Founded by British Dawn Schuster in India, The Rags Tribe is a clothing label created to provide skills and opportunities to the women and girls rescued from sex trafficking. The Rags Tribe is so much more than just a label selling beautiful, unique designs, but a small business that is helping to empower women and offer them a better life.

Dawn partnered up with the organization, Purnata, to help the women transition from a life of captivity to a life with employment and hope. We spoke with Dawn about her label, the sex trafficking industry in India and how she’s hoping to empower women globally through her efforts.

Every design is one-of-a-kind & the sale of every piece can help to employ another female. Use discount code HOLR at checkout for 10% off. Click to Shop.

What inspired you to start The Rags Tribe?

For many years, I volunteered in Nepal and Africa, and when I left Nepal, I knew that I wanted something more than to go for a couple of weeks or months. I wanted to set something sustainable up and the subject of women and the way that they’re treated around the world is so important to me.

I also spent a lot of time traveling in India and seeing the way that woman are treated there in many places is absolutely shocking. So it inspired me to start thinking about what I could and I thought, who are the women that are the most poorly treated? Sex-trafficked women. So I started researching more and watched a documentary called ‘Born into Brothels’, which won an Oscar and it was really inspiring. It’s about this woman who’s a photographer and she taught the kids in the brothels in Calcutta to use disposable cameras and then she did exhibitions with their photos and I knew that’s what I wanted to do — I wanted to work with women in brothels because they really have no way out. So yeah that’s how I came up with the idea. I had no idea back then how was I going to find the women and girls to help them, but things happened that led to that.

How did you set it up?

I knew I couldn’t just go to India on my own and go to a red light area and find women. So I found this really small charity on Instagram that works with sex-trafficked women and they’re just amazing at what they do — they rescue the women and they have a drop in center in one of the red light areas in Mumbai. A lot of these girls have HIV, so the charity gives them medication and teaches them how to be healthy and provide counseling. So I started working with them.

A lot of the women come from Nepal, Bangladesh and the villages, and they’re tricked as children and teenagers into going to the main city to get jobs as cleaners or nannies or something like that. Then once they reach the main city they just disappear because it’s impossible to get them out. So this charity started off by trying to stop the trains that have the girls on them with the pimps that are trafficking them. They would have sources that informed them that there were women on these trains and they would stop the trains. But then they found that the women and children they were rescuing would still end up in prostitution, getting kidnapped and on the streets anyway. So they realized that they needed to do something more to help them start a better life by teaching them skills, so that’s part of what I do.

How does your initiative help these women?

I employ the women after they are rescued from sex-trafficking. I have two girls that work for me, who we’ve trained to sew and we have another girl who’s trained to be a hairdresser that also works with me.

All of them have had trauma that you can’t even imagine — I won’t talk about it now because it’s very intense the things that they’ve been through — but we try to help them rebuild their lives and to have hope again.

When I was in Mumbai last, I also spent a lot of time with women in the red light area who are still prostitutes. It was International Women’s Day and I told them, “there’s a light at the end of this tunnel and I’m going to help you. I’m going to employ more of you and I’m going to grow this business” and I want to keep that promise. I really want to help as many girls as I can by providing them with work.

What kind of roles do these women play?

I employ them to make all the garments but, I also take their ideas and implement them. They’re amazingly creative women.

Can you tell us about the designs?

They’re all one-of-a-kind. They basically come from vintage Sari’s that we tie-dye and the fabrics are hand-embroidered. I curate these fabrics in India and I like the shapes to be very loose and comfortable. They’re all one size as well.

Did you always have an interest in designing clothing?

I was always interested in fashion and design and I studied textile design. In particular, I always loved Indian fabrics and I knew I wanted to do something with them. I love the colours and materials. And then when I started this initiative, I wanted to design and make really special one-of-a-kind pieces. I didn’t want to just get the fabric and churn it out. So that’s why each piece is very special and tells a story.

Where can people purchase The Rags Tribes clothing?

We’re in a few boutiques in America, but we mainly sell online. So

Is sex trafficking in India just as prevalent today? Have any strides been taken in improving the problem or preventing it at all?

It’s actually worse. India’s having a full epidemic of sex trafficking. They say that one in ten people are somehow connected to sex trafficking and an estimated “14 million individuals are living through this form of modern-day slavery.” And it takes about 48-hours for a street child to be kidnapped and put into prostitution.

There is also a new metro line that is being built in Mumbai that’s making the problem worse. Thousands of men are being brought from the villages to build and what happens is a lot of these men end up going to prostitutes. Then they go back to the villages and are spreading HIV and Aids.

So the organization I work with, do a lot of educating because the culture in India, especially in some of the poorer communities, is that women are not seen as people, rather just as objects. So they’re helping these men to understand that these women are people and have feelings and that their behaviour is really disruptive.

What can we do as a society to help women around the world in such positions?

I don’t really believe in the whole idea of “us and them” because I feel like any of us could have been born into any life. It just so happens that unfortunately they were born into such conditions and circumstances. So I think we just need to change our mindset to one of unity like “it could have been me” type thing, rather than “let’s just throw money at the situation.” That’s why I don’t want my brand just be about a charity and a pitiful thing. I really want my brand to empower women, and I want it to be creating this tribe of women worldwide who are empowering each other. And the beautiful pieces that the girls make, make the women that wear them feel amazing and by buying these pieces, they make the girls feel amazing too and start helping them to utilize themselves.

What do you hope for in 2019?

Just to have the ability to be able to support more women and for people to think a little more about what they’re wearing. Not just my brand but in general. It’s worth it to spend a bit more on something and for it to be made ethically. Even if that means having fewer things, it’s worth it to have fewer things that are better quality and made ethically.

Every design is one-of-a-kind & the sale of every piece can help to employ another female. Use discount code HOLR at checkout for 10% off. Click to Shop.

Follow The Rags Tribe on Instagram: @theragstribe