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Letters to You

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…  

New Spring Line + We Just Hit 20,000!

Lots of exciting things are happening at BRANDED Collective but we have been slacking on our blogging skills. :) For that, we apologize and we'll try to make it up to you. For starters, we just added three new pieces to our collection:

Sterling Silver Bar Necklace: $48

Medium Aluminum Cuff: $35

Large Aluminum Cuff: $45

We love the combination of all three of these pieces together. What do you think?

Also another HUGE announcement is that we just stamped our 20,000th product! We are continually grateful to each of you for your support of our mission to empower and employ survivors of trafficking in middle Tennessee. We love this moment from our #20,000 celebration:

We just updated and strengthened our story page, too. Check out the new and improved story page to learn why we do what we do.

Onward and upward!

Unique Women: J, T and TL

For those of you who have followed our survivor stories page, you've probably noticed they are each very different. If there is one thing we've learned through this process it is that each of these dear women is unique; they simply beam with individuality. 

It can be all too easy to let our tragedies (and the tragedies of others) identify us. Define us. We often look at the clients at End Slavery Tennessee and think of them as "Survivors." But we'd like to challenge that. We hope these stories will combat such labeling. Getting to know the woman behind the initial has done so for us, and we hope it will do the same for you. 

Sure, you can say they are survivors. That's one commonality between them. But the more we get to know each woman, the more we know this is not their fundamental truth. It is part of their story, yes. It is not who they are. They are business women, musicians, artists, philosophers, writers, nurses, entrepreneurs. They are individuals. To quote Holocaust survivor Eva Kor: "Tell these girls they are not identified by their past. It's just a reminder of their strength and will to be free." 

We urge you to claim this truth for them and for yourselves. May we all release those things that brand us. May we all see and become the individuals we are. 

Here are three individuals for you to meet today. Enjoy them. They truly are one of a kind!
      

Do You Wear an E or V?

     

One of the more difficult parts of the work we do is saying goodbye. Working with the incredible women at End Slavery Tennessee (EST) is a rollercoaster ride of high highs and low lows. They work hard, day by day, to heal from the past, the trauma, the pain of drugs and violence and haunting memories. They are without a doubt amongst the most resilient and determined souls we have ever met. We’ve learned so many lessons from the women at EST. One of those lessons is far from easy: At some point it’s time to move on to the next chapter, to say goodbye to where you are and take that brave step into tomorrow.

Lauren and I made cuffs with E and V for about six months. We’d sit on the floor of the offices at EST and stamp cuffs for hours. We’d play loud music and shamelessly sing along. We developed inside jokes and drank coffee and ate muffins and made fun of each other (V and I have a deep appreciation for epic film-scores, while E and Lauren would rather jam to 90's rock or hip hop).

E and V became our friends. We love them, we miss them, we are so proud of who they are. They may not know this, but they helped us build BRANDED Collective into something so much bigger than we ever imagined.

But seasons do pass and these two wonderful women have moved on. They have pursued full-time jobs elsewhere and new adventures are calling. We miss them. We always will. Thank you, E and V, for all you have done for us and for BRANDED. And in honor of all things epic, always remember what Sam said to Frodo when things got really stinkin’ hard… “There's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.” 

Go get ’em, you two powerhouses!!!

Love, Emily

Read more about E and V here

Meet "R"

Dear BRANDED Family, 

With this new year, we would like to start writing to you more consistently to share with you our journey and the stories of our precious survivors. They have such wisdom, such depth and kindness. The BRANDED Collective mission has taught us so much. It has changed us. We would like to offer you the same challenge. We are committed to excellence, so we will only write to you when we have excellent content. These will be stories of real people and real moments along our journey. Join us as we dive into this adventure. Together we will be “growing and learning and changing everyday” (Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass). 

Our first post will introduce you to a new survivor. We cannot share names, we will give you only an initial and a taste of her story. If you are among the 3000 plus who wear BRANDED cuffs, and yours is stamped with the letter “R”… this is her story

 

RMeeting R is like meeting a sunbeam. You cannot encounter her without leaving brighter. She is among the most gentle souls you will ever meet. Her work with BRANDED is excellent. She is conscientious, her quality is consistent, and her pursuit of excellence unwavering. She is an asset beyond the telling. Thank you, R, for your commitment to BRANDED! When asked what it is she likes about the work she says, “I love the whole idea. I find making cuffs peaceful and I wonder who the person is that’s gonna be wearing this.” She’s also Tennessee classy to her roots: her favorite food is venison, her favorite musician is Jack White, and if she could live anywhere in the world it would be in the Tennessee country in a big white house with a tin roof and a wraparound porch. This girl’s got soul! If she could have any superpower, she would want “an infallible photographic memory capable of erasing anything negative.” (Again, she stays positive.) If she could have any talent in the world she would want to be able to play any instrument. Her dream job is to be a veterinarian. She loves animals and if she could have any pet she would want something exotic…. “perhaps a Bengal tiger,” she says with a smile. Speaking of animals, she can make a spot-on deer noise. And her favorite quote is appropriately Emily Dickinson’s: “A wounded deer leaps the highest.” We asked her if there was anything she wanted to say to young people and our BRANDED patrons. Her answer: “What I would like to say is that things might seem really bad, but you can always get through it. And not to ever give up. Sometimes you don’t remember that in the middle of a hard time, but never give up. Because I can remember times when I would just pray for God to take my life, and I’m glad that He didn’t. I think never giving up isn’t always something you remember but it is something God does for you. ‘Cause I know I didn’t do it by myself.”

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