Branded Collective: Wear a Number to Restore a Name
The first thing I noticed about my email interaction with Lauren Carpenter of Branded Collective was that it was signed “Lauren Carpenter (#0100)”. Lauren, along with Emily Landham, co-founded one of Dressember’s newest brand partners, BRANDED Collective, an extraordinary company working to empower human trafficking survivors through hand-stamped jewelry. After having the opportunity to chat with Lauren, her unusual email signature - and the weighty meaning of that number - not only became clear but profoundly inspiring as well.
Lauren first learned about the existence of human trafficking when she read Half the Sky, a book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the challenges women experience in the developing world. According to Lauren, the book “made [her] wonder if trafficking was happening right here in the U.S.” She quickly found out that such horrors were happening not only in the United States but right in her own city of Nashville.
This initial discovery motivated Lauren and Emily to dive into more research about the human trafficking industry, through which they learned that many traffickers will physically mark their victims by tattooing, burning, or cutting a number, symbol, or name onto their victim’s bodies. Instantly passionate about this issue, Lauren and Emily wanted to find a way to not only call attention to the branding that commonly occurs in human trafficking but also “give people the power to do something to combat the brutal practice and bring freedom to survivors.”
Inspired by the Prisoner of War bracelets worn during the Vietnam War, Lauren and Emily came up with the idea of creating and selling aluminum bracelet cuffs that were each stamped - or “branded” - with a unique number, creating the opportunity for “people to wear a number to restore a name.” In 2012, Lauren and Emily created 100 cuffs, each stamped with its own number. This marked the genesis of BRANDED Collective.
BRANDED Collective’s product line has expanded to include t-shirts and other types of jewelry in addition to their signature cuffs. Each of BRANDED Collective’s products is created by a survivor and stamped with the initials of the survivor who made the product, as well as a number, which is unique to each purchase. When you purchase from BRANDED, you can register the number on your product and become a member of the Collective, creating a community of support for human trafficking survivors through which you can send messages of encouragement and hope to the survivors. What began as merely 100 numbers has now evolved into a Collective of over 30,000.
As Lauren and Emily worked to further establish BRANDED, the two entrepreneurs met with a number of non-profits to increase their knowledge about human trafficking and the ways in which they could help the victims and survivors that were members of their own community. Through this process, they were introduced to End Slavery Tennessee, an impactful organization that acts as a crucial support system for human trafficking survivors.
Each of BRANDED Collective’s products is created by a survivor and stamped with the initials of the survivor who made the product, as well as a number, which is unique to each purchase
Lauren and Emily began partnering with End Slavery Tennessee by annually donating a portion of their profits to the organization. In 2015, this partnership evolved and, today, End Slavery Tennessee works with BRANDED Collective by connecting survivors with the company, where Lauren and Emily train and educate them to create BRANDED’s products, for which they are paid directly.
Through this process of training and employing survivors, BRANDED Collective provides significant support for survivors of human trafficking. BRANDED helps survivors learn and develop a number of crucial skills for future employment, such as learning to work with a detail-oriented mindset as well as responsibility and how to manage money. The company also provides survivors with a foundation on which to build their own economic independence. Through employment with BRANDED, survivors earn between $12 and $15 dollars an hour, which is a significantly higher pay than Tennessee’s minimum wage of $7.25. Lauren highlighted the value of this salary, explaining that wages with BRANDED are “more than [survivors] can typically make starting out in other jobs outside the program.”
Wages with BRANDED are “more than [survivors] can typically make starting out in other jobs outside the program.”
BRANDED Collective also raises awareness about the existence and prevalence of human trafficking within our immediate communities, creating opportunities for educating others about human trafficking.
These “areas of impact” help to prepare victims for their transition out of End Slavery Tennessee. Perhaps most importantly, they help these women make the transition from “victim” to “survivor”, a process in which women become empowered and regain their own self-confidence. Lauren illustrates the importance this transition holds in BRANDED Collective’s mission, saying that one of BRANDED’s goals is to “help [victims] rediscover the dreams they may have lost along the way and inspire them to move forward and pursue them.”
HOW TO HELP/ GET INVOLVED
Of course, the best way to support BRANDED Collective is by purchasing their products, like the “Walk in Freedom” leather wrap. Created in collaboration with Mission Lazarus, these bracelets are made from leather handcrafted by Hondurans involved in the Mission Lazarus project, with a brass plate hand-stamped by trafficking survivors working with BRANDED.
Lauren also highlighted a few other great ways that we can get involved and offer support to survivors, including learning about the signs of human trafficking and looking for them in your own community; “you may be surprised to find it in places you wouldn’t expect”.
She also encouraged getting involved with local anti-trafficking agencies and recommended using End Slavery Tennessee’s list of volunteer opportunities to discover organizations to volunteer through; “there are so many ways to help - donating needed supplies and gift cards, becoming an advocate, providing meals or even providing transportation.”
Through BRANDED Collective and their partnership with End Slavery Tennessee, survivors are given the opportunity to become empowered. As a co-founder of this incredible company, Lauren hopes to inspire others to join in the fight to eradicate human trafficking. Concluding on a note of encouragement and hope, her message to us, as advocates, is this: “It seems like there are so many problems in today’s society and we are faced with despairing news every day. Yet! There is such HOPE and restoration for survivors of trafficking. And we have great hope that we can all work together to help end trafficking once and for all.”
"It seems like there are so many problems in today’s society and we are faced with despairing news every day. Yet! There is such HOPE and restoration for survivors of trafficking. And we have great hope that we can all work together to help end trafficking once and for all."
We couldn't say it better ourselves. We're always grateful to link arms with like-minded companies and organizations doing their part to empower survivors and restore dignity. Follow their logo below to check out their full list of products!
You don't have to wait until December to be a part of the impact. Join the Dressember Collective and become part of a powerful community of advocates and donors furthering the work and impact of the Dressember Foundation through monthly giving.
About the Author
Morgan Wiersma is a student at Chicago City Colleges, where she plans to finish her Associate in Arts this spring before beginning to pursue an undergrad in Creative Nonfiction and Social Sciences. She calls her cozy apartment in downtown Chicago home and lives with her dwarf rabbit, Lola. A coffee enthusiast and avid writer, Morgan also enjoys small art projects, tea candles, and oversized flannel shirts.