posted by Onleilove Alston with permission from Alissa A. Moore
I love to shop. I share this passion for expressing myself through layers of fabric, textures, and color with many of my fellow New Yorkers. So once again I am perplexed by the wave of negative emotions that wash over me when entering the Gap, Old Navy, H&M, or any of the other various large retailers peppering mid-town Manhattan. This surge of frustration, confusion, anger, and sadness that has been growing in the pit of my stomach for the past two years becomes almost palpable as I consider the almost undoubtedly questionable or abusive context of these garments’ mass production. These emotions paired with my growing knowledge of modern-day slavery could easily crush me at any given moment as snippets of documentaries, books, and presentations, all describing this growing global atrocity, play on repeat in my head. What keeps my knees from giving way is a thin but sharp needle of hope that I have come to think of as synonymous with Nomi Network. Nomi Network, a non-profit now comprised of about 18 devoted abolitionists who have come together to volunteer their time and skills, has supported and encouraged me as we’ve collectively embarked on our mission to mobilize the fashion industry to fight modern-day slavery.
Nomi Network, named for an 8 year old Cambodian survivor of sex trafficking, has a special focus on product design while creating distribution channels for goods made by survivors of human trafficking. Its focus on product production and demand helps to create job opportunities for women who need sound economic opportunities in order to support themselves and turn their lives around. A complicated and interlacing web, human trafficking occurs when someone is forced, coerced, or tricked into working for no pay beyond subsistence, often under threat of violence. Although it takes many forms, the most lucrative facet of trafficking is sexual slavery, whose victims are often the most vulnerable members of a community, and the individuals Nomi works to support.
Nomi Network’s goal is to infiltrate the fashion industry with well-designed and high-utility products that have a double bottom line of satisfying customers in the main stream market as well as employing and training survivors of sex trafficking. We aim to be a truly transparent organization whose proceeds go towards creating career development and empowerment programs that allow the women who want to move beyond product creation to pursue their dreams, a higher education, and positions of leaders in their local community.
Nomi is realistic about the challenge we face: the fashion industry is cut throat and deeply profit driven industry. We realize that our products must be competitive for our vision to be lived out and for this movement to become sustainable. And so the niche we fill is unique. We have observed and listened to the needs of organizations already doing product production on the ground with survivors and we are not interested in duplicating efforts. Rather we desire to come along side these producing organizations and help infuse their work with our design expertise and sourcing capabilities. Another key part of our mission is to break down silos and inspire communication so that local communities and NGO’s start collaborating to strengthen their production abilities. We keep our focus on a larger network, and work towards giving this slave-free movement legs to stand on in the professional fashion arena.
Nomi’s first product is an eco friendly, awareness raising tote-bag, brazened with our slogan BUY HER BAG, NOT HER BODY. We’re currently selling our bags on our website, so buy a bag for yourself and give one as a gift for the holidays. Consider getting a whole group of friends to buy a bag and make a visible statement at your school, workplace, or church. Help us to create a genuine demand for slave-free products. Because, dear reader, Nomi Network could not exist without consumer demand. You are a key part of our network and we need you to vote for slave-free products with every purchase you make. So please join us, buy our bag, and be on the look out for next season’s collection. Allow the voices of the women we support to be heard. They are crying out, “Know me, know my story, know my success.”
Alissa A. Moore is the co-founder and co-executive director of the non-profit, Nomi Network. She is avidly engaged in her local anti-trafficking scene, was the co-producer of Freedom Week NYC 2009, and the NYC coordinator for the anti-trafficking documentary Call + Response at Tribeca Cinemas. She graduated with honors from Skidmore College and is currently living in the Brooklyn-based Christian Intention Community, Radical Living.