Her Company Gives Survivors of Human Trafficking a New Life

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Human trafficking might feel like something that only happens in faraway places, but it’s much closer to home than you might think. Leaders like Kristin Keen know it’s a global issue in need of global support, so she founded Rethreaded in 2012 to help female survivors of human trafficking get back on their feet.

Keen was first inspired to help survivors when she moved to Kolkata, India, in her 20s. There, she co-founded a business that gives women a way out of exploitation through employment. Upon returning to her home in Jacksonville, Florida, however, she found that the problem of human trafficking was rampant in her own city. In fact, the U.S. Department of State reports that each year, an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into America. This number does not even include people who are trafficked within U.S. borders.

"Survivors are hired to create products, work in sales, and support other aspects of a company's' day-to-day needs."

The mission of Rethreaded is to “renew hope, reignite dreams, and release potential for survivors of human trafficking locally and globally through business.” Rethreaded partners with businesses to employ survivors of human trafficking in their local communities. Survivors are hired to create products, work in sales, and support other aspects of a company's' day-to-day needs. The aim is to provide women with long-term employment, along with life and career development, to help them succeed for years to come.

CircleAround caught up with Keen to learn more about her background and involvement in this important organization.

CA: What motivated you to combat human trafficking in the U.S.?

KK: After returning from India, I met a survivor of human trafficking within two days of being in Jacksonville, Florida. She invited me to go with her to visit women who were experiencing the same trauma that she had experienced. As I got to know these women who lived in my own city, I found that the same trafficking that existed in India existed in my own backyard.

I had learned from starting a business in India that if you give a woman access to economic empowerment, and a new community, she will change her life. Since starting in 2012, we have helped over 65 women in direct employment, and over 100 women in our pre-employment program.

CA: How did your partnership with Southwest Airlines come about?

KK: One of the most fun experiences was when we got a call from Southwest Airlines. They had heard of us and wanted us to be part of their upcycle program. Of course we said yes, and they proceeded to ship us 27 palettes of airlines seats. We then learned how to deconstruct, clean, cut, and make these seats into some amazing products. We have been in Southwest’s magazine three times, which is just crazy to think about!

Southwest then invited us to be on an episode of Project Runway Allstars, and that was so cool! They flew down the winning designer, who helped us design a Project Runway Allstars/Southwest line. We have loved our partnership with Southwest. They are such an amazing company who are using their business to do such good things in the world.

CA: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of running Rethreaded?

KK: Our biggest challenge and reward is finding the balance between our mission and running a business. We try to meet women where they are at and help them overcome barriers. One hundred percent of our survivors come out of severe complex trauma. Trauma in combination with the other barriers our survivors of human trafficking experience can make it difficult to adjust to a work environment.

When you see things start to click for one of our survivors and she begins to once again take back her life and grow in strength and confidence, that is when all the work is worth it. Seeing women overcome the barriers and lead the way for other women to have freedom is why I do this work.

CA: What is next for Rethreaded?

KK: We are currently focusing on how to creatively make it through the holidays during a pandemic. In normal times, we are an event-based company, but with that revenue source taken away, we have to get creative. The team just came with an awesome idea that I think will really help us.

We are working with businesses who want to run a "shop with a purpose" campaign. We assign each business a special code. They promote this code to their employees and networks. The code gives a special discount to the user. We track the code and the amount of sales and then are able to report back to the company the impact that their network had on Rethreaded. We are super excited to launch it!

Tags: Navigating the Pandemic, Social Justice

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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