Kelly Casciotta: Brand Manager at Sudara
If you didn't already know, I'm pretty obsessed with Sudara's pants and the amazing work they do to fight sex trafficking in India. I am beyond thrilled to be sharing an interview with Kelly Casciotta. Kelly is Brand Manager at Sudara and opened up about her personal story with the company, as well as some deeper insights into Sudara's mission and impact.
You can find a full review of my Sudara pants on the blog, but make sure you read this first!
Can you give a little personal background about yourself and your role at Sudara?
I was a fan of Sudara for several years before I came to be a part of the team. I had a couple friends who were helping out from the very beginning, and so I had a front row seat in watching it grow from an idea to an actual full-fledged company. Those were the days where it was 100% volunteer-driven: people would host PUNJAMMIES® parties, spread the word about what was really going on in the red light districts of India, and help raise awareness on how the company was working to make an impact.
Over the years, I had attended [and even hosted some of] the parties and really loved the knowledge that something I was wearing had been in the hands of another woman who benefitted directly from my decision to purchase them. I can still remember my first pair. It was one of the first batches that arrived from India when the company first started. They were blue.. the color of minty toothpaste, with little dancing people and paisleys scattered all over. I wore those pants out until I couldn’t wear them any more.. I think I still have the little drawstring bag they came in to this day.
So, fast forward to 2012, when the role for a creative lead opened up, i jumped on the opportunity to be a part of something so closely connected to my desire to pair my creativity with something I deeply believed in and wow.. that will be four years ago this fall!
My role over that time has grown from general creative projects into a more focused Brand Manager. We have so many different ways to communicate now: we send emails, we post images and stories, our products have grown, our image has been refined, our photoshoots have expanded… all the while we have to share a message that continues to tie our identity with the thing that is most important: when people buy our goods, they are purchasing something so far beyond a pair of pants.
We never want our customers to forget that they are investing in a new trajectory for the women we employ. My job is to ensure that we tell it well. So while i’m not writing or creating everything we put out there, I am tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that our team is all headed in the same direction, telling our story as well as we possibly can.
How did you personally become passionate about the ethical marketplace?
I think like all of us, it has grown to be a part of a more sensible way to shop. I’ve evolved slowly over time, like many of us have, growing more and more aware that it matters where and how things were made. It’s worth paying a little more to help break down oppressive production methods, and in the long run, I value what I have more when I know that it symbolizes something beyond the functionality of the item itself.
On a fundamental level, I believe whether we are talking about goods, or food, or anything else made, grown, etc - when goodness and care are considered at every step of the process, the end result is healthier both for maker and consumer alike.
What's been the most rewarding aspect of working at Sudara?
Personally, it has been growing with the company. There were so many things I did not know about the complexity of having something made in one country and sold in another. We are constantly learning how to grow, scale, etc... and I just don’t mean growing in knowledge- we have walked through so much learning together. The people are absolutely incredible. Some have moved on and some remain, and every single one has made their mark on growing it to a new place.
We are who we are because of the people who have rolled their sleeves up and worked in the trenches. Shannon is a truly inspiring leader and her style is not to be removed, but to dig in alongside everyone else. It’s hard not to work hard when the person who founded the company is one of the hardest working members of the team.
Is there anything you wish more consumers understood about the marketplace?
I wish more consumers understood that no two social good companies are the same, but that many, many good ideas and methods of business are out there. For instance, we are not a one-for-one model like some have grown accustomed to: A pair of pants purchased does not translate to a day at school for a child or something that clean and simple. It would be so much easier if our model were like that, but our approach has to be more nuanced because we are dealing with a woman’s life and family. So her coming to work for us means she has many things to consider in order to remain out of sex slavery: medical care, housing, where her kids will go to school, etc. And like you and I, each of us have slightly different needs and problems.
So when it boils down to a question like: how much do the women actually make: our answer is about 2 paragraphs long- because it’s not just about a living wage, although we are DEEPLY committed to that, it’s about a whole circle of care and support that a woman needs to get back on her feet and grow less vulnerable to being trafficked back in.
What is your favorite Sudara product?
Hands down: robes. The fit is so flattering and lovely, I just adore wearing it. But also on a semi-daily basis I will likely be seen in the full length PUNJAMMIES® and probably a Globetrotter Tee because the quality is top notch. [pinky swear i’m not just saying that. I really do wear the goods ALL THE TIME!!].
Can you share one or two stories that embody what Sudara is all about?
I don’t know if the readers are aware, but all of our prints are named after various women who have at some point been employed by our partnering sewing centers. And really those are the stories we are all about, because they are real moments of a woman facing the fork in the road- either breaking free from the sex trade, or seeing that the possibility of being trafficked was coming and doing something to avoid it.
So two brief stories to share:
Munny [all of our MUNNY printed products are inspired after this woman and her story]
Munny was forced to marry at age 14 and lost her husband a year later. Left without a source of income, she knew she needed to find work fast.
The pimp where her mother worked as a commercial sex worker learned of Munny’s job search and told her about a place hiring in the big city that paid well; he even offered to help her get there. But all hope dwindled fast on her trip into the city where she started to piece together their plans to sell her into a brothel. She made a quick escape before they arrived at the brothel and was able to find a local NGO who told her about Sudara where she was able to hire on. She is now taking classes for sewing and cosmetology and has plans to enter a career in the garment industry.
Dhana was born into the sex industry. Her mom was a sex worker for 15 years and then became ill. Her first step-father abandoned the family and the next one her mother took in refused to pay for Dhana’s schooling so she was forced to drop out. But staying home was so unsafe with her new step father that she felt safer going to the brothel with her mother and hiding in a spare room each day. Her mother’s health grew so severe over the years that she knew without a change, she would soon be without a mother and most likely forced into her same occupation. Within the next few weeks, her mother began reaching out to friends to find resources for her daughter and that’s when she learned of the Sudara sewing centers with skills training and safe housing. We do not know the current status of Dhana’s mom, but know that her sacrifice for her family and love for Dhana was the reason Dhana is now employed with us and able to head into a completely different direction than the life her mother was forced into.
To read more of them, we are always adding more here on our blog: http://blog.sudara.org/category/sudarastories/
What can the everyday consumer do to help in Sudara's mission against human trafficking?
Participating in our ongoing community dialogue online matters because it spreads the word, so that’s one really simple practice that keeps this issue on people’s radar. But beyond that, shop with us again and again!
Use our products at home, take them on your vacations, tell us what you like or don’t like about them so we can keep improving them. Give them as gifts and share the hopeful message of what we are doing.
All of it helps.
All of it matters.
All photos for this interview were taken by Paula Watts Photography.