Just because human trafficking doesn’t make headlines every day, doesn’t mean the issue has gone away. Unfortunately, it is quite the opposite. According to a 2014 report conducted by Polaris Project, the number of human trafficking cases continues to rise with each passing year.
Human trafficking affects individuals of all ages and gender, yet an overwhelming majority of these cases involve women, often born into poverty and lacking access to education and economic opportunity. With the creation of a fair-paid employment program, one petwear company is looking to help victims of the trafficked industry get a second chance in life.
Founded in 2011 by Jared Flower and Luke Cole, California-based Key’s Apparel is a nonprofit organization whose dog products are handmade by survivors of human trafficking in India and assembled by young women in an impoverished area of South Carolina.
Using sustainable materials such as hemp, burlap and cotton, Key’s Apparel offers collars, leashes, bandanas and dog toys for pooches.
One popular collection is Sari, which features collars that are made from traditional Sari quilts and hand-stitched by workers of The Jubilee Market, Key’s Apparel’s manufacturing supplier and an organization seated on the front lines of the human trafficking movement.
Key’s Apparel’s bandanas feature patterns and prints unique to Jaipur, India and and are handcrafted by FreedomWorks, an organization that provides vocational training and marketing assistance to women rescued from human trafficking, so that they remain free for their lifetime.
In addition to the one-of-a-kind functional pieces, the organization offers the option of adding a custom wood-burned dog tag for only $7 that can attach to collars and be engraved with a dog’s name. “Our pyrographer takes his artistic liberties on each to ensure that each tag is as special as your non-human,” says Flower. The company has recently added a new line, its Standard Collection, featuring “simple color designs and built for durability with a classic look.”
Getting in on the ground floor
The minds behind Key’s Apparel understand that real social change begins at the root of the issue, which is exactly what led them to work directly with The Jubilee Market. Dedicated to empowering survivors of human trafficking, the organization works to create a marketplace built to support the cause of rescue, establishing vocational schools where survivors and “at-risk” individuals can work in safe conditions while earning fair pay.
“These vocational centers find the girls and provide training in a trade. We come in with orders for them at a good wage,” explains Flower. “This institutes sustainability for our partners. Therefore the girls rescued from human trafficking now have a trade, a decent wage and justice. Those at risk also now have a trade and an alternative.”
The International Labor Organization estimates that a shocking 20.9 million victims of human trafficking are currently being exploited in what many refer to as “modern day slavery.” Trapped into servitude, many are held against their will and manipulated into forced labor, 55 percent of those numbers comprised of women and girls. Organizations such as The Jubilee Market offer vocational training to survivors and at risk individuals, while working to establish sustainability in economic development by creating a marketplace in which supporters of the cause will be able to directly impact those affected by the horrors of human trafficking.
The beginning of the passion project
Key’s Apparel came about as a result of a casual conversation between Flower and his brother Jordan (digital director), and close friend Cole. “We all come from backgrounds of social awareness, so helping others has always been important,” says Flower. “After working for a nonprofit for a while, my eyes were opened to the injustice that was happening with human trafficking all over the world. Through various relationships and connections with front line causes we were fortunate enough to see our vision born.” One such relationship was formed during Flower’s experience volunteering with the nonprofit organization Dusty Feet, now a beneficiary of Key’s Apparel. Dusty Feet works to deal with community development mainly in Nairobi, Kenya and is heavily involved in the anti-trafficking movement. In addition to Dusty Feet, proceeds from Key’s Apparel purchases benefit various non-profit organizations, including Charity: Water, which directly funds clean water solutions in developing nations, and the Placer SPCA, a local chapter of the SPCA located in Roseville, Calif.
“We wanted to have a variety of charities for people to choose from upon check out. We also wanted to make sure to partner with groups and organizations that we believe in personally and fundamentally,” states Flower.
A large part of the mission behind Key’s Apparel is to “support and maintain social awareness and justice,” and the trio couldn’t make the impact they do without focusing on an aspect of their lives that is just as important to them as the cause for which they are fighting: their dogs. Co-founders Flower and Cole, both dog owners, looked to what they knew as the catalyst for carrying about the change they wished to see both in their own community, and the world at large.
“Luke and I are both dog owners and we know the market,” says Flower. “The market is global and there are so many ways to tap into it.”
In 2014, American pet owners spent nearly $14 billion on supplies for their furry friends, a number which sees a dramatic rise with each passing year. With the demand for pet gear higher than ever, the trio at Key’s Apparel recognized an opportunity to offer consumers a high-quality product whose purchase will go on to affect the lives of entire communities for years to come.
“So it is really all about loving your dog and loving people,” he says, a philosophy which has also allowed these three friends to continue to make a living, and an impact, doing what they love.
As business picks up, the team at Key’s Apparel will soon be releasing a new product line, in turn creating more employment opportunities, sustaining jobs and continuing to strengthen relationships built with those organizations they are currently partnered with. In addition to some exciting collaborations on the horizon, Key’s Apparel wants to create its own vocational center in Mexico by the end of 2016. “It is a big goal, but I believe we can achieve it,” says Flower.