Posted by Unicorn Goods
BRANDED Collective’s bracelets are helping human trafficking survivors turn their lives around, one bracelet at a time.
Lauren Carpenter and Emily Landham are co-founders of the budding ethical jewelry company, BRANDED Collective. While we’ve been following their progress for the past year and a half, we were excited to get to chat with Lauren about their recent re-branding. Lauren joined us from Nashville, where she is also the Director of Operations at the Social Enterprise Alliance.
BRANDED Collective initially started in 2012 as t-615 with a mission to bring restoration to human trafficking victims. Human trafficking is a global issue that continues to affect untold millions of people. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year, mostly through Atlanta, Georgia. The victims are bound for areas with high immigrant populations like Texas and Florida. A fair number end up in Tennessee, where BRANDED Collective is based, because of the state’s central location and interstate system.
The true number of human trafficking victims could be higher due to the low rate of reporting and the large numbers of undocumented immigrants that often make up at-risk populations. The U.S. Department of State reports that 0.4 percent of the estimated victims of trafficking internationally have been officially identified. (For more info on human trafficking, check out Ron Soodalter’s book, The Slave Next Door, on Unicorn Goods.)
This horrific problem spurred Emily and Lauren into action. They wanted to do something to raise awareness and funds for this issue. They started to do different things under the unified name of t-615.
Emily (left) and Lauren (right) at the founding of t-615 / BRANDED Collective.
As Lauren explains, “The concept behind t-615 was a collective of artisans that were all doing things to promote awareness of human trafficking and make a difference. We had artists design and make T-shirts, and events with musicians talking about anti trafficking efforts.” The name t-615 is shorthand for “"a tribute from Nashville." 615 is Nashville’s the area code.
T-615 was built on bracelets - literally. In order to get the money they needed to build the website, Emily and Lauren crowdfunded. They sold 100 cuffs for $100 apiece and raised $10,000. They used this money to create the website and officially start t-615.
Even though bracelets were their first item, t-615 didn’t think they would be the focus of their business. Instead, t-615 developed a line of ethically-produced Made in the USA organic cotton shirts in 2014. Emily and Lauren thought that these shirts would be more popular than the bracelets. The two styles they initially designed and created were tailored and hemmed for women in a form-fitting, feminine, and flattering fits. To Emily and Lauren’s surprise, they didn’t sell very well. But something else on the site continued to sell well - their bracelets.
Like all savvy business owners, Lauren and Emily reconsidered their business model.
“I woke up one day and said, ‘We just need to do one thing, and do it well,’” Lauren recalls. They discontinued all other items and focused on what was speaking to their customers the most – the BRANDED line of jewelry. Then they began a multi-month process of reconsidering the brand, from the name to the products to the mission to the impact component.
They redesigned their line of jewelry and settled on the name – BRANDED Collective. “BRANDED” refers to the marking some human trafficking victims bear as a result of becoming someone else’s property. Traffickers will tattoo or otherwise permanently indicate that the victim is his/her property. These are marks that victims bear for life, even after the horrific ordeal is over, as constant reminders of the crime committed against their bodies and spirits.
Human trafficking victims are sometimes branded like cattle. Source: The Independent
The name stuck, to Lauren’s surprise. As she says, “It’s funny how much the new name makes sense to people when they hear it, as opposed to t-615, which we often would have to explain. We changed the name even though we were really passionate about the original name, and even though it meant a lot to us.”
It’s not a decision that Lauren regrets. As she puts it, “In the end, it was a really good move for us to make. I was really excited and afraid to do it, but now it’s turned out to have been a really great decision.”
Just as human trafficking victims are branded, the jewelry that Emily and Lauren make is branded, too. Each bracelet is stamped with a unique code, making each piece special to its owner.
Once they changed the name and released the newly-branded line of jewelry in April 2015, they saw sales spike, especially in new and historically low markets outside of their home state of Tennessee. “We saw an increase in sales in other states because they finally understood our brand and mission,” says Lauren. On the website, there’s not a shirt in sight.
At its core, the company is still a collective in its truest sense: a group of people organized around a unified idea. For BRANDED Collective, that idea is a world free from human trafficking.
Emily and Lauren want to grow the company so that it can help more human trafficking victims by providing them with gainful employment that will help them start their careers. As Lauren says, “Our dream is to support survivors of human trafficking on at least a part time basis.”
BRANDED Collective’s bracelets.
They have taken inspiration and insight from the Thistle Farms model. Thistle Farms is a Nashville-based candle and body products company that provides women with work training as part of rehabilitation programs. The women are survivors of addiction, trafficking, violence, and extreme poverty, and the Thistle Farms products they make support the programs. (Check out Thistle Farms on Unicorn Goods here.)
Like Thistle Farms, BRANDED Collective employs human trafficking survivors to create their products. In doing so, they are able to serve as a reference when the survivor seeks future jobs. This not only provides the survivor with a stable work environment, but gives them the support they need to begin a full life. As Lauren says, “Our focus is the restoration and the hope of our survivors.”
BRANDED Collective uses USA-sourced metals from a company in Arizona. The aluminum is 100% recycled. The goal for the future is to have the products be 100% made by former human trafficking victims.
For BRANDED Collective, the sky is the limit. They plan to work more closely with End Slavery Tennessee to continue to impact the lives of human trafficking victims for the better. We can’t wait to see what they do next.
We are doing a giveaway of a BRANDED Collective bracelet. Sign up for our email newsletter (here) or check us out on social media to find out how to enter to win.