When we announced the winner of our first give away a couple months ago, we were so please to discover that our winner was also the owner of a line of hand-made bags. The bag line, Dear Survivor gives back to charities that are fighting human trafficking.
Here's our interview with Christine:
Name: Christine Longoria
Occupation: Sculptor/Production Seamstress/Designer
Hometown: Redlands, CA
Website: Dear Survivor
Christine: Human trafficking was a topic that sparked my interest in college. I studied Sociology at San Francisco State University, and focused my research on the factors that perpetuate modern day slavery around the world. But my interest really peaked when I saw trafficking happen outside my front door. The “Warmer Massage” opened about a year after I moved onto the corner of 8th and Anza in the Inner Richmond of San Francisco - a very quaint and quiet part of the city. This “parlor” was directly across from me, so my roommates and I kept an eye on the activity when we started to see unusual behavior (men coming in at all hours of the day, heavily draped windows, people ringing the doorbell to be let in, security camera at the door). Just a lot of things that left me unsettled. A couple of months passed and I called the Human Trafficking Hotline to file a report - but I had to follow up a few weeks later because nothing had been done. I was told it wasn’t “enough” red flags for them to act, and they told me to contact the local police. So that night I walked to the police station three blocks away - and they just gave me another number to call, which never led to anything either. I was so frustrated, because I knew what I was seeing. Long story short - it took 2 and a half years to get this place shut down. I had moved to LA about a year into all this, and it ended up being the owner of the neighboring M&K Market who got the place shut down. He had been seeing everything I had, and had also been reporting and fighting to get this place shut down. He said what did it for him was seeing the girls tattooed with their owners’ name across their neck. I never saw the girls - but there were many nights I spent starring at the glow of neon from across the street and thinking about the exploitation that was literally steps away from me. It was surreal. All that to say, human trafficking is here. It’s hidden, but it’s here. Since this experience, I’ve wanted to work with trafficking victims in some capacity. When I decided to launch my company I saw the perfect opportunity to intersect my creativity with my passion for social good - and thus Dear Survivor was born.
Isobel: Your say on your website, 'There's power in the consumer market - let's use it for good.' Can you talk a little about your thoughts on how customers can vote with their dollars?
Christine: Yes. My personal experience was with sex trafficking - but modern day slavery as a whole is an important topic to me. A lot of human trafficking situations come from the need for cheap labor. And unfortunately - fashion plays a big role in this. Choosing to put your money into ethically produced companies or social enterprises is a powerful thing. Buy from companies that focus on job creation, environmental impact, or ethics. In some cases you may be paying higher prices, but you’re saying no to exploitation. I try to shop only second hand or from ethically made companies because I know that my dollars aren’t perpetuating the cycle of exploitation. I’m just one person and my choice to shop this way is small, but if more people get on board with this movement, then hopefully the big manufacturers will take a hit and eventually change the way the fashion world is ran. Fast fashion is disposable. Invest in items and companies you believe in. I realize this a big and very unrealistic dream - but hey, why not.
Isobel: Your line is a collection of really elegant and beautiful small-leather goods. How did you start your line, and what have you learned since you've been in business?
Christine: Where to start. It’s honestly been a whirlwind. Last spring a friend of mine who does business consulting approached me about starting my own business. I’d been in LA for almost two years - pursing my career as a sculptor, while paying the bills as a production seamstress. I’ve been doing ceramic sculpture for about eight years now, and had been preparing for a 3 month residency at a studio in Budapest, Hungary. I was saving every penny for that trip. But at the end of April my friend said “hey, I think you’re ready - try to come up with a company name and a few product ideas and see where it goes.” I’ve been making clothes and accessories for myself for years and had dreamed of having my own line, but never thought I could because I had no proper training or education in it. But I took a gamble and invested my $800 tax return in some nice leathers and jewelry supplies, spent a month creating my summer collection and developing my partnership with Generate Hope, and then on June 15th, 2015 Dear Survivor officially launched.
And then I left for Europe at the end of July, haha. (Dear Survivor was really not planned, I can’t stress that enough).
I got back to California in November, and have since been working really hard to make Dear Survivor a thing. It’s still relatively brand new, but it’s self sustaining at this point. In March I’m relocating to San Diego to really plant the business and hopefully be able to work more hands on with the survivors at Generate Hope.
Things I’ve learned: whew, so much. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how hard it is to be an “ethically made” company. And I fully understand why there aren’t more companies taking steps to produce in this way. At this point, I personally hand craft every Dear Survivor item - but I can’t guarantee that the materials I used were created in the same way. My hope is to have all components of my products be conflict free and fairly produced - down to the thread, the zippers, the stones, etc. I want to know to the best of my ability that human life was promoted rather than exploited on all ends of my product. It would be a lot easier and cheaper to blindly place orders with an overseas manufacturer - but I don’t want to do that. I have these convictions and I want to stand by them. It’s hard, but I believe it’s worth it to create in this way.
I’ve also learned so much about product development. Every time I make something new I can think of 5 ways to better it next time. It’s hard to release a collection because by the time it’s photographed and released it’s already old news to me and I’m ready to share my new designs.
So that’s Dear Survivor, a totally unexpected endeavor that I’m really proud of and excited about. I feel so privileged that I get to create every day, all the while bringing attention to the issue I’m passionate about.
To learn more about Generate hope or donate directly to their cause, please go here.
The shot that won the Clog competition on our instagram.
Christine ordered a custom pair of Miranda Sandals.