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Beautiful accessories that also save women from human trafficking

Beautiful accessories that also save women from human trafficking

This week our CEO and founder Alison Rentoul had the great pleasure of interviewing For Dignity Founder Heather Rayside about her beautiful ethical jewellery and accessories range which supports the rescue of girls from human trafficking.

A definite kindred spirit, Alison learns how Heather saw a need for these girls and women who had been rescued to be able to support their families, and identified an opportunity for them to be able to learn trades and create beautiful products. Working with a number of organisations producing beautiful jewellery, bags, baskets and more, Heather is striving to make a difference in the lives of these women and provide the tools to guide them to a financially stable and more self sustaining future.

Watch the video interview 

 Listen to the audio

 

Read the full transcript (click here)

Alison Rentoul:    
Hello everybody and welcome to the Aquamarine Home Blog! I am Alison Rentoul, the CEO and founder of Aquarmarine Home, the place to find beautiful, ethical, and sustainable coastal homewares. I'm being joined today by the lovely Heather Rayside from a beautiful organisation called For Dignity.
Hi Heather! Thanks for joining us!
 
Heather Rayside:   
Hi Alison, it's really great to be here. Thank you for the time you're giving me. 
 
Alison Rentoul:    
Oh, my pleasure. So Heather, tell us a little bit about For Dignity. What products do you sell and provide to the market and how did you go about setting up this beautiful organization and what are you achieving or what are you hoping to achieve with it?  
 
Heather Rayside:   
Well we set up an online boutique store and we were really looking for well-made beautiful workmanship in products that women could enjoy in Australia so our line is mainly jewelry and bags, fashion bags and some homewares that we sell to the Australian people. But like yours, they are  ethical and have a story behind them, because we believe that style and story can go together and you don't need to compromise either and so that's one of the reasons we started For Dignity. 
  
Alison Rentoul:    
Oh yes, absolutely. I couldn't agree more. I think there's a little bit of a kind of myth somewhere along the way that ethical products or sustainable products are somehow a little bit daggy, so I'm really trying hard to break that stereotype as well and show that ethical and beautiful sustainable products can also be really stylish. Is this one of your necklaces that you're wearing?
  
Heather Rayside:   
It is, actually! It's one of our more popular from probably my generation but it's actually made by an organization in Asia that work to help getting women out of human trafficking and they've set up an enterprise of jewelry making and they just make beautiful jewelry, constantly updating their range. They have employed over 130 women through the years that they've been working and each piece is made beautifully by them. So yes, I love having to wear their jewelry because it's great jewelry! 
  
Alison Rentoul:    
Yeah, it's absolutely stunning! It's a really beautiful statement piece. So how long ago did you set up For Dignity? 
 
Heather Rayside:   
Well back in 2016 we launched the website and then we've been growing and establishing ourselves since then, but before that I came back from serving eight years in Vietnam in health community development work and I was sort of going, "Well do I go back to my medical practice," which is what I'd worked in, the profession I'd worked in here in Australia or do I do something a bit different. Because I'd worked in development work there, had really tasted and seen what life was like for those that are vulnerable and exploited. We'd worked on the border between China and Vietnam so we'd come across some situations where people had been trafficked across the border. I just couldn't get that out of from under my skin. I had to do something here. I just looked at the Australian public with fresh eyes and said, you know, a bit like you, this ethical sustainable and conscious shopping still had a little ilk of not being very stylish. Yet I wanted to see that Australian women, in particular, could buy beautiful gifts that were having a positive impact, rather than having the negative impact that some of the mass-produced child-labor type products that are available in the market. They can make a choice that they'd probably be happier to make. 
 So I started back at that time. That was 2014 to just sort of collaborate with organizations that I'd known, having lived in Asia for eight years. I'd known a number of people and definitely the starting organizations that we started with for were as a result of people that I knew had been there and been involved in some way, telling me about their story, what they were doing. We tested their products. I tested the market and did all that background research for that year and a half before we actually launched.    
 
Alison Rentoul:    
Wow, that's amazing. So was it a difficult process or an enjoyable process, like, how hard was it bringing it all to life?
  
Heather Rayside:   
Look, with no training as a business person it was a very growthful process of doing some training and going to courses that would help me learn how to manage a business. Yet at the same time I found it deeply rewarding because it was something, as I said, I couldn't get out from under my skin and wanted to continue to contribute. So, when we started to see funds flowing back in to these organizations and them therefore being able to employ more people or do more outreaches it was like, deeply rewarding despite all the long hours and the unknowns and all that type of thing. 
  
Alison Rentoul:    
Yeah absolutely. It's really what sort of keeps you going and gets you jumping out of bed in the morning, isn't it? Having that really big why you're doing this and when you directly get to see the impact that you're making into these beautiful people's lives, I can imagine that that's a wonderful feeling as well. So, who comes up with all of the product designs? Is it yourself or do you have a team of people that you work with?
  
Heather Rayside:   
Well, most of the organizations we started with have their own designers and we - I say we because very early in the piece I recognized that I had certain tastes and they would influence what we brought in, but I needed a broader selection base so I gathered together some big-hearted women with expertise in that area, an interior designer, a merchandiser, of various generations, from in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and we just had a look together and started to select the best of the products these organizations were making for our Australian market. And we are just getting there. Now I've got a graphic designer on the team as well and we're getting there to look at actually self designing with some of the smaller organizations that have the skillset of manufacturing but maybe not the design concepts that would be suitable for us in Australia. 
 
Alison Rentoul:    
That's really interesting because that's something that I've been looking at as well. You know, often when you find people that you really want to help and you really want to work with, the products that they're producing are not necessarily exactly what the market here would want to buy, so I'm finding it really interesting working with people on how can we tweak it? How can we change colorways a little bit or the design to make it more palatable I guess for the market. Because ultimately what you want is for them to be able to sell more products and so you know so that you actually can make more impact. So yes, that's really interesting. 
  
Heather Rayside:   
That's right and it's not just the Australian market then they can move into. I know that other western markets have different, slightly different tastes but if they're getting the quality up to standard and looking at complying with the labeling and what's necessary here, it actually flows over to those countries as well and it actually -  that's the hope that it actually enables them to sell more abroad than just maybe the tourist market and the local market that they have access to. 
  
Alison Rentoul:    
Absolutely. It gives them a much broader reach. So go ahead and show everyone some of your beautiful products, because there was one thing in particular that attracted my attention I think when I found you on Instagram that made me reach out to you. It was this beautiful bag.
  
Heather Rayside:   
This is Alison's favourite and I must say it's everyone's favourite to be honest. 
  
Alison Rentoul:    
It's so gorgeous.
  
Heather Rayside:   
This is made by a beautiful organization called Joyn and they're based up in the Northern Himalayas and this is actually all cotton and fully lined and it's the beautiful thing about this is that it's all handmade, so the cotton has been actually hand-spun and you can see the underlaying nature of the cotton in its hand loomed woven and they get big block prints and print out each color on to the design and then someone sews it up into a really good quality bag. I've had one for over 12 month and look, it's looking a good as this. I love this brand and I love what they're doing in the stories when I hear the stories about the people. The people have always got beaming faces.  I can see why they called it Joyn. You know they obviously invest a lot into these people. But that's Alison's favorite and you can see why because I think she's a blue girl. 
The same company also has a leather range, so they've taken their handmade fabric but they also collaborate with a business that uses repurposed leather so all the large leather goods companies - their off-cuts. They take them, they design them into bags, rather than it going into landfill because that leather, that's where it would've been destined otherwise. 
So this is a little cross-body, which again, you know it's fully lined with pockets and this beautiful high grain quality leather that smells great. I love the smell of leather. I'm not a vegan. So I can enjoy those fragrances but I know that it's actually come from a product that would've otherwise just been buried in the ground. So they make a range of handbags and fashion bags, cross-bodies, travel bags. We find that they're very enjoyable, well-made, and popular products. So they're Joyn.
Another product that I enjoy as you see is my necklace. We have two organizations that are in East Asia, working particularly in the red light district. Because about 78% of trafficked people end up in the sex industry so it is a very high trafficked area and this organization called Starfish Project. That's their little box, and their logo. And they make these different pieces of jewelry. So this is actually a crystal or a druzy stone with 18 karat gold-leaf around the edges. That's a pair of earrings but we have their necklaces and different rings. Little fashion dress rings and they go from very feminine to quite contemporary type of jewelry. Again, it's usually plated metal or sterling silver, but it's all hypo-allergenic. It's either on stainless steel or brass.
They're the one that I mentioned before that have been able to employ 130 different women. They put them through from the stages where they reach out to the women to a safe house, to counseling, to education, vocational training, and they've trained and had women go on to become accountants and photographers and yeah. So last two is a little on the homewares range and I don't know if you'll like this being a coastal girl Alison but these are made of jute rope, and bowls and there're two different sizes there but that piece of rope is a single strand that they've knotted in and out and in and out and around and around to form that basket. Their tagline is Girls Knot For Sale, which I think's a nice little pun on the design, but they're supporting women there through making from big mats that you put on the floor. And then the final one I'll show you is an organization called Basha, and they're based in Bangladesh and the women that started them noticed all these women on the side of the train line wondering what they were doing and obviously they were women that couldn't afford to feed their families. They were on their own and they were very vulnerable to exploitation so she started a collaboration with a not for profit that was helping reach out and care for these women, but she saw that the problem that can often happen is they make get the care but the tail-end then they don't have a vocation to go into, so she started workshops and they produce products where a tradition in that region is kantha stitching so they get saris, either these are new saris. This one's a recycled sari and they put layers of them together. This little blanket's got six layers of recycled saris and that's so soft. The fibers have been softened up with all that use. And they put them together and sew that stitching in and that gives the girls work that they can do but in the midst of that, they obviously give them education and they provide education for their children and those blankets, they just - that range, as soon as people touch them, they fall in love with them. They just go, "Oh this is great! Great for a throw on a bed or a couch or add a pop of color somewhere." And yes, since we started working with this organization I think they had three and now they've got eight workshops across Bangladesh. 
 
Alison Rentoul:    
Oh that's wonderful!
  
Heather Rayside:   
Yeah. That I wonderful. Now I can't take the credit for all that increase workload but we've been part of that story.
  
Alison Rentoul:    
That is so wonderful. So are there other people like you that are working with them and taking their products to other parts of the world or?
  
Heather Rayside:   
Yes, they're available in the USA and in Canada and in Singapore. I think in Singapore? I know it's Canada definitely and the US. 
  
Alison Rentoul:    
Yep. Oh that's so fantastic. Wow. So what are your plans for the future with For Dignity, like if you could wave a magic wand what would you do in terms of expansion or growth?
  
Heather Rayside:   
We started to realize that we think that people really enjoy hearing the story along with the product and so we've started to design a - what we're calling a girl's night for now for better a term, where we actually can go in and tell the stories behind the organizations, talk about trafficking, what is it, help it educate people about what it is because there's about 15,000 people in Australia that had trafficked and that's what we know about, let alone worldwide. You know there's 46 million worldwide when you look at some reports. So it's a big world issue and in that is the slavery issue so we want to talk about those issues with women but not just tell them so they feel bad but tell them so they can feel empowered that their choices do make a difference and they can have a positive impact. We're not here to bring a bad news story but a good news story about that these choices of what you put in your home can actually change things and change people's lives in some way. So that's what we're starting up and you know we bring the products, we bring the stories and have a great night over some champagne or yummy cheese and wine or whatever people want to do and share that story. So our vision is that that story and the products will get into homes across Australia through that initiative.  
 
Alison Rentoul:    
Oh what a fantastic idea. So will you be starting these in Melbourne because you're based in Melbourne? 
  
Heather Rayside:   
Yes, yes we are starting and we've run several pilots and we're looking to take bookings coming up through Christmas, so early October.
  
Alison Rentoul:    
Oh wonderful! You must keep me posted about that because I'd love that. 
  
Heather Rayside:   
Yeah, I will. 
  
Alison Rentoul:    
And yeah definitely be able to share with all of our followers as well, you know like what you're doing and see if they’d like to come too. That's super cool! Well, thank you so much Heather. It's been really lovely chatting with you and so interesting to find out more about For Dignity and how it all started and all of the wonderful impacts that you're making with your absolutely gorgeous products. And if anybody's wondering I am absolutely going to be stocking some of these products in the near future so keep your eyes out for those and watch this space. So Heather, where can people find you in the meantime? What's your website address? We'll put all of this in the blog article below as well but just in case people want to look it up.  
 
Heather Rayside:   
Sure our full range is available online and the website is ForDignity.com.au.
And we also have a small range in Northcote at the Fair Tradery in High Street.
  
Alison Rentoul:    
Oh lovely. Okay. That's great! And I assume you're on Instagram. Well I know you're on Instagram, because that's where I found you. 
 
Heather Rayside:   
Yes.  
 
Alison Rentoul:    
Facebook as well, so it’s ForDignity. 
 
Heather Rayside:   
ForDignityau.  
 
Alison Rentoul:    
Perfect. That is so great. Thank you so much once again Heather. It's been an absolute pleasure chatting with you and I can't wait to do more wonderful things together with you in the future. 
  
Heather Rayside:   
That'll be great! Thank you Alison. Thank you very much! 
 
Alison Rentoul:    
Have a wonderful day! 
  
Heather Rayside:   
You too.  
 
Alison Rentoul:    
Bye! 

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Check our Fair and Square's Website: www.fordignity.com.au 

Follow them on Instagram: www.instagram.com/forDignityau/

Or find them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/fordignityau/

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How does Heather's story inspire you? What are your thoughts about the importance of providing these women with the tools to work for a living? We would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below!

 

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