Fighting Slavery with Fashion

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Fighting Slavery with FashionPhoto: Kayla Suzanne Holdgreve, Design: Korto Momolu, Model: Sheridan Martin, Makeup: Olivia Moss.
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Innocence, violation, restoration. That is the journey of a human trafficking survivor as performed by Unchained, a fashion show that aims to inspire people in the fight against modern slavery.

“The story itself is the story of a survivor’s life,” said Stephanie Catani, Unchained’s co-founder and creative director. That story is not necessarily based on any particular human trafficking survivor, but is “a culmination of what we were hearing over and over again from survivors.”

Unfortunately there are many such stories to draw from.

In 2012, the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force issued a report on the human trafficking trade in Ohio, estimating that “1,078 Ohio children become victims of human trafficking” every year. The task force also noted that “the first and most significant gap is the public knowledge of human trafficking is low.” It’s that gab in public knowledge that Unchained works to correct.

“What we’ve heard is that Columbus is still waking up to the fact that this is happening in our own city and not just happening across the world,” said Catani.

In the last year and a half, Unchained has performed five shows for audiences in Columbus and Pennsylvania. In writing the narrative of the performance, Catani and other Unchained organizers worked with Doma, a local organization which restores women who have lived in slavery, to create a representative story of what an average human trafficking victim experiences. Unchained then articulates that story through fashion and performance art.

“Innocence is pale pinks and neutral colors,” said Catani of the garment collection. “Violation is harsh reds, dark oranges and blacks. And restoration is the brightest colors you’ve ever seen.”

After the show, audience members are encouraged to get involved with other grassroots abolitionist organizations.

“We have booths for vendors or organizations that are doing the on-the-ground work so people can plug in, they can volunteer, they can give their resources, they can purchase what merchandise they have there,” said Catani. “We’re really passionate about uniting the front.”

Unchained’s next performance on Nov. 8 is called “She Has a Name” and will help raise funds for a safe house in Columbus. One of the group’s main goals is to emphasize that people from all walks of life can utilize their positions, resources and intellect to confront the problem of slavery.

“Fashion becomes a vehicle for looking at the issue,” said Catani. “Fashion has always been a way to draw people in, and we’re really passionate about a nontraditional audience, so people who may or may not really be invested in the issue of human trafficking.”

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