been paying attention to the news you’ll have seen the recent cry for statues honoring slave owners and supporters to be taken down. The truth is slavery’s ramifications are long and far reaching and we are very much still grappling with its effects in this country. While it’s an awful time in our history, it’s still history and has nothing to do with us today.
Or does it?
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Free The Slaves Fashion For Freedom event in New York City. In preparation for the event I started doing a little research and was horrified by what I found. There are estimated 40 million people enslaved worldwide today. As in right now. As in holy shit literally as I write This. Very. word. Modern slavery is very real and is growing every day. In fact, there are more slaves in the world today than in any other time in history. How is this possible? In a time of interconnectedness where news travels at the speed of a tweet how can so many people be trapped and beyond our reach?
Safia Minney speaks to the rapt crowd. Image courtesy of Free The Slave’s Instagram
This was what the event aimed to explore along with concrete ways to end modern slavery.
Free The Slaves brought together a powerhouse trio of anti-slavery and ethical fashion activists. Safia Minney, founder of People Tree and author of Slave To Fashion. Rebecca Ballard, founder of Maven Women and former labor and employment lawyer for the federal government as well as former nonprofit manager focusing on anti-slavery issues. And Aaron Halegua, an attorney specializing in employment law, who won a landmark case for nail salon workers in New York City
Like any good fashion event, the night began with hors-d’oeuvres and pop up shops. After stuffing my face with free food and scouting the beautiful and ethically made wares the crowd settled in to get to the heart of the evening. Modern slavery and what we can do to stop it. Safia Minney kicked things off with a presentation of her history founding people tree and what she learned while researching her book Slave To Fashion. Seeing photos of modern slaves, hearing their names spoken, and getting a glimpse into their lives was sobering. As fun as food and shopping is, we all knew we were there for a bigger cause and this drove that message home.
Then came …