Monday, January 2, 2017

Sudara's Story

Shannon | Image Credit: Krystal Marie Collins 
Sudara, an initiative that works through providing sustainable jobs for women to make their way out and to stay out of sex trafficking and slavery, was founded by Shannon Keith. In 2005, Sudara founder Shannon Keith took a trip to India that opened her eyes to a tragedy occurring daily to women and girls throughout the country. She could hardly believe what she witnessed in India’s Red Light Districts—modern day slavery. Shannon listened to story after story of young girls being sold into the sex trade by their families, orphans picked up off the street by pimps, and even young mothers just trying to get enough money to feed their children. Many were held against their will. Others were trapped by economic poverty. Worst of all were the stories of those who managed to escape the brothels only to return due to social stigma and having no other means to survive. Shannon returned home and gathered friends to help do something about it. The team knew that without safe, steady employment, these women stood little chance of surviving outside of the brothels. They identified a group of like-minded partners in India who were compelled to work together with any women looking for a way out of the Red Light Districts. Together, the team created a simple pattern that could be used to teach anyone wanting to learn how to sew. In 2006, Sudara hired the first 6 employees in their first-ever sewing center partnership and began teaching each woman the skills needed to become seamstresses and our first pair of PUNJAMMIES™ loungewear was produced. Stitch by stitch, the women gained confidence not only in their newfound trade, but also in their newfound hope and freedom. Since that time, our relationships have grown into multiple sewing center partnerships and hundreds of women gaining a new community and safe place to work and heal. Here is an interview with her!

1. Let's start with a little about you. We'd love to know more about you, your education, childhood and growing years, and your current work affiliation.

I grew up in Southern California, attending Pepperdine for my first two years of college and transferred to Gordon College [just outside of Boston] where I graduated in 1996.  I am currently the founder and CEO of Sudara, loving wife and proud mama of three kiddos [ nine year old twins and a five year old].  I'm an only child, I have loving parents with whom I am very close with and a very large, awesome extended family. My mother is one of seven kids and my grandparents are still both living, so family & sense of belonging is very important to me.

2. What inspired Sudara, the fashion brands?

Sudara was started with a divine inspiration of helping end sex slavery through job creation for survivors - the fashion part was really secondary. I was very inspired by the lovely textiles of India, and I thought if these women could make something lovely from these beautiful fabrics, then I could certainly sell their wares!

3. You chose to support survivors of Human Trafficking. What was the inspiration / reason behind choosing this particular cause? Would you like to share the story behind it?

I support survivors of sex trafficking in particular.  I found myself in a red light area in India and was confronted with the problem first hand. I looked at these women and children in the eyes, saw the hell that they were living in and couldn't look myself in the mirror or call myself a civilized human being if I didn't do something about this injustice and crimes against humanity.   

4. What were your key challenges? What kept you going despite them?

There have been many challenges along the way:  funding, cultural barriers to doing business Internationally, apathy, etc., but what keeps me [and our awesome Sudara team] going are the women and children we serve in India [they are the reason our company exists!]... looking into their bright eyes and seeing life transformation with our own eyes when we visit the centers.  We just spend 2 weeks in Feb. in India as a team of 12.  And also our awesome Sudara customers, who get what we are trying to do, partner with us, and cheer us on to keep up the good work.  We truly see Sudara as a partnership between the women we serve, our team and our customers- each with an equally valuable role to play in ending sex trafficking through sustainable and dignified job creation.  There is a better way to do business and we are extremely proud and grateful to be doing it the Sudara way.

5. Would you like to share any positive anecdotes through your work?

Teamwork and collaboration (not competition) is how we can leverage our collective efforts to solve social issues through good and ethical business.  Everyone has a part to play and the conscious customers are at the very fulcrum of this movement...monumental shift really, as a force for good.

6. How can we support your initiative better?

One of the best things to do is buy products from Sudara and other like-minded companies who are actually creating deep and transformational impact through sustainable job creation, not just giving away handouts, .  When women (and men) have jobs to support themselves and their families, everything changes.  Also, it helps to demand that your favorite "go-to" brands have a transparent and virtuous supply chain. Iif they don't, you should take your business elsewhere, because you have ethical choices and you can align your spending power with your values.  You vote for or against freedom with each purchase that you make.... and we as humans are consumers and make multiple votes per day.