Taking Matters Into Her Own Cups: Crystal Russell from "All of Us Matter”
Fresh roasted beans trickle into a grinder, releasing hearty aromas as they become grains. A kettle bubbles, then hisses, then whistles. Carefully timed immersion in a glass beaker melds water with flavor, then sediment is pressed down. This is Crystal Russell’s favorite way to make coffee, a morning ceremony before she faces a day of mothering her three children and fighting human trafficking through her company, All of Us Matter.
Crystal and her husband, Matt, started All of Us Matter in 2016 by selling 12-ounce ceramic cups. The vivid colors and textures of India inspired this first line of cups through a collaboration with artist Abigail Olney. After weeks of Crystal and Abigail’s conversations about making, “art with a purpose,” design finally gave way to production: “The moment that meant the most was actually receiving the art, Abigail handing me the long strips of art that I would photograph and send to be screen-printed. It was such a massive milestone.”
A few months later, in January 2017, Crystal traveled to India to participate in Freeset’s Freedom Encounter, where she learned about challenges of doing business in a developing country: “It does not look like doing business in the West, whatsoever. In the West, it’s about profit and efficiency; there, it’s about people and creating jobs.” She had already studied human trafficking while pursuing an undergraduate degree in international relations with a concentration in globalization and security. The three-week experience with Freeset helped her synthesize her academic background with her startup: “Trafficking happens because of a vulnerability a trafficker is able to exploit. That vulnerability is poverty most of the time. People want dignity, they don’t want handouts. I want to make sure my children have the best education they can get, clean clothes, and good food on the table. The only way to do that is to have a job.”
For more than 16 years, Freeset has been working in the Indian state, West Bengal, and its capital city, Kolkata. The organization provides job training, education, healthcare, and childcare to prevent trafficking and uses their experience from that work to train entrepreneurs to work for freedom. By partnering with Freeset, All of Us Matter’s Buy a Cup, Give a Cup campaign particularly supports a community center operated in one of Kolkata’s red light districts. Of the approximately 10,000 people who work in the sex industry there, more than 100 find refuge in the center each week.
Cobalt and marigold geometric patterns preserve Tunisian traditions of making and painting ceramics in the newest line of cups from All of Us Matter. Through the company’s partnership with Le Souk Ceramique, fairly employed artisans in the North African country paint each cup by hand. The designer, Janet Rogers, lives in India and works with Freeset. The cups are named after world-renown abolitionists Nelson Mandela and Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi. Crystal has visited Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned, and hopes to do work in Africa one day. Like these heroes she respects, she encourages others to face their local injustices: “Although they fought very closely for the things that were happening in their home country…fought for liberty and justice and self determination…they went through their own personal struggles and have their own history. They were just people, and they saw something and they had compassion and they decided to speak and to have a voice.”
One way All of Us Matter is helping supporters take action is through hosting gatherings of friends for Conversations That Matter. People in or near Tampa, Florida can invite their friends over and have an ambassador share with them how to fight slavery through simple, everyday actions. The first conversation in the series is about intentional living: “Two important things to choose every day are what we wear and what we eat: part of fighting slavery is knowing where your items are coming from, being an informed consumer.”
All of Us Matter is hoping to grow their business significantly in the next few years with more cups and more locations for Conversations that Matter. Their current GoFundMe campaign will enable them to work with non-profit strategist Natalie Root of The Root Agency to clarify their business plan and set attainable steps for expansion.
For anyone wanting to make a difference, Crystal recommends that rather than following someone else’s vision, you should start by looking at yourself: ”I had loads of ideas…but in the end none of them actually materialized because they were not a strong suit of mine. All of Us Matter has been a natural extension of my gifts and talents.” For Crystal, that meant deep conversations over a steaming cup: “I love interior design, and I love inspirational things in my home…Being able to sit down with a girlfriend or family members…and have a cup of tea and talk about real things was also something that was a strength of mine.”
We’re partnering up with All of Us Matter to give away a pair of their hand-painted coffee cups - one for you and one for your friend!
Head over to our Instagram to view rules of entry, and enter to win! Giveaway ends Monday, October 1st.
This year, do something different. Take on the Dressember style challenge and pledge to wear a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, learn more about the issue of human trafficking and have a viable impact on those trapped in slavery around the world.
Registration opens October 1st, 2018
About the Author
With undergraduate majors in piano and Spanish from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in composition from Stony Brook University, Krystal J. F. Grant uses her music and words to reckon with society's brokenness. Her passion for fair-trade fashion led her to Dressember, and her childhood in Alabama guides her commitment to freedom throughout the world. She and her husband enjoy visiting museums and National Parks, or just making popcorn and watching anime at home.