You know those really comfy looking Punjabi pants you see every woman wear around India? Yeah, those pants everyone wears on the plane home from their trip to the colourful country. Imagine if you would buy a pair of beautiful Punjabi like pants and provide employment to a woman previously in the sex industry at the same time? That’s what Sudara aims to do. Partnered with various sewing and education centres across India, Sudara brings you beautiful, hand printed and sewn clothing made by women who have previously been sold into human trafficking.
Sudara provides a safe environment for communities of targeted women to have access to education, employment, support and resources. Alongside their social enterprise, Sudara also runs Sudara Freedom Fund, a nonprofit providing even more resources to women in need, as well as microloans to help build and sustain new life for women who have lived through the trauma of the sex industry.
Below is a Q&A with the team at Sudara!
Tell us about how Punjammies came to be and how Sudara got involved with a sewing centre in India back in 2006.
While traveling throughout India in 2005, Sudara founder and CEO, Shannon Keith, heard stories of sex trafficking and witnessed women being forced to sell their bodies in order to feed their families. She returned home from that trip and was compelled to create an organization that would make a lasting impact for women and their families. Shannon formed a small team of family and friends and, together, they looked for India-based groups that were seeking ways to have a positive impact and help women looking for a way out of the Red Light Districts. The team knew that safe, steady and living-wage employment would be a pathway to freedom and offer choices for women and their families.
Over 10 years later, Sudara is a thriving benefit corporation and lifestyle brand with a mission that is still rooted in job development for women in India who are at the highest risk or survivors of sex trafficking.
Are the women in your programs stitching AND printing Sudara pieces? Tell us a little about the process of making your adorable loungewear.
The women in our partner centers cut and sew the punjammies you see in on our shop. We actually spend quite a bit of time (and visits) sourcing mission aligned partners who weave, print, and dye the fabrics. A small group of our US Operations team takes annual site visits to these manufacturers. We also have a small India Operations team based in Chennai who checks in on production at these sites throughout the year. The fashion industry is one of the number one culprits for pollution and we take environmental impact into considerations as well in these decisions. Sewing the garments is actually just one small piece of how we are working to create jobs. Job skills training and placement across a variety of careers (including IT, cosmetology, nursing, and teaching) is the bulk of how we empower women with living wage employment and truly how we will make the biggest impact.
In your opinion, why is education so important for young people living in marginalized communities?
Education is truly the way to break cycles of poverty and ensure generational change. This is why when we donate a premium to our sewing center partners for making Sudara products, the money is then invested in providing education for the children of the women, among other initiatives. An education or a skill provides a pathway to choose a job, support yourself, and create systemic change for your own family and community.
What do your training programs consist of besides learning to sew and tailor clothing?
Our partner centers offer skills-training programs in cosmetology, spoken English, data entry, and Microsoft Office. We are not in business to create an “army of seamstresses” so we place an emphasis on working with partners who offer choices in what a woman can do with her future.
What does freedom mean to you?
Freedom to me is having choices in your life. I came home from that trip to India in 2005 and I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and go on living my life, knowing that fellow human beings were suffering with little to no option of ever escaping. And it was a life they never had a choice in because they were born, sold, and tricked into forced prostitution. Sudara exists to to create freedom — to offer choices — for the women we employ to get out of sexual slavery, and to provide consumers with an ethical choice in how and where they spend their dollars.
What's Your Reaction?
I am a social entrepreneur. That means I use business as a catalyst for social goodness. I am deeply passionate about sustainable travel, zero waste living, ethical fashion and social good. I currently run North India's first zero waste guesthouse, Hara House, and am the Content Director at Causeartist.