Although we often think of slavery as a thing of the past, in reality there are approximately 32 million people that live in slavery today. This $99 Billion industry is quickly surpassing the illegal sale of drugs and arms– putting young children and women at risk. Thankfully, organizations like Nomi Network exist and create opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking.
Providing one-on-one mentorships with experienced designers, Nomi Network exposes women to advanced training and various employment opportunities in their local communities. We caught up with founder, Diana Mao, to get the scoop on this inspiring brand:
What inspired you to start Nomi Network?
In 2007 I travelled to Cambodia for a micro-finance research fellowship, and it was there that my eyes were opened to the unbelievable world of human trafficking. My micro-finance research brought me to some of the poorest and most remote villages in Cambodia. One of the clients we met with was a single father with 7 children. We interviewed him in his hut. After our interview ended, he offered his youngest daughter, no more than seven years old, to one of my male colleagues. As I looked into the father’s eyes, I could tell that he was desperate and did not want to give her up. This encounter left a lasting impression on me; after coming back from Cambodia to New York City, I was determined to do something.
Who is Nomi?
Nomi Network is named after Nomi, a survivor of sex trafficking in Cambodia. Nomi was rescued from sex trafficking at age eight and now lives at one of our partner shelters. Alissa Moore, one of the other co-founders, and I first met Nomi on a visit in 2008. In Nomi’s home village, she was sexually abused by multiple perpetrators. Nomi now lives in a special needs group home with eight other girls. She has physical scars, but also emotional scars from her abuse which will prevent her from ever being able to leave the home and reintegrate back into society. Nevertheless, Nomi has grown into a beautiful young woman. At the shelter, she is always the first to greet visitors, and she always does so with a big smile on her face. She is always the first to comfort girls who are new to the shelter. Nomi’s story inspired the creation of Nomi Network and the mission to aid vulnerable girls like her to transform their dark pasts into brighter futures.
Why did you choose to work with artisans in Cambodia and India?
When we encountered the extreme poverty and lack of opportunity on our trips to Cambodia, we decided to start our pilot project there. In 2012 we were approached by an organization in India that wanted us to start a program in Bihar. After visting and seeing the need there, we launched our first direct training program in India.
What is the “Buy her Bag, Not her Body” campaign all about?
The Buy Her Bag, Not Her Body® label is Nomi’s signature retail brand. Through the label, Nomi brings high-quality fashion-forward products, designed and manufactured by survivors, into nationwide markets. Starting with the original Signature Collection’s launch in September 2009, Nomi has released a total of twelve collections. All of the designs in the Buy Her Bag, Not Her Body® collection are made with locally sourced sustainable materials such as recycled rice sacks. With each purchase from their “Buy Her Bag Not Her Body” campaign you are helping to provide job opportunities for survivors and end modern-day slavery, as well as raising awareness about the issue.
In addition to supporting the fight against human trafficking, what other contributions does Nomi Network provide to women?
Nomi Network helps our women further their children’s education as well. This past year we provided women with support that enabled 70 children to attend school and financial support for 9 girls to go to boarding school. Furthermore, now that the women in our program are earning money and are consequently more respected in their communities, parents are more willing to invest in their girls and we are witnessing a 60% reduction in child marriage in the region as well as an increase in school enrollment.
What unique artisanal skills are being preserved through the production of Nomi Network products?
In our Bihar, India program daughters of our trainees painted a mural using traditional Indian folk art called Madhubani. This mural inspired us to create the Madhubani Collection, which includes this beautiful design to be hand painted on organic cotton canvas pillows. After completion of each pillow, the trainee signs her name onto the bottom right corner of the artwork.
What is Nomi Network’s most popular product?
The “Buy Her Bag Not Her Body” tote has been worn and loved by many abolitionists since Nomi’s inception. Our customers want to make statement and raise more awareness about human trafficking through this tote. The best part is that this tote folds and zips into a small pouch. The pouch turns into a pocket for additional storage. Designed in New York. Made in Cambodia with canvas and recycled rice bag material.
Where do you see the Nomi Network in 5 years?
Our goal is to create 100,000 jobs by 2020. We will continue to grow the training and job opportunities available to the most vulnerable people in the region. Our experience in both rural and urban regions, curriculums, and partnership with key private sector partners has positioned us well to replicate the Nomi model into other countries. We look forward to serving more women and children around the world.
Andrea Plell is EcoHabitude’s Director of Communications and the Editor-in-Chief of the EcoHabitude blog. Since 2007, Andrea has been on a mission to support a paradigm shift in the fashion industry. She currently runs her own PR and ethical fashion production company in San Francisco, CA – working with several ethical brands on the West Coast.
Follow Andrea on instagram.