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Letters to You

How We Came to Be


One of our favorite BRANDED stories is the story of our origin. It is quite complex and one day we’ll tell you the whole thing in detail. For this blog post, we’ll keep to the highlights.

We knew we wanted to start a company that sold products and gave 25% of its profits to End Slavery Tennessee (EST). We longed to join the abolition of human trafficking but were not (are not) qualified to join the TBI or be case-workers. Our strengths are creative and entrepreneurial. A social enterprise made sense! 

We set out to sell t-shirts...
However, we needed $10,000 to start our company. How could we raise that? We decided to sell 100 aluminum cuffs for $100 each. On each cuff we stamped a number that represented the buyer's agreement to "Get BRANDED" - to become a number that symbolized one of the 27 million survivors we fight to help.

It was a long shot, but we were determined. 100 cuffs, we could do it! In less than two months we had sold all 100. Family, friends, local businesses... they saw our vision and wanted to join. We were humbled, excited and amazed.

We dove into t-shirt production inspired by our desire to raise money for EST. We did make tees, and sold just about all of them. However, we could not stop thinking about the 100 cuffs and how much they meant to the folks who had bought them. We asked the question... What if we kept selling those? What if we stamped one more, two more, maybe three more? What would happen?

This month we will have reached 9,500 cuffs sold. Yes, 9,500 and GROWING!! Can you believe that?! We’re close to 10,000 cuffs.

It did not take us long to realize we are not a t-shirt line, but a jewelry collection. And though the tees may one day come back, we have fallen in love with making jewelry and adding to our numbers each day. We are a growing family of BRANDEDs.

Thank you, each and all. And of course, a very special thank you to those first 100 folks that said yes to something so much bigger than we realized! We are now 9,500 strong. Thank you First One Hundred...

erin barnett #1 nyk huber #2 carly bergthold #3 amanda pace #4 laser one, inc. #5 given in the name of christ #6 community garage of madison #7 colleen whitver #8  bonnie keen #9 kelly davidson #10 george conners #11 beth conners #12 vonnie thomason #13 rindy schlatter #14 beverly gaia #15 priceless moments by charlotte #16 nan gurley #17 janet ivey-duensing #18 ashley collins #19 michele kolz #20 michele kolz #21 lauren thomas #22 susan hudson #23 cindy landham #24 emily landham #25 bob landham #26 cali huber #27 david blanton #28 ashley blanton #29 katie richards #30 david and lisa ask #31 michelle arwine #32 amy mcclenathan #33 barbara ritchie #34 vicki day #35 joyce jones #36 lee ann estes #37 amanda laake #38 deanna maurice #39 freedom's promise #40 diane arsenault #41 addie graham #42 nick norwood #43 elizabeth "sissy" pace #44 diane west #45 brad cowart #46 in memory of marky pace #47 nashville shakespeare festival #48 stonestreet studios nyc #49 deborah hagerty #50 lynn ross #51 megan hogan #52 cindi parmenter #53 leesa leclaire #54 ashley strawn #55 melanie jacob #56 j.r. estes #57 dawn rolland #58 compass cinema #59 just love coffee #60 gwen moore #61 eric stevens #62 beth sydell #63 mike corl #64 jill englett #65 samantha poore #66 dr. b. g. & faye norwood #67 jodi mcdaniel #68 mark and tasha lemley #69 erin turley #70 christa yandell #71 ashlee walworth #72 the contributor #73 logan yandell #74 sherri joyce #75 sarah condley #76 katie gray landham #77 dustin & courtney koctar #78 alice sullivan #79 cathi carson johnson #80 greg yandell #81 anne whitver #82 alex yandell #83 chris carpenter #84 leslie halpern #85 tricia poore #86 kori francis #87 terri cooper #88 abby fraebel #89 joe shultz #90 jan gotto shultz #91 jessica suiter #92 teresa carpenter #93 john carpenter #94 susan carson #95 jennifer mcleod hagerty #96 tara christensen #97 katy boatman #98 jr landham #99 lauren carpenter #100

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.”

What's in a Name?

For a long time, people have been asking us…Why t-615? What does the name mean?

To which we reply: “The concept of t-615 is a tribute from our home: (t) is for tribute and (615) is the Nashville area code.”

We are so proud of t-615, this company has formed from our desire to advance the abolition of human trafficking right here at home. However, for a while now we have felt like the name doesn’t quite capture exactly what we do and where we’re headed.

In April we began an exciting new venture: we now employ two survivors of human trafficking!  Through our partnership with End Slavery Tennessee, we not only give 25% of our profits to their clients, we also provide them with needed work. The survivors are trained in the art of metal stamping and now make all of our BRANDED cuffs. When you purchase a cuff, one of these extraordinary young ladies has actually hand-stamped your number. To us, this is a story of redemption and restoration; survivors who may have once been BRANDED themselves are now helping bring other survivors to freedom. How amazing is that?! Needless to say, this work has gotten us jazzed. And, it’s gotten us thinking…

As long as t-615 has been around, we’ve polished our rough edges and evolved with every new opportunity and every lesson learned (often the hard way!). The evolution of our company has served in refining our processes, our vision and our mission. It has brought us to where we are today. And this new day, we are THRILLED to announce our new name. We will now do business as the BRANDED Collective!

What does this mean? We’ve chosen to refocus our efforts and only sell products that directly impact the survivors we are striving to help. We will retire our clothing items and focus solely on the BRANDED Jewelry Collection; a collection hand-made in Nashville by powerhouse survivors at End Slavery Tennessee. It is our honor to work with them as we continue our journey. 

Over the next few months we’ll release many new BRANDED products. And some amazing stories too! We’re so happy to have you along for the ride. We truly could not do any of this without you! Now… 

Go Get BRANDED!! Wear the story, share the story and change the story.

Follow us on our new social media channels ☺
instagram.com/brandedcollective
facebook.com/brandedcollective
twitter.com/BRANDED_co

May 08, 2015

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t-615 Featured on Ravishly's "Ladies We Love"

We've been doing lots of fun interviews lately - can you tell?! Here's another one originally posted on Ravishly.com, featuring some insight into our original intentions for t-615 and what it's like to run a social enterprise.

Three years ago, Lauren Carpenter and her best friend Emily Landham started t-615, a fashion company that sought to raise funds and awareness for survivors of human trafficking. They began with a collection of T-shirts emblazoned with inspiring quotes and graphics, then launched a line of accessories that would quickly become their signature item: BRANDED cuff bracelets. Designed to start a conversation about the horrors of trafficking, each bracelet is stamped with a unique number that represents the dehumanizing numbers that are often assigned to (and sometimes literally branded onto) victims of the slave trade. t-615 is a social enterprise, which means it's a for-profit business with a philanthropic mission similar to a nonprofit. Carpenter and Landham donate a quarter of their profits to End Slavery Tennessee, and are in the process of starting an internship program for survivors of trafficking.

I was thrilled to talk to co-founder Lauren Carpenter about the evolution of her business, what it's like to start a company with your best friend, and how she juggles a full-time job and a growing social enterprise.

What inspired you to start t-615?

I have never been someone who knew exactly what I wanted to do as a career. I danced around getting involved in the music business or becoming a PR professional, but nothing ever felt quite right. However, I happen to be married to someone who has always known exactly what he was supposed to do: music! So, his passion brought us to Nashville almost six years ago, and I started a job at the local chamber of commerce. Part of my job at the time was to help out at various events. At one of those events, Gwen and Suzanne of 147 Million Orphans were the featured speakers. They talked about starting a business with a purpose—what they called a "social enterprise," a term I was unfamiliar with at the time. They explained how creating a for-profit business for a social cause actually allowed them to be more successful and help more people than the traditional nonprofit structure. They were selling shirts, jewelry, and bags after the meeting. I think I spent at least $200 that day on items to help orphans in Africa. At that moment, I realized that the ladies had spoken to my heart through a love of fashion and a desire to do good. The wheels started turning, and I decided I wanted to start a business to help survivors of human trafficking. Add Emily's genius idea for t-615 into the mix, and here we are today!

BRANDED bracelets

How has the company evolved since its inception? How did the idea for the Branded bracelets come about?

When we first started talking about t-615, the original concept was actually a line of T-shirts with quotes on them. Emily came to my apartment with a typed document which detailed how our partnership might work and included some of the quotes she wanted to transfer onto tees to sell. Our idea was to donate a percentage of sales to human trafficking survivors through a local organization. So, with those bare bones, we set to work to figure out how to do it.

We had no money, but we had big dreams and hopes of helping people who were hurting right in our backyards. We would meet for coffee at least once a week to hash out new ideas. One week, Emily came into our meeting with this brilliant concept of the BRANDED bracelet—a bracelet which included a unique number that allowed the buyer to "become a number" to represent the dehumanizing numbers used in the human trafficking industry. Emily had come up with the concept through a lot of prayer and inspiration. She is what I would call the "big picture" thinker in our operation. She's always dreaming, thinking about our next step.

After several iterations of BRANDED prototypes, we landed on the recycled aluminum cuff. We decided to sell 100 cuffs for $100 apiece to raise $10,000 for startup operating costs. We expected to sell them to friends and family and thought it would probably take about six months. We started talking about them to people slowly . . . quietly . . . and we sold out of the first 100 in less than two months. That's when we knew that this BRANDED product was connecting with people, and we decided to make it our signature product.

As first-time entrepreneurs with full-time jobs, what challenges have you faced, and where did you find the support you needed to achieve success?

We are constantly facing new challenges, but that's the nature of entrepreneurship. I don't think either of us thought that we'd be entrepreneurs, and we certainly weren't "trained" for facing the unique situations that the career path occasionally entails. Our challenges usually have to do with the fact that we are a small operation with limited resources and time. As you said, we both have full-time jobs, but we are so passionate about t-615 that it is well worth the extra time spent and every strange obstacle we might face. For example, right now we're facing a bit of a challenge in changing metal suppliers for our main collection of BRANDED jewelry. This has taken a lot of research and effort (the metals industry is very complex) but we fit the research into our schedules just like anything else.

Our families and friends have been constant sources of support ever since we started. Also, a lot of times the best thing Emily and I can do is laugh together. We have to wear these ridiculous-looking masks when we sand down the BRANDED collection metals, and that's always a good time for some doubled-over laughter. There is such joy in having a friend and partner in this, and I feel blessed every day that Emily is by my side to experience the extreme hilarity of owning our own business together at the ripe young age of 28. We have so much yet to learn!

t-615 is a social enterprise. How do you balance your goals as a business with your goals as activists? Are the two intertwined?

This is such a great question! As I was discussing the challenges we face (see previous question) this definitely came to mind as THE most prevalent struggle we have. I think anyone who owns a social enterprise would probably say the same thing, because social enterprise is about combining passion, purpose, and excellency to sell a product—and sell it well.

We believe that the work we're doing to help human trafficking survivors is so important and necessary. In fact, we started this company because we felt called to help. At the same time, we are not doctors, or lawyers, or counselors; those are the things that human trafficking survivors typically need when they're rescued. However, we ARE humans who love fashion and who have a commitment to beautifully-made, ethical products. We know that the best thing we can do is use all of these passions together to make a difference to this cause.

The hardest part of selling a product for a cause is probably the way that you have to promote both things at the same time. We used to over-analyze our social media posts, trying to balance posts about human trafficking and posts to promote the products. I think the most important thing we realized is that this thing we're doing, t-615, allows both things to co-exist. So we are selling products, but that's also how we help the cause. They are so intertwined that we can't talk about one without the other.

People tend to caution against going into business with your best friend. After 3 years working together, what's your take on that?

I would say . . . those people obviously don't have an Emily Landham in their lives! In all seriousness, this was something Emily and I discussed at the very beginning of our partnership, and we were slow and careful to go into business together for that very reason. We got some great advice from someone who recommended drawing up an operating agreement so that if anything went south, we'd have the agreement to look at and say: "Okay, it was a valiant effort, now it's time to dissolve, and here's the document we signed for just that reason. Here's what happens now."

However I will tell you this . . . there's NO WAY that's happening! We are both fully committed to t-615 and we work well together. Emily is probably the only person that I would go into business with. She's extremely intelligent, realistic, and understanding. We both have so much going on in our lives, and we give each other a lot of grace. We always try to start business meetings with a casual conversation about life before jumping into all the work stuff. It's important to be there for each other and always remember why you started working together in the first place.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? How has your relationship with feminism informed the way you do business and your drive to empower other women?

I don't know if I'd call myself a "feminist." I think that word has so many connotations these days that it's hard to define. However I would say that as a woman I am all for empowering and championing other women! That's one of my favorite parts of running this business. It's unbelievable to me that in 2015, women are still making less money than men (for the most part). We still have to deal with sexist behaviors. There are still "female" careers. The majority of the victims of human trafficking are young girls.

Emily and I have had amazing opportunities to talk to various groups about t-615, from high school classes to church groups. My favorite part has been meeting and influencing the younger generation of females who have big dreams and are rising to the top. If I can be even a little bit of an inspiration to those young females, then what I'm doing here has been worthwhile.

When you look back at the evolution of your company and all you've achieved, what are you most proud of?

There are so many things I'm proud of—most of them having nothing to do with me and everything to do with the people we have employed to do amazing work for our company! Our vision with t-615 has always been to use the talents and skills of the artistic community to create beautiful products to advance the abolition of human trafficking. Since our company's inception, we have curated multiple product lines: 10 graphic tees, the freedom jewelry collection, the BRANDED jewelry collection, and two handmade tops, which were painstakingly designed and sewn by two young clothing designers. All of these things have been lovely, and all of them have taken a lot of hard work and attention to detail. I think I am probably most proud of us for always recognizing when it's time to take the next step, even if it's been painful. We're still a young company, and we're still evolving. I hope we will always be open to trying new things and if they don't work, moving on to the next right thing.

What advice would you give to other young women who are interested in starting their own social enterprise, or any business for that matter?

The best advice I can give is to just do it (no Nike puns intended)! Don't wait for "the right timing" because if you do, you'll never start. I would also say that you can't underestimate the power of listening. That may sound strange, but when I say listening, I mean that in multiple ways. Emily and I have both spent a lot of time listening to the people we trust and also taking coffee meetings with total strangers. People are fascinating! There has never been a pointless meeting or piece of advice. It is all valuable, and we have learned so many lessons along the way by simply listening. Most of the time, it helps us discern between the "noise" and the truth.

What's next for you and t-615?

Oh, I'm so glad you asked, because we're working on some really exciting things! In April, we'll begin training two human trafficking survivors to actually make the BRANDED cuffs through what we're calling our t-615 internship program. We're thrilled to be able to teach them the art of working with metals while also teaching them business skills which will hopefully be useful to their career paths. Many survivors have difficulty getting jobs because they have been trafficked since they were young and don't have career experience. We hope to be the stepping stone to their confidence in their abilities and their financial stability.

We have a couple of other things in the works . . . but that's all I want to reveal for now. After all, a good entrepreneur never shows her hand too soon.

April 01, 2015

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Q&A with Good Goods

We're thrilled to have recently been featured on the Good Goods blog created by fellow Nashvillian, Cayla Mackey. The site is a great place to find a PETA-approved catalogue of ethical goods that are vegan, fair trade and sustainable (including yours truly!). Check out the blog post below:

We recently had the opportunity to chat with one of the founders of t-615, Emily Landham. She and co-founder Lauren Carpenter create organic cotton shirts and recycled cuffs that raise awareness and funds for human trafficking in Nashville. 

Emily Landham, co-founder of t-615, Nashville-based ethical fashion company

Emily Landham, co-founder of t-615, Nashville-based ethical fashion company

Q: What led you to be involved in fashion?

A: I have a love of a clothes and a love of wearing things that not only look good and feel good but in their very essence are good.

Q: Why did you want to start an ethical fashion brand?

A: Clothes are fun, but they can also be harmful. We wanted to create clothing that is both fun and ethical.

Q: How did you start t-615?

A: We started t-615 after a long hike in the woods talking about dreams. We decided to start something that gave back to victims of human trafficking in our home town of Nashville. With t-615, we wanted to start more than a fashion line - we wanted to create a tribute, a tribe committed to ethical fashion and radical generosity. 

Q: Why do you care so much about where materials are sourced from?

A: I care about where materials come from because to choose to not know is to take an enormous ethical risk. There is little transparency in the making of modern day clothes unless you seek it out. When companies are not held accountable for their process, their process often goes awry. 

Q: Describe the life cycle of a shirt and bracelet, from raw material origin to the wearer.

A: For our tops, the journey starts on an organic cotton field in Texas. The cotton is harvested and then travels to North Carolina where it is milled into fabric. We then order the fabric and  have it shipped to Nashville, where our designers turn it into our shirts by hand. For our jewelry, we order up-cycled American-mined metals from a family-owned company in Arizona. We use this source because we want to keep things as close to home as possible. U.S. companies are held to a labor-law standard we prefer to other overseas companies with less-protected workers.

All t-615 products are made by hand in Nashville, Tennessee.

Q: What is your hope with t-615?

A: This year we have very high hopes for t-615. We are retiring the clothing line to focus solely on our BRANDED Collection of cuffs. This collection most directly impacts Nashville’s community of sex-trafficking survivors. In order to deepen our involvement with these young women, we are starting an internship program specifically geared toward helping them gain employment skills. In our internship program, they will receive training on how to make our jewelry and assist in the running of the company. 

Q: Describe a single transformative moment that you've had with t-615.

A: The first time I held one of our tops in my hands stands out to me as a transformative moment. There's such a physical and emotional difference between one of our tops and a $6 top from a chain store. You can feel the work, time, and skill that goes into our clothing as opposed to most of the clothes we buy. Cheap and easy on the buyer’s side likely means corruption on the production side.

Q: What is a new favorite item you're recently discovered on Good Goods?

A: This Constance Dress by Reformation is amazing. I haven't bought it yet, but I should very much like too if my life takes me to fancy places. The white version of this style is possibly the best wedding dress ever!

March 16, 2015

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