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The FairFem Interviews: Episode 1 with Dear Survivor



In FairFem's first episode of the FairFem Interviews, we interview Christine, the founder and designer behind sustainable jewelry label Dear Survivor.


In a series of questions, we touched on the topics of sustainability, femininity, and female empowerment - all of which Dear Survivor promotes. Christine also described her journey to create a label and the struggles of being a woman running her own company.



Take a look at the whole interview here! Or, keep reading for a few our of favorite highlights!





Rebecca @ FairFem:

First of all, can you just explain a bit about you and your brand Dear Survivor?


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

Yeah, absolutely. So, I love fashion. I always have, but it was kind of a far-off dream for me to work in fashion. I didn't go to school for it. I felt like if I wanted to be a designer, I had to be really good at drawing, which now I'm like, gosh, I can't believe I thought that for so long.


I always wanted to do it, but it just felt like I just was never going to be able to actually do anything in fashion. I love clothing, accessories, like all of it. I love everything about it. I worked in retail for a number of years. And when I was working in retail, I saw a number of brands that were coming up like early, like mid 2000s, that were like built around a social goods.


So Toms was probably the first one that came on my radar that was like, Oh, they're selling something and helping people, I love that. So I saw all these brands and I was like, that would be so cool someday if I could ever have a brand, for sure it'd be something that helps in some way.


Then when I was in college, the issue of human trafficking really came onto my heart because there was a brothel that had opened across the street from my house - which was insane to have that happen. That was very formative just in my personal life and it was just really heartbreaking. And the craziest part was seeing how long it took for anything to actually be done by the authorities. Even though myself and all of the neighbors were reporting it and trying to get somebody to do something. But just for all these legal reasons, the police couldn't just like walk in. I was like, this is just super broken.


So through that I knew that would be the cause that I wanted to like do something about - working with human trafficking victims.


And then as I was in school, my actual degree was sociology and I built my research around human trafficking, just like on a broader level of how products are made. So just like general manufacturing and how there's so much exploitation around the world because of how things are made. So, I was like, if I ever start something, human trafficking will be my cause, victims of sex trafficking specifically.


I also want every part of my business to be super transparent and just not having a hand of human trafficking anywhere in my product line, like the supply chain, how it's made and everything.


Rebecca @ FairFem:

So now tell me a bit about Generate Hope, the organization that you donate some of your proceeds to.


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

Generate hope. So, like I said, from the get go, I was like, I know that I want to bring attention to this issue of human trafficking.


I think that the consumer market is a really powerful place to create positive change in the world. Like the consumer dollar can go so far.

I knew immediately that I want to be donating a portion of proceeds to a nonprofit that's already established and reputable, they're doing good work.

(...)

I found Generate Hope and a few other things fell into place (...). They're specifically a safe house for women who have been rescued from sex trafficking. So women come and live with them and just receive rehabilitation and care and trauma therapy. And job education, job trainings, all these different things that they're able to buffer and help them with. So I donate monthly a portion of all my proceeds and it just goes to their greatest needs. Some months it goes towards their enrichment activities. So like horseback riding or just things like that, where it's an activity for the girls to get out. So there's that side of it. And then also just up keeps for the house, their housing situation and clothing.


Rebecca @ FairFem:

And then you also mentioned something about the Refugee Artisan Initiative and they are now making the earrings. What is the process that you set up with them?


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

I found Refugee Artisan Initiative and I'm like, Oh, these ladies would be ideal.


I just really want to empower as many people as I can through every portion of my business.

And if part of the manufacturing process could go to hand off to them. It's a program up in the Pacific Northwest that works with different women who are immigrants and refugees from around the world - most of them are single mothers. Job opportunities are harder for them based on transit, just so many different reasons. And so they partner with smaller designers, some bigger designers too, to make sewn goods and jewelry pieces. So I found them, I was like, this would be perfect. They could all work from home. I sent them all the samples like I was doing with everybody else. And when I got it back, I literally cried when I opened it.


Rebecca @ FairFem:

You cried out of happiness, hopefully, yes?


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

Yes! Like tears of joy because I was like these are perfect. Like every single one was perfectly made exactly how I would have done it. And I was like, these are the women that I want to support anyways.


Rebecca @ FairFem:

That's so cool to be able to really start from the bottom of the supply chain and, you know, empower the women at the end. Totally love it.


So moving forward, with FairFem, we have three pillars and one of the pillars is on sustainability and fairness in fashion, which I would say Dear Survivor definitely is that. But I also feel like these terms are being so thrown around often and people don't really have a definition for them. So how would you define sustainability? You already kind of touched on this with Dear Survivor being a sustainable brand with upcycling and whatnot. But if you could just talk a little bit more in the context of sustainability.


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

So I started five years ago and the language at that time was all about ethical fashion and it's been kind of wild to watch just in the last, like two or three years. The language changed to like, well, are you sustainable? Not ethical. And so, for me, sustainability also encompasses ethical. So making sure that the people making the things are safe, good to go, well paid and then sustainable. Meaning are we taking resources from the planet in a way that's harming? And for me, the route I've chosen to go is just working only with the recycled materials. So I'm not buying anything new. Always just upcycling. So the leather comes from the factory, that's the off cuts of when they make a purse. So like that stuff is just going to go to landfill if somebody doesn't come and grab it.


The metals that I'm working with, they're all recycled metals. So it's lived one life, been refined, and sent to me as the granules that I can then cast again into something new. So that's great. Love that.


And then I have my recycled rubber earrings. Those are from a factory that makes rubber mats. All of their off-cuts are sent back through a re grinder machine and then that's the material I use for the rubber earrings. (...).


So for me, sustainability is all about giving something one life that would likely be thrown away if it wasn't given the opportunity to transform into something new.

Yeah, it's fun. For me, it's kind of like a design challenge, like rather than starting with an idea of a design, it's more starting with a material instead and seeing like, what is the potential of this material?


Challenges that I've had with it are scaling. So like the leather, I don't always have the same colors because it comes and goes. Because I'm not saying like, Hey, tannery in Italy, can I have 500 hides of white? It's like, well, no, I found 30 pounds of scrap white and that, you know, that'll get us through this, this amount of time. So that's like one of the challenges, but, I just think it's fun. It keeps things exciting. And I just love the creative challenge of recycled material.


Rebecca @ FairFem:

So the second pillar of FairFem is female empowerment. In general, women are massively underrepresented in executive management for the major fashion brands. So what has your experience been as a female leader in the industry? And did you experience any hurdles?


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

Yeah, absolutely. I feel like I'm still having to prove myself all the time. Any time I walk into a meeting with the factory or a supplier just any time. I think too because I started the brand when I was 24, so like I am young and plus like I look young. And I just was not being taken seriously most of the time.


Rebecca @ FairFem:

And has that evolved over the years, would you say?


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

I've started to own it a little bit more because I've just begun to be like, I'm five years into running this, I'm not going to take your like snide remarks. I've learned to be more confident in saying like, yes I am the owner of this business and yes, we are successful to some degree. But I love working with other female-run businesses. Like the factory I work with in LA that does the purses that I buy the scrap from. It's a woman who runs that place and she's just a total amazing woman and she's just awesome to work with. And I'm like, I feel like you just get it. Like I came in here and you didn't give me any weirdness. So there's those moments where I'm like, okay, cool. Like there are other amazing like badass women, like running things.


Rebecca @ FairFem:

So what about any advice that you would give to a woman who would like to start her own business based off of your experience?


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

I think just being confident in who you are. For me, since I was really little, I've always just loved art and design, fashion, everything about it. But just for so long, it was like, no, I could never do that. And I wish that I had just done it earlier. I wish that I had actually gone to school for it. I just was told so often like, Oh, you can never get a job in fashion or art. But it's like, no, you totally can. I think those are the things that have always been the truest thing about myself. And I just like pushed that down for so long.


And then when I finally did give myself the freedom to pursue the things I love the most, that's when my personal brand, my business was actually able to thrive.

So yeah, just having confidence in who you are and the things that you love.


Rebecca @ FairFem:

So then the final question, what words of advice would you give to women who are struggling to feel empowered?


Christina @ Dear Survivor:

Honestly just love the things about yourself that maybe you don't feel are the norm. It's so empowering to just allow yourself to love the things you love and to do the things you love and to not feel like it's wrong or like you're any less than because you don't do things like other women. Just allow yourself to do the things you love. I think that's just important. And I'm just a huge advocate for that because having my friend tell me, Hey, just start a brand because you're good at this. And you love it. I just needed someone to give me permission to do it. And it's like, thank god I had that friend. (...)


I can't believe it took that long for me to like, hear somebody say that, like just be you and do the thing you love. And that actually really changed my life.


I love ending on those words. What great advice from Christina!

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