By Beatrice Tridimas
It’s the coldest day of November so far. The trains, once again, have let me down and I’m running late. By the time I’ve rushed across Abbey Road, my three thermal layers are a little too cosy.
She greets me with a hug. She’s been running late too. Thank God. She woke up a little late and has only just finished her morning meditation. She’s calming.
‘Take a seat.’
Table? Sofa? Sofa. She offers tea, I need water.
We sit adjacent on the corner seat sofa; it’s a warm, earthy brown. Where to start? I have so much to ask her…
We talk for an hour before I even turn the dictaphone on and slide it between us.
It’s not about owning the brand, she tells me, but owning the statement: ‘We’re saying “Free As A Human,” but are we really free, and is everybody really free? […] we’re like custodians of this earth, basically, like that’s what we are, and for us to not be that is counter to what we should be doing, is counter to the kind of life we should be living…’
The initiative supports the fund-raising efforts of HAART Kenya, the first Non-Governmental Organization in East Africa dedicated to fighting Human Trafficking. HAART offers support and shelter to victims of trafficking and forced labour. Profits from Free As A Human merchandise are donated directly to HAART Kenya, and Anyango’s latest campaign aims to raise enough money to build a new shelter.
‘If there’s one thing this is going to do, it’s going to make the right people support [HAART] and if there’s one thing I can do, I can use my voice, because I have a big voice, I can use it and speak about the things that should matter to every one of us.’
Partnering with HAART felt very natural, she tells me. When she made her first donation, a parcel of underwear for each of the girls under HAART’s care, they told her, ‘it’s just like God hears and you showed up.’
The process was a very emotional one, ‘I remember thinking, wow, we take our security so for granted, we take our upbringing and the things we have access to so for granted and there are children who just have had an alternative life experience, so after that, I just sat there thinking, how can people like me support you more?’
I wrote a paper on Human Trafficking, so the subject was not new to me, but I think that deep down, I’ve always been appalled at how women are treated, about sexual violence against women, about how people treat their workers. I’ve always been appalled. When I started my brand, one of my commitments was to make sure that the people I worked with were not exploiting their employees. It’s part of who I am, speaking up about injustice […].
When it came to HAART it just felt like the right partner for me long term […] they were people who were so involved and so engaged in what was happening at the shelter and with the kids, they were basically their parents. There was no doubt in my mind that they were committed to fighting injustice and safeguarding the dignity of young girls and women. I only ever want to work with people who care and that’s it.
I wasn’t. I wasn’t. In fact, it was so normal to go to an Auntie’s house and see a young girl who was the house help…I think what really gets to people is that we’ve all seen it, but we didn’t have a name to it. […]. It didn’t exist, it was still evolving, it was normal. I mean how do you justify turning a blind eye when you see a ten-year-old girl who should be playing with her peers and going to school working? When there’s an adult who’s telling you that this is normal, as a child you become conditioned to accept the situation as normal. What else do you know?
I think it’s becoming a bit more conscious and paying attention to the things around you. […] I feel like we sort of walk around with this veil. So even if we see it, we don’t want to see it. […] When you’re actually a conscious citizen, you start paying attention to these things. It’s the first step, it’s opening your eyes, see, look at the dynamics. If there’s an older man interacting with a younger girl and the girl’s not talking and she’s sort of like got her head down and she’s acting weird, chances are there’s a problem.
The phone rings, Lizzo’s ‘Juice’ is the ringtone. It might be a lawyer. Anyango explains that with the support of Thomas Reuters Foundation (TrustLaw) she receives pro bono legal services to help Free As A Human.
Put this into context: you bought a t-shirt for £5, everyone has at some point, […] that’s cheaper than a sandwich […]. That t-shirt cost something to be made, that cotton cost something to be produced […]. If you just break it down to someone… for it to cost £5 at a retail store, how much did the farmer or worker who made that t-shirt get paid? The chances are, the person who made that t-shirt and the person who grew that cotton and harvested it was not an empowered person, so [buying those T-shirts] you’re sending the wrong message.
Give your clothes personalities before someone wears them. […]. Every time I need inspiration I listen to Aretha Franklin and I look up one poem, one or two poems by Maya Angelou, just to remind me of something […]. ‘Human Family,’ which is the name of my collection now, my new collection, I read it and I was like, that’s it.
This is what I’m trying to say right now because I’m still talking about trafficking, […] I want us to remember that we’re more alike than we are unlike – this is exactly what she says but we are! […] When you’ve made the conscious decision to buy my dress, then you already know the story. […] It’s encouraging people to also take ownership of what they buy and wear and feel a part of your story…that’s something I never want to lose.
When you are buying things, don’t buy things to discard. Buy things so you can take care of them. I can’t buy underwear at the thrift shop. But I can get other stuff, I’m not too proud. […] If we act more consciously, there’s going to be more changes. Look at the conscious collection that H&M released – sold out so quickly!
Ask the right questions, you’re a consumer and it’s your money. It’s the same thing as your food. If someone brought you your food and they said this is a fresh salad, and then you saw worms on it, you would be asking questions. Well, guess what, we have invisible worms in everything that we wear, and the invisible worm is this slavery. It’s modern slavery. That’s the invisible worm.
170 million children around the world are trafficked every year, 170 million children. That’s 11% of the population of children around the world. And that’s the accounted for, there are those that are undocumented […]. There’s a lot to be done. I can’t do it on my own. There’s one of me, there’s millions of people. But it’s the truth. This is not going to happen without you guys, I’ve put it out there […].
We can do something. This is me saying, you know what, each of you can actually do something, you can, you just have to make the decision.
Four hours later I feel quite stunned. Anyango is a powerful speaker, her passion is infectious, her laughter warming, and her hope, really quite astounding. If one person can do so much, what can twenty, fifty, one hundred do?
Support Anyango’s latest campaign on GoFundMe here. All funds go directly to HAART Kenya in aid of building them a new shelter. Share the link with friends and family to share the love!