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Letters to You

Survivor Vignette: Wisdom from PB

One of the greatest pleasures we’ve had here at BRANDED is the opportunity to work with artisan PB for almost two years now. She is one of the longest hires we’ve had, and this woman is not only an amazing artisan but also an unspeakably impressive individual. Her life has been riddled with great darkness as well as great light. The depths of loss she has endured and the courage she has found inspire us daily. We’d love for you to get to know her a little too. May you enjoy our interview with this powerful and humble young woman. Thank you, PB, for sharing a bit of yourself with us. And congratulations on almost two years of excellent work!!

 

Question 1: You’ve accomplished so much over the past two years here at BRANDED: getting into college, buying a car, getting to spend time with your son again, getting your own apartment. How does it feel for you each time you accomplish your next goal?

PB: It almost seems surreal, like it’s not really happening... ‘cause I never imagined any of this happening.

 

Question 2: So much of your story involves living without things of your own and having your independence taken away. What would you say is the material possession you are most grateful for now that you have accomplished a great deal of independence?

PB: My favorite is my car! I named her Tuli, after tulips, because the car makes me think of tulips! Honestly, having a car is the ultimate freedom for me. I can go where I want, when I want. I’m not dependent on others so much. I never knew if I would be able to have that freedom again. No more bus line! My favorite place to drive is on country back roads! I like to roll the windows down and listen to music.

 

Question 3: One thing that seems common for humans to do when life gets really hard is to give up, give in or make excuses. You don’t seem to do that. You’re like the energizer bunny. What’s your secret?

PB: (With a sneaky grin) I hide it very well.

 

Question 4: What motivates you most while you’ve pursued all your achievements

PB: More than anything, my ultimate goal has always been to have my son back with me. He is the reason I do everything. He’s my motivation and my ultimate goal.

 

Question 5: When you have a dark day or a moment where hopelessness seems really big, what do you do to get through?

PB: Usually if I’m having a really dark time, I will turn on really loud music and burn incense… I love nag champa. The music is usually Evanescense, Flyleaf or Lauren Daigle.

 

Question 6: What is the best part of your life right now?

PB: My son, always. My car and my apartment. I love that the apartment is mine; I finally have a place of my own. I can go home, lock the door behind me, and not worry about anybody else.

 

Question 7: What is one thing you have not yet achieved that you are excited to continue to pursue?

PB: My degree in social work! And my minor in criminal justice. And finally getting my son living with me again, at least some of the time.

 

Question 8: In five years, what is one more thing you’d like to accomplish?

PB: Either working at End Slavery Tennessee or Restore NYC, or somewhere in the anti-trafficking field. And I really want to make sure my son is moved in with me by then.  

 

Question 9: Let’s say someone is reading this who is in a very hard place - a place they do not think will ever change. Is there any one thing you would like to say to them?

PB: If you’re in a dark place, like I’ve been, the biggest thing is to reach out. Extend that hand. Let someone inspire you. Don’t be embarrassed for needing help, because there’s nothing embarrassing about it. There are trustworthy people out there, and you’ve got to learn to accept their help. Don’t block good people out. Basically, if your head is telling you no, but you feel in your heart that you’ve met someone who can help... take it! Ignore your head and follow your heart. Go get that help.

From the Studio: Valentine's Day Inspired

This Valentine’s Day we are introducing a new BRANDED piece which we could not be more excited about! We’d like to share with you a little bit about how these new earrings came to be.

Ever since we introduced our popular triangle earrings last fall, we’ve been obsessed with the brass/gold combo in geometric shapes. We’ve also learned a thing or two this year about bending and cutting sheets of metal into unique shapes. Our team threw out all manner of shape ideas and we landed on the diamond (a rather significant symbol at Valentine’s… wink wink). From there we played with the diamond concept and shaved off some of its traditionally pointy edges. We also elongated one side, landing on a fascinating six-sided piece that we then chose to hang from a simple gold chain.

We often turn to nature for our initial inspiration. In this case we loved the concept of the goldenrod, a beautiful wildflower with soft yellow blooms and flowing leaves. Yet, the center stem is very strong and grows quite tall. The overall shape of a the goldenrod bloom is triangular. It’s a glorious flower that’s a perfect combination of delicacy and strength. Our new Geometric Earrings are similar in their balanced mixture of sharp edges and soft golden links. And don’t forget, each piece has been handmade by a survivor of human trafficking right here in Nashville, Tennessee.

We’ll close with this thought from Saint Francis of Assisi. With each piece we make here at BRANDED, we try to work by this lovely philosophy.  

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist. 

Shop Geometric Earrings

January 23, 2019

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Survivor Vignette: The Survivor in YOU

Sometimes, when working so closely with young women who have lived on the streets, experienced gross physical and emotional abuse, and lived in abject poverty, I can feel guilty for all the circumstantial blessings around me. I can also feel quite inadequate to actually help anyone. I often think to myself: “What do I know about life?” “Who am I to have an option about how to live life well or conquer pain?” “How dare I think that I can provide anything empowering to anyone?” “How can I have the faintest idea what the world needs?”

I do believe it is vitally important to have these three powerful, little words in our vocabulary: “I don’t know.” It is fundamentally important to admit that I may not have a clue how someone else should approach their own healing and recovery. I most certainly don’t know a thing about how to survive on the streets or how to heal from the trauma such an experience creates.

And yet, I recently had a humbling experience with a generous individual who reminded me that I do in fact have something to share. I was chatting with an older survivor, and I mentioned my feelings of inadequacy. She looked at me and simply said…

 

“But you are a survivor. You are human, are you not? You therefore know pain and disappointment and grief. Don’t minimize that.”

The sweet lesson I was given by that sage survivor, was simply this… I am a survivor too. And so are you. You really cannot compare hardship or loss or trauma. To quote holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl: “A man's suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative.”

Yes, I am blessed beyond belief with stuff; my own car, a house, an amazing education, a loving family, a brave husband. Yes, I am healthy and most days very safe. For this I am breathlessly thankful. And I want to use all these resources for good. There is, however, another resource I have that I think many of us are afraid to claim: My own humanity… my SURVIVOR.

Sometimes in the early morning, when I wake up in my new house and quietly walk to my automatic coffee pot and sip my hot coffee, I think to myself: someone out there - not so far away from me right now - is waking up under a bridge or in a house with no food or coffee or any love at all. This breaks my heart, and makes me so grateful for what I have. I’m also learning to check any feelings of guilt around such blessings. We can use those blessings to help others, and we may not be so different from the “other” as we think.

I have never slept on the streets, and perhaps you haven’t either, but I do know what it is to go to bed lonely. And to wake up the next day only to find the loneliness is still there. And my guess is, you have too. I have never lost sleep because I was hungry, but I do know what it is to lose sleep because I’m hurt or sad or anxious. I know what it is to grieve the loss of someone I relied on, someone I hoped would never pass away. I do know what it is to cry ugly tears and not know how to stop. I know what it is to trust someone completely, only to find out they are human and trust is a dangerous thing to give to anyone but God. I know what it is to call out to that God and hear absolutely nothing when I need to hear something most. I know what it is to feel hateful and bitter and angry, to long for innocence and a soft heart but only have harsh words and irritability at the tip of my tongue. I know what it is to dislike myself and my story. I know what it is to feel shame, to feel mistreated… like I played all the right cards and still got the losing deck. I know what it is to look in the mirror and wish deep down in the core of me that if I could only wish hard enough I could have different hair or a different nose or all my zits would miraculously go away. I know what it is to be void of kindness and self-love and courage. I know what it is to simply want a friend, and yet not have the courage to go out there and make one.  

And something tells me, fellow human, you know these feelings too. Maybe you, just like me, do not know the dark side of abuse or poverty… and maybe you do. And maybe you, just like me, do not know the pain of starvation… and maybe you do. But one thing I am coming to believe of myself, and of you, whoever you are, is this…

You, just like me, have cried, have laughed, have longed, have been lonely, have been grieved and afraid and ashamed and unsure. No matter what your story. You and I have something that connects us. So, the next time you think you cannot help others or they cannot help you, consider the possibility that you have both cried at the same time and both wanted a friend at the same time and both needed help at the same time. Consider the possibility that you are both, at the same time… Survivors. Our pain and personalities may be different, but perhaps our tears are not.

Next time you feel inadequate or alone, next time you feel like you have nothing to give, remember this… “You are a survivor. Don’t minimize that.”

August 14, 2018

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Survivor Vignette: A Roof for RO

Life has taken much from RO. She is not yet 25 and has already experienced more loss and abuse than most of us do in a lifetime. And yet, she shows up to work every day with one of the most sincere smiles and truest laughter I’ve ever witnessed. This morning in our daily gratitude check-in, in her broken English she said, “Thank you God for a new opportunity of life!” How amazing is that? Despite all the loss, all the pain, all the disillusioning disappointments, RO believes that with each day God gives her new opportunity. She’s a living example of empowerment. For her it is not about fame or money or social standing or even a happy past… it’s about today! It’s about looking at the blank slate of “now” and simply saying, “Thank you, God.”

In addition to this humble gratitude, RO has diligently taken a substantial portion of each paycheck to send money to her family. They live in a roofless dwelling in South America. But, with her BRANDED paycheck RO put a roof over her family’s head. And after that, she built them their very first bathroom. I don’t know about you, but I do not think she could have done this if she’d waited on life to show up for her.

Life told this woman a thousand times that she could not do much and was not worth much. Life has given her a thousand reasons to say, “I give up.” Yet, each day she chooses to refute these lies. Step by daily step, she moves forward. She whispers “little by little” while she works. And, “I can. I can. I can.” She shows us what empowerment really is. It is not flashy, it does not always lead to big money or big fame or big headlines. It’s really quite simple:

Make one piece of jewelry, then another, then another. And one day, you’ve made enough that you can put a roof over your family’s head and a bathroom in their house.

What’s really cool about this story? RO did this all by herself. She made the money and she chose to send it. This is what I love most about the work being done here at BRANDED and End Slavery Tennessee. The items you purchased allowed this young women to help herself. And from there, she chose to help her family. The smile on her face when she shared with us what she was able to do with her pay check… well, that was worth all the accolades and money in the world!

Thank you, BRANDED family, for helping us create a workspace where young women like RO can choose empowerment. Thank you for supporting our mission. Thank you for believing that each day is a new opportunity of life!


In case you like pictures, here are some photos RO’s very proud mama sent back from the construction site…  

Survivor Vignette: Binge Gratitude

So, the holidays can be really hard! It seems to be the busiest time of year professionally and personally. Stress and anxiety can feel as abundant as Christmas twinkle lights. It's easy to focus on all the to-do's and have-to's, the family drama and the plethora of pressure. It is easy to stay busy and ignore the growing anxiety and maybe even hope that one more cookie will fix it... okay, two more cookies... okay, maybe four.

This year at BRANDED, we have started a practice that is quite simple and yet wildly helpful when stress is abundant: a Gratitude Board. Each day we write one thing we are grateful for up on a large dry erase board. It can be simple, like a cup of tea or not hitting any stop lights on the way to work; there is no pressure and no wrong way to do it. It is very simply a step toward Gratitude. It is a mental and physical practice. Taking the time to pause and think and write out one lovely thing... just one. This practice has had a great deal of power over our attitudes and our workspace, and it has opened the door to an abundance of joy!   

BRANDED is currently working with two young women who have undergone extraordinary pain and loss. Every day can be difficult, filled with new recovery challenges and setbacks. To see them stand up, grab a brightly colored marker, and write something good on the board is nothing short of a gift. Yes, there are days when finding a lovely thing is hard. But they do it, every time. And every time I am reminded that "there is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for".

Might I suggest that this holiday, as all the good stuff and the stressful stuff is piling up and squeezing in... you pause and think and write down one thing you are grateful for! If this practice works on you as it has worked on me, you will soon find yourself putting down the cookies and binging on gratitude. You will think to yourself, "just one more thing, I just want to write down that one more lovely thing!"

I will end with this: one of BRANDED's workers just made a huge leap forward in her recovery as her own tenacity and the extraordinary staff at End Slavery Tennessee allowed her to reach a milestone this year. Lauren and I (Emily) had the pleasure of piling in the conference room with the ESTN staff and witnessing this brave woman receive what I will call a "monumental moment". There were so many tears and so many hugs and so much applause. Later that day as we were making jewelry, this precious woman smiled and said, "I am the happiest girl that exists in the free world!"

This holiday season we would like to thank you all for being a part of that. When you wear your jewelry, when you make a donation of money or time to ESTN, when you post your Message of Hope, when you share the story of trafficking and continue to raise awareness, you are part of something very special. You are part of helping strong, capable, determined survivors become "the happiest people in the free world".
 
Thank you, thank you very much, BRANDED family. Hey... look what we are grateful for today!

With so much love and a very Happy Holiday to each of you!
Lauren, Em, PB & RO
December 22, 2017

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Survivor Vignette: A Real Cowboy

There are so many times while we’re working in the studio with our amazing employees that we think to ourselves, “I wish our patrons could see this!” We want so badly for you to see the good your support and purchases does. Your simple piece of jewelry does enormous good in the lives of some extraordinarily brave young women.

The cuff, earring or necklace you wear actually does elicit profound change in the life of a REAL woman. To protect the identities of these women, we cannot share their names or faces with you. But here we sit, side by side with them. Each day we witness them grow and learn and share their stories. Sometimes we cry, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we listen to music or Harry Potter or just the steady sounds of jewelry making.

We see and hear precious things each day. We are so honored to do this work and be part of these survivors’ lives. We also deeply want for you to have at least a little taste of our daily experience. So, we are starting something called Survivor Vignettes. These will be simple stories of moments we have here at BRANDED. We hope this will inspire you as we have been inspired. We hope you will see just how much profound change a simple purchase can make in the life of a brave young woman seeking a new and better story! We want to say thank you and we want to give you a taste of the JOY we receive when we witness the extraordinary good done here at BRANDED.

A Real Cowboy

This particular moment happened early on when we first started working with survivors. We didn't know the two women we were working with very well yet, so we kept our conversations light. We talked about favorite foods and movies and music. Both ladies were particularly big fans of country music (we acquired an extensive knowledge of Luke Bryan in those early days).

“Country’s Biggest Hits” Pandora station played in the background as we continued to chat and make cuffs. Then, a song by a certain celebrity came on. I (Emily) made the comment that he hadn't been around for a while, his old music still played but nothing new had come out in a few years. One of the women said, “Well, that’s because he got married and had three kids. He wants to spend time with them right now. He’s taken a sabbatical for his family.”

The other woman working was rather shy. She mostly listened to music and quietly did her work. But at this particular moment, she got very pensive and said, “Now that’s a real cowboy!”

I giggled and I thought it was a clever thing to say. But over time I’ve continued to think about this moment and have come to see it as much more than clever or comical.  

Here is a young woman that has been grossly mistreated by the world, by men especially. She’d been trafficked for sex for much of her life - objectified and told she was nothing special, just a body to be used. Her life has been full of struggle and severe disappointment. As I understand it, she was first trafficked by her own family. Her childhood was stolen from her, her innocence, her physical safety and so many dreams shattered. This young woman had every reason to give up and grow bitter.

Yet, she still dared to believe in the possibility of goodness. Maybe she had never met a “real cowboy” - but she was willing to believe that there was at least one gentleman out there who treated his family with respect, who had chosen them over greed. In short…

She had hope!

Despite the extraordinary trauma in her life, there was still that little girl in her who chose to believe in beauty. It was a simple moment and a little funny too. But I think of it often. When I have a dark day or a disappointment, when I want to grow bitter or resentful… I remember this moment. It reminds me that there are good things around us. There are hard things too, yes. But, they need not steal our HOPE!
October 10, 2017

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How Do You Walk in Freedom?

We could not be more thrilled to tell you about our new product collaboration with Mission Lazarus: the Freedom Collection. The metal part of these leather cuffs is hand-stamped by survivors of trafficking here in Nashville who are now free from their oppressors. The leather part is handmade by young men in Honduras who are free from the grip of poverty by being given the opportunity to work. When you wear this bracelet, it directly impacts someone else's story, helping them Walk In Freedom.

We have been honored to work with Mission Lazarus to produce these products with such an amazing story. Mission Lazarus provides education, medical assistance, refuge and employment for communities in Honduras and Haiti. If you haven't heard of them yet, check out the website in the link above. You'll certainly be inspired!

Purchase your bracelet today and share your freedom story with us on Instagram using the hashtag #walkinfreedom.

Buy the "Walk in Freedom" leather snap cuff

Buy the "Walk in Freedom" leather wrap

June 29, 2017

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