Buy Her Bag, Not Her Body
– A story told by Yelena Posniak/S4C New York City –
I recently had the honor to interview Supei Liu and Diana Mao, the co-founding members of the Nomi Network based in New York City. By utilizing their knowledge of fashion design, marketing, business and with great creativity, Nomi Network is making a tremendous difference in the lives of women and children who were victims of sexual slavery in Cambodia.
YELENA: What is Nomi Network?
DIANA: Nomi Network is a not for profit social enterprise that design and distributes products that are made by survivors of human trafficking and at-risk women. We are based in New York City and create job and career opportunities for women.
YELENA: What inspired you to start this organization?
DIANA: Our future will be determined by our ability to innovate in the face of social challenge. I was working with Egyptian garbage collectors in Cairo and was amazed by their ability to innovate in the midst of trash. They sorted through 1/3 of Cairo’s trash and recovery of 80% of the materials disposed by city dwellers. Piles of recoverable items such as plastic or rags are sold and made into products and some sold in the Western market. I worked with an organization that produced greeting cards out of recycled paper and noticed that the laborers were unskilled with little real market knowledge and would never advance past their humble greeting card shop. I knew that I could fix this by combining western market expertise with third world resourcefulness and innovation. A few years later, I saw an opportunity to do so help survivors of trafficking and at risk women create their own sovereign futures by producing eco-friendly tote bags. I believe that “Buy Her Bag, Not Her Body®” has the potential to reach millions of consumers, making them aware of modern-day slavery and allowing them to leverage their purchasing power to combat trafficking and empower survivors.
SUPEI: “As I have shared with you, my first experienced that inspired me to connect the market place with local was in Africa in 2005. And as I found out more about the trafficking issue and met those survivors in person in 2008. I know something has to be done and the development of bags started as our desire to provide sustainable jobs. “
YELENA: How does Nomi Network empower girls who were victims of sexual slavery?
DIANA: Local nonprofits offer a range of services to survivors. These nonprofits often create manufacturing jobs for survivors. Nomi has existing partnerships with social service based non-profits. These nonprofits are skilled at providing rehabilitation services, but struggle to adapt to the global marketplace. Goods produced are often low quality, homogenous, low margin commodities. These products fail to gain traction, leaving survivors unemployed & at risk of re-trafficking. Nomi steps in with an innovative model that focuses on the consumers who purchase the products that will create jobs for survivors. We mobilize design & marketing talent to help them overcome the status quo & barriers to the global marketplace. We assist with production, quality control, & marketing, and position goods in stores & online stores. Nomi ensures that profits are reinvested back into the survivor community. We will train local women to become designers & fashion industry leaders.
YELENA: Do you work with the local NGOs and factories in Cambodia? and how do the girls get work with your factories?
DIANA: We work with existing NGOs and social enterprises in Cambodia. They recruit women rom shelters or through their referral network.
YELENA: What products do they make?
DIANA: Hand bags and accessories.
YELENA: What is BUY HER BAG NOT HER BODY?
DIANA: There are 27 million slaves today. In Cambodia, 1 in 40 children are trafficked into bondage. Poverty is a root cause of trafficking. 70% of those living on less than $1 per day are women & children. Lured from desolate villages by traffickers peddling false promises of urban riches, they end up in the brothels. Sadly, some escape & are ensnared in a vicious cycle and re-trafficked because they are rejected by their communities & lack the necessary skills obtain jobs. Nomi breaks this cycle and gives survivors hope for a better future. This message says that women and children are NOT FOR SALE.
YELENA: How do citizens of the western countries understand and determine where their products are developed and the importance of understanding the label behind the product?
DIANA: Despite the economic recession, the volume of cause-related product sales in the US is growing. Our target consumers are interested in certified fair-trade products and cause-related products, a market worth approximately $2.2 billion in 2009 (Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International). According to the 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study, the consumers of many cause-related products consists mainly of young professionals, students (“millenials” age 18-20), adult women and mothers. 81% of these consumers felt that buying a product was the best way to support a company’s cause.
YELENA: What are the specific trades you teach the girls?
DIANA: Quality control, advanced production techniques, fashion design, sourcing materials and marketing.
YELENA: In the time since you have started Nomi Network, how many girls do you think were employed and taught by your organization?
DIANA: We help employ 53. Train approximately 40 and 40 basic workshops
YELENA: Why did you chose Cambodia to start your mission? and do you have other countries that you will be working with?
DIANA: Low education level, low literacy, war-torn country. All three founders have visited. Trafficking is a major issue there – in particular minors.
YELENA: If a purchase is made through Nomi Network, how does this directly impact and benefit the girls who are creating these products?
DIANA: Two layers- 1) Help create jobs with a wage nearly 45% higher than the local average, healthcare, and childcare. 2) Profit from selling bags are reinvested into education and training.
YELENA: You are returning to Cambodia next week, what will you be working on during this trip?
DIANA: This trip is very exciting because we are having a team of 8 ppl. We will be recruiting new program participants – a train the trainer model. Individuals will come from different organizations. We will document the stories of the women and children we work with. We will also be creating new designs and products.
YELENA: Thank you both for your time, your work helps so many victims and you are truly an inspiration as to how a few individuals can make a difference in this world.