Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saving Women, One Purse At a Time

The gift of choice, something I've often taken for granted. After conducting this interview and transcribing it, I have come to the striking realization that as a woman in the modern world, I have been extremely privileged with the option of choice. Like race and other issues concerning oppressed demographics, we seem to think that because women can wear pants and skirts way above their knees and attend University we have come very far to overcome imposed disadvantages and in some respects we have. Personally I can attest to the fact that my freedom of choice is something I have always had the liberty of. Certain things like observing my faith, respecting my family and self, and completing my education with at least with a B.A./B.S.  degree were things that were not optional in my family.

Every day I wake up with the choice of what I wear, what I do and how these decisions will define my future. So if my life were a direct representation of what women's lives are like across the globe, I'd say we're in decent shape. However, it is not. Women subjected to human trafficking are siphoned into it as a means to make a livelihood. As Dr. Martin Luther King once stated: "Injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere." That's where our friends at NOMI NETWORK step in.

NOMI NETWORK is an incorporated nonprofit based in New York, New York which employs women whose lives have been ravaged by human trafficking and encourages them to acquire a skill-set that will benefit them in a professional workplace. These women work sewing chic handbags and purses whose sale go directly back to the organization which supports these women as they transition to a healthier way of life. This issue, as with anything concerning women and their education holds a dear place in my heart, prooved very challenging to write and research for.

Over a month ago, Diana Malm, the co-founder and president of Nomi Network, granted Southern Fashionista this interview. Here's her story: 

Southern Fashionista: So, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what your duties are as co-founder for the organization?
Diana Malm: I went to graduate school at NYU and majored in ART, I got my masters in Business Administration and then I spent a Summer in Cambodia where I came accross a ship of human trafficking and decided that i really wanted to do something to focus on this area; particularly helping women who are survivors become self sufficient. And um, that was one of the benefits of Nomi. After that we went back and Alyssa, who I recruited on board, and she's also a co founder, we went back to Cambodia to do an assessment in terms of what kind of intervention we could do to really help women and the organizations that are on the ground there. So my main responsibility has been for the past two years is really: recruiting the board members, we have a list of who they are on our website; also attracting funding, help shoot some more programs in Cambodia and soon to be India. [We also] help women not only build up their skill set but also develop products and um, help facilitate the market linkages between what's being produced and what's really selling in the U.S. and the global market. We help create a demand for their products and the profit goes back to their education and training. So I really help in terms of thought strategy and as well as developing proposals for funding and um meeting with donors and also really guiding the day to day operations of the organization from a higher level perspective.

SF: Excellent, now um, from where are the women that you help through your organization?

DM: They're in Cambodia primarily and we're going to be launching progrmas in India soon. So right now they're primarily in Cambodia.
SF: Cool. Do youguys work from a design and then the young women reproduce that or do you rely on their creative input? Tell us a little bit about the creative process
DM: Sure, well right now we are mainly workign with designers in New York City and then we have a lead designer who goes over to Cambodia and she basically helps the orgaizations, Kinda like being the trainer. The women that are more skilled, she works with them. But she also works with the women that aren't as skilled and in terms of encouraging them to think outside of the box, helping them really um, kinda focus on their colleagues and the whole aspect--

SF: Right
DM: And so, she's pretty much there 6 months out of the year and soon to be there longer. She has a background in fashion, merchandising, design, and business. So she's also part of our team and is the lead in developing a more comprehensive program that focuses on not only entreprenuership training but also marketing, also technical skills; some women cannot sew So kind of not saying that we want to create more and more women that can sew, but we want them to have teh technical skills as well as entrepreneur skills in which they can really rise above their circumstances and move toward other professions. So that's a programme we're developing and raising funds for right now.

SF: Cool, so from these skills that they have learned, what have the women gone on to do later in life?
And could you perhaps tell us a story or two about a few of the women that have benefitted from it.
DM: Yeah I can um, I can tell you that our organization is only about two years old and so...I can't quote you success stories. We do have an idea of what we want to get to...but it takes years and years for that to happen. But I will say that there are success stories of women that have been able to provide for their children through the organizations we work with, who provide fair wage, health care, child care and other benefits that help them to keep a job and earn a living wage for their children. Some of them have sent their children to school, others desire to--fifty percent of the women that work in Cambodia are illiterate and--so women desire to learn their local language, read and write. Another woman, now she wants to be a secretary for a non- government organization there and being a secretary and being in an office job is highly desirable in Cambodia where the economy is still very much agriculturally based and there is some manufacturing in their society. So having a job as a secretary is very desirable. Now that she has skills in working with people and coming to the job on time and y'know being able to communicate, being able to read and write their local language.

SF: Very well. What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do for the women and what you do personally. What is the most rewarding thing for you?
DM: Yeah, I think the most rewarding thing for our organization is just sharing their stories and being able to fill a need really. Alot of women, they end up in the vicious cycle of having to return to the trade because they have no other economic opportunities. And one of the main reasons why they get lured or sucked into the industry is really because of poverty and a lack of education and opportunity. So I really see the value and the need for what we're doing so I find it very rewarding that we're proposign this new investment to people and to help them, those that have been, y'know entrenched in this industry to be able to rise above. So what really fuels me is when I get to meet with the women at the shelters and the girls we definately don't work with on the deep level other than providing them with classes and some--and just visitng their shelter and seeing what the needs are. We really don't work with girls right now. But I think in terms of the women I find it really rewarding to be able to hear their stories and see the  progression of their lives in terms of coming from a place of no choice and now having choice: having choice of working, havign choice of providing for tehir family, having choice and opportunities being presented to them. Y'know even though the populaiton is ignored by the government in Cambodia by the mainstream populaiton  and economy. I really find value in what we're doing: being able to care out opportunities for them to not only work but  eventually move into other careers. Living out their dreams: begoming a teacher, becoming a nurse, becoming a pediatrician. And I've heard women express to me 'I believe that that can happen' y'know with the support of our organization and many others.

SF: Very well, thank you so much for your time, take care!
DM: You too!

Addendum: Because our interviewee was a bit short on time, here are a few more questions that were answered via email:

What materials do you use in your products?

recycled rice bags

Who is the brand geared toward?
Cause-oriented women, college students, moms and young professionals

What are the best ways to spread awareness about the brand and its mission?
purchasing a bag on and hosting a home sales party.

How would you describe the line and how it reflects your cause?

Vibrant colors and hopeful

For more information, do visit their site: