Who are you? & can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Lauren Carpenter, co-founder of BRANDED Collective! I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Integrated Strategic Communication and a minor in Business. I am originally from Kentucky, but have lived in Nashville, Tennessee for the past nine years with my husband, Chris. We added to our family earlier this year and now have a nine-month-old daughter (Holland Rose) who is our world. 🙂
What exactly is BRANDED Collective?
BRANDED Collective empowers survivors of trafficking here in Nashville through meaningful employment and economic independence. We hire survivors to design and create beautiful jewelry through a partnership with End Slavery Tennessee, a non-profit that provides services and safe housing for survivors.
What inspired you to start BRANDED Collective?
When Emily (BRANDED co-founder) and I started BRANDED Collective back in 2012, our goal was to raise awareness about trafficking in Nashville. Trafficking happens everywhere; and many people are not even aware that it is happening in the U.S. So first and foremost, we wanted to educate people about trafficking and allow them to contribute to a solution. In 2015, we began employing survivors and that really has become the most important part of our mission. We exist to help survivors move forward and to inspire them to rediscover the dreams they have lost along the way.
How did you come up with the name?
Many survivors of trafficking have been branded; their captors physically mark them with a number, name or a symbol. The process is often violent: a forced tattoo, a burn or a knife cut. We stand against this practice and ask people to purchase a piece of jewelry, wear a number and join our collective to support survivors and also raise awareness about trafficking and branding.
Your items are made by survivors of human trafficking, can you tell us about that?
Yes! That’s the best part of what we do, hands down. We provide meaningful work for survivors who have significant barriers to entry in the workforce. Some of them have never worked at a “normal job” before; others have felonies on their record, making it difficult to find work. We provide job training – teaching the women how to make jewelry, as well as other important skills that would translate to any job, like punctuality, responsibility, money management, etc. Our hope is to empower them and inspire them to move into the career of their dreams – but I’d say they end up inspiring us more often than not!
Is there a favorite product?
The lariat necklace has been a crowd favorite since it came out about a year ago. It’s such a uniquely designed piece; I think people love it because it’s so different. Other favorites are tiny cuffs (brass is our bestseller) and our new quote cuffs! The quote cuffs have inspiring messages on them like “Beauty from Darkness,” “Courage, Dear Heart,” “I Am Enough,” and “Little By Little.” I think people like to wear the quote jewelry to remind themselves throughout the day of what’s really important. I love that!
What is your favorite part about running BRANDED Collective?
“What is NOT my favorite part?” is more like it! I love my job, but I think I love working with the survivors the most. They are just excellent human beings, and they teach me something new just about every day. I don’t do much jewelry making like I did in the early days; my work is mostly orders, wholesale accounts, finance, social media and other administrative/detailed work. I can get zoned out looking at my laptop some days, but all is takes is a sassy or funny comment from a survivor to snap me out of my work and into the fun environment we have created here at BRANDED. We have a great time together and have gotten very close.
What is your least favorite part about running BRANDED Collective?
Let’s see… I would say my least favorite part is when we have survivors who get pulled back into trafficking for some reason. It doesn’t happen very often, but it has happened in the past. Someone once told me that the average number of times someone will relapse (if they have been addicted to a substance) is seven. We have seen several women go through this, and it’s always difficult. The great part is that most of the time, they return and we are able to welcome them back with open arms. It’s just not something we want to see happen to any of the women we work with.
How do you spread the word about your company?
We sell our products through our website, social media, events and wholesale accounts (boutiques, coffee shops, bookstores, salons, etc.). Our wholesalers are some of our biggest advocates and one of the greatest ways we get the word out about BRANDED. They do such an awesome job of sharing our story with their customers! We haven’t done a lot of advertising in the past, but we’re just dipping our toe into Facebook and Instagram ads… wish us luck. 🙂
Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Just keep going! There are going to be times when the road is so full of potholes and stop signs and detours that you feel like it’s just too hard… but it’s always worth it. Oh, and try to get an AWESOME business partner like mine! I couldn’t do this without Emily.
Do you have a favorite quote or go to saying? 🙂
One of our survivors doesn’t speak English very well, so in the last year or so, we have been using broken Spanish phrases to describe our work here at BRANDED. We say “Vete chica!” (you go girl) and “Si se pueda!” (yes I can) quite frequently. I think those are my favorites, and they can be applied to just about any life situation.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I’m so grateful to you for sharing our story with your readers! If you’re reading this, the best way you can support our work here at BRANDED is to “wear the story, share the story and change the story.” Visit brandedcollective.com, purchase a product, share a message of hope with a survivor, and share the story with others. Every purchase makes an impact in the life of a woman who has survived unimaginable circumstances.