UNCHAINED is using fashion to present a powerful message about human trafficking. What was supposed to be a one-time charity fashion show has blossomed into a recurring event that educates viewers on human trafficking.
UNCHAINED began in 2013. A group of OSU students approached Co-Founder Felicia Kalan’s husband, who is a pastor at a university-area church, looking for a way to combat human trafficking. Felicia would reach out to fellow Co-Founder Stephanie Catani because of her work putting on fashion shows in Liberia to encourage women to rebuild their lives after civil war.
“That’s where I learned fashion with a story with a narration with a purpose of empowerment,” Catani says.
Working closely with local organizations and survivors to learn the common markers of trafficking victims, UNCHAINED would develop a narration addressing a victim’s experience.
The first show at OSU, made possible largely by volunteer efforts, raised over $15,000. It was meant to be the only one, but when attendees kept asking when the next one would be, “We realized, wow, this is a powerful tool,” Catani says.
UNCHAINED developed a three-prong approach to their mission – awareness, education and restoration.
The fashion show builds awareness. UNCHAINED brings the 45-minute show to middle schools, high schools, universities, community centers and corporations to focus on human trafficking prevention through education.
“It’s the journey of a survivor,” Catani says. “It takes the audience through the story of a survivor, and it really helps the audience to see the markers of a victim.”
The show’s narration goes through the three stages a victim experiences – innocence, violation, restoration. To bring in the prevention piece, UNCHAINED has everyone take out their phone and program the number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Each call builds a case and helps law enforcement look for patterns.
While the fashion show also serves as an educational tool, the mission of education is fulfilled through a developing curriculum that trains communities on the signs of human trafficking and how to take action.
A scholarship fund for survivors brings restoration. UNCHAINED partnered with The Limited to sell a bracelet in stores with proceeds going to the scholarship fund. UNCHAINED plans to give out their first scholarship in spring of 2016.
UNCHAINED has presented 16 fashion shows so far, with several others already booked. Schools, corporations or other organizations can bring the show to them for a fee.
“Our business model is we have a per-show cost,” Catani says.
Since UNCHAINED functions as a vendor for an organization, ticket sales and other fundraising efforts help to recoup the cost of the show. In Ohio, the cost is $5,000, with out-of-state shows at a higher rate.
Catani says that while they have done shows nationally, they really want to saturate the Columbus area with information.
“In columbus 84 percent of human traffic survivors are U.S.-born citizens and that’s not something we know,” she says.
UNCHAINED has partnered with She Has a Name Cleaning Services, an organization that employs victims of human trafficking, for their next show at the Bluestone on November 4. Up until now, each show has featured the same collection, but UNCHAINED’s second collection will debut at the event.
For more information, visit unchainedfashionshow.com.