KAs@Work: Bonnie Kim of Freedom and Fashion

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KAs@Work is a new series that profiles Korean Americans and their jobs. Want to share what you do, or know of people with interesting jobs? Get in touch.

Bonnie Kim is a warrior. Her weapon is not within the business of armory, but fashion. Her fight: to end the injustice of human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and human rights violations.

Bonnie is the founder and CEO of Freedom and Fashion (FnF), a nonprofit organization combining two billion-dollar industries—Fashion and Human/Sex Trafficking—to raise awareness for the latter. We chat Bonnie about conscious consumerism, why supporting fair-trade businesses is important,and her goals for Freedom and Fashion.

Tell us what inspired you to start Freedom and Fashion (FnF).

In the Spring of 2008, I decided to volunteer for Nightlight, an organization in Thailand that is dedicated to stopping human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Bangkok. It was here where I realized the multitude of organizations that strived to end social injustices, but the lack of funding, publicity and awareness hindered their cause. When I came back from Thailand, I felt compelled to combine my passion for arts and fashion in a way to combat social injustices, and showcase similar companies that supported the same causes. I wanted to create a company that would act as a conduit for businesses and organizations committed to fair trade and social justice issues. Then, using arts and fashion, present these companies in a way to generate awareness about human rights issues, assist groups in recruiting new volunteers and redirect consumer purchasing power. Thus, Freedom and Fashion was born.

What were the initial steps you took to create FnF and have people join your cause?

FnF really all began with small meetings in my apartment of a few students who shared or were open to my vision for FnF. We would talk about how we could turn this idea into a reality and before my very eyes I saw FnF become tangible as over 800 people attended our first event!

It’s been an incredible journey and the amount that FnF has been growing is amazing. Since we’vestarted in 2008, we’ve grown to over 45 staff members and interns, and have been sponsored bycompanies like Aveda and TOMS. Furthermore, we’ve partnered with many organizations, like Not ForSale, 31Bits, and FIDM.

“Love Bunny Pins” event in Cambodia; helping girls and women who survived trafficking make a sustainable income.

Fashion and human trafficking are both billion-dollar industries, yet the latter lacks visibility and is an industry profiting on the sexual abuse and enslavement of women and children. Why did you decide to combine both industries, and how does FnF use fashion to raise awareness for human/sex trafficking?

I decided to combine these industries because I have a love and passion for both. Growing up, I was set on pursuing a future in fashion and the arts. However, I ended up instead redirected and passionate about fighting social injustices. With FnF, I realized I could combine the two. The retail industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that nearly everyone in America takes a part of daily. To be able to change consumer views on the products they are buying and to initiate a trend that would get people thinking about where and how what they are purchasing was manufactured is one of the goals of FnF. We want to show people how the purchases we make, the things we watch and the events in which we participate can affect those who are oppressed.

Aside from human/sex trafficking, FnF also promotes fair-trade businesses. How can socially-conscious businesses and organizations get involved with your events?

As a hub for fair-trade, FnF showcases businesses and organizations that are already doing the front linework of educating, producing and empowering. FnF promotes these organizations and raises awareness for their cause on the runway, in our magazine, on our blog and in our short films. In addition, people can purchase fair-trade friendly and cause-conscious merchandise on the day of the fashion show at the adjoining vendor fair. Continuously, like-minded businesses can get involved with FnF by becoming a community partner, which entails access to events that FnF hosts and attends.

What is the Freedom and Fashion consulting program?

Unlike any other programs, the FnF consulting program focuses not only on the practical steps to operating a new ethical clothing line, getting connected with partners and resources and get your storyout, but on the actual client as a person/group. Just like our team, we treat them with care and often go through hearing them share their inspirations and struggles with empathy. We understand the struggles all too well and for the time being, we are there to help reinspire. This is a necessary process to help them to recalibrate their passion once more.

FnF’s fourth annual fashion show is slated for next year. From selecting vendors and partners, to planning and marketing the show, how involved are you in the whole process? What are some lessons you’ve learned while organizing the previous shows? Also, could you give us a sneak peek (or hint) of the theme for this year?

FnF’s fourth show is slated for March 2013. A theme has not yet been decided. We will be coming out with a book soon that details more of this information. It’s a lot of work that is a mix of being extremely aggressive and delivering your passion carefully.

It’s amazing how much FnF has grown since 2008, especially since it’s a non-profit organization supported by an all-volunteer staff. Besides the annual fashion show, what other projects are you working on? And what are some of your long-time goals for Freedom and Fashion?

Yes, the amount that FnF has been growing and the amount of support for FnF is overwhelming. I’m so grateful and thankful for every person on board with FnF and their commitment to our cause. Because FnF is a flat organization—meaning, we believe an 18 year old intern’s ideas are just as valuable as an experienced professional, we have really been producing some great stuff. One project we have been working on is a conference slated for January. The first conference of its kind, the conference will be for those interested in learning how to start, invest or assist in bringing socially conscious brands to mainstream society. Along with this goal, the conference will dig deep into the issues of sex and labor trafficking with their powerful line up of speakers.

We really hope to have an office in New York City in the next three years and partner with major companies to sell our merchandise. Continuously, we hope to be working with key legislators and advocates to bring sustainable ways to end trafficking. In the next year, we’re really hoping to have an after-school program focused on the arts and to create a new platform for what conscious consumerism looks like.

Do you have any advice for people trying to jump-start a non-profit organization?

You have to check your motives. If you want to see revolutionary change, the foundations of that desire cannot come from a selfish motive or else time will reveal that the desire to help someone wasn’t really to help them, but to help you.

Be prepared to be alone and to encounter suffering. Sometimes the work is unglamorous, and working for a nonprofit can be tiresome, difficult and discouraging at times—but you can’t let these setbacks hinder you from your goal. If you really want to change the world, you must be ready to endure people’s scorn and be a leader, stepping out into the unknown. Be strong and courageous and never forget why you’re doing what you’re doing.

For more information on Freedom and Fashion (FnF) and how to get involved, go to their website: http://freedomandfashion.com/
FnF’s Bloghttp://freedomandfashion.tumblr.com/
Follow FnF on Facebook and Twitter.

[Photos: Courtesy of Bonnie Kim]


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