August 19, 2022

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?

Fashion For Freedom
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 …

I grew up in a very politically active family. Some of my earliest memories are canvassing for Bill Clinton in our neighborhood. My family threw fundraisers for local judges and phone banked for our governor. As kids we were expected to not only participate in these events, but know why we supported these people. My mother especially encouraged us to learn the issues and we’d have lively debates on my drive to school. The core political value my parents wanted to instill in us was the importance of caring for everyone. Education for all. Health Care for all. Justice for all. They believed in unions and the dignity of every creature on this planet.

I took that message to heart and still consider it my guiding principle in life. Everything in my life revolves around this core value. But as I’ve gotten older and politics has become more contentious I’ve found it more difficult to be active in politics the way I used to. While I care even more deeply today, I also don’t have the temperament for marches and angry arguments on facebook. The anger and sadness I feel when someone says “All lives matter”, makes me physically sick and stays with me for days. I used to love to debate politics, but our political conversations today aren’t about how to balance our budget or what resolutions are being passed in the UN, they’re about basic human rights. They’re about whether or not to even recognize people as human beings~ Seeing someone deny another person’s humanity is one of the most painful things I’ve experienced. It leaves me flabbergasted, horrified, and so incredibly sad. And so…I’ve stopped debating.

But that too feels wrong. How can I bury my head in the sand when people are suffering? That is a privileged position beauty, and I strive to check my privilege on the reg. Heck, the whole point of compassion fashion is to value the life and dignity of others. How can I promote that on my Instagram and here on the blog, and yet not practice it in my daily life? It hurts to debate it hurts to do nothing.

Ethical Fashion As Radical Resistance_2

Bridges Not Walls tee by Emperador Clothing paired with giant gold hoops because women of color have been rocking them since long before they were “trendy”.

But then dear readers, yet again, fashion saved the day! It all went down on the 4th of July. The 4th of July is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I love the fireworks and barbeque. I love hanging with friends. But I’m 25% Native American no amount of fireworks will make me forget that the 4th of July celebrates people who sanctioned and carried out the genocide of my ancestors. And this year was even harder, because as everyone waved their flags and sang God Bless America children were still in cages all across our southern border.

We were invited to a father’s friends house to celebrate and I really really …