A Brave Decision: CCS Alumna Fights Human Trafficking through Fashion

Jessica Hendricks—entrepreneur, philanthropist, and Cross-Cultural Solutions alum—discovered a creative way to make a positive impact in the world after volunteering abroad: women’s jewelry. Her Brave Collection features handcrafted bracelets by Cambodian artisans, and 10% of profits are donated to help end human trafficking. A Brave bracelet is far more than a fashion statement—each piece is a work of art that tells a story about human connection and strength.

Since Jessica founded The Brave Collection in 2012, the fashion line has taken off, especially since more people are becoming “conscious consumers”--shoppers who are educated about where their pieces originate. Celebrities such as singer Sara Bareilles and actress Alysia Reiner have publicly shared their support for The Brave Collection, and her work has been covered on various news outlets, from MSNBC to Seventeen Magazine.

But how did her story begin?

Jessica grew up in New York City as an independent, artistic young woman, attending a theatre conservatory in hopes of becoming an actress one day. She remembers feeling like she didn’t quite fit in with others and questioning where she belonged. “I have always been on a spiritual quest,” she explained. “And I am still on it.”

Her quest really took off during her sophomore year of college, when she signed up to volunteer abroad with Cross-Cultural Solutions.

“I thought to myself: ‘I need to see how people live outside of New York. I don’t know what else is out there.’”

Jessica knew she wasn’t interested in simply going on a tour, so she decided to travel to Thailand for a month with CCS to teach English and learn more about Buddhist culture. At the time, though, she didn’t know just how much that one trip would affect her life. Looking back, Jessica now sees that her journey with Cross-Cultural Solutions is what started it all:

“I thought it was a an isolated life-changing event, but my life now is based off of that trip.”

Not only was Jessica inspired by her CCS service work, but she was transformed by the people she met. At the CCS Home-Base, Jessica felt a powerful sense of mutual respect amongst the volunteers. She noticed that they had not come to party; they all came to teach and learn. Jessica found two other young women on her program who shared a similar spirit as her, and they became close friends. Another CCS volunteer, who was a bit older and more well-traveled, recommended that she travel to Cambodia, which is only a 45 minute flight from Bangkok. Synchronistically, Jessica didn’t have a return flight yet—so she chose to go for it.

“I felt confident to go out on my own. Cross-Cultural Solutions taught me to travel and be comfortable in foreign places.”

Her trip to Cambodia was eye-opening: Jessica saw firsthand the effects from Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge movement in the 1970s, during which 1.5 million Cambodians died by execution, starvation, illness, or overwork. She also learned about Cambodia’s critical human trafficking situation: men, women, and children are trafficked into forced labor. Women and girls are specifically taken for sexual exploitation.

More than feeling devastated at these living conditions, Jessica was at a loss for words. When she returned to New York, she struggled to communicate the experience with her friends.

“I was baffled that I had no idea. I came back showing people statistics and berating them with facts. I had no idea how to talk about it.”

Jessica was determined to figure out a way to help; however, she wasn’t interested in traditional forms of human rights work, like academic research or public policy. She realized she could use her strengths and passion to reach others. In order to make a difference abroad, Jessica ended up returning to her roots: back to her mother’s jewelry shop in New York.

As a child, Jessica saw how the women who visited her mom’s store revealed a sense of intimacy with the necklaces, earrings, and bracelets they selected. She realized that fashion is a venue for change--a piece of jewelry is an accessible way to tell the stories she didn’t have the words for before; a bracelet could bring together women from across the globe. This is how The Brave Collection began.

“I love this world my mother showed me,” she explained. “I wanted to create a tactile object as a physical representation of this connection.” She also wanted to help bring back the creative community in Cambodia, since they lost about 90% of their artisan population during the genocide. Today, much of their production has shifted to sweatshops and cheap assembly lines.

Jessica booked another flight to Cambodia. During this trip, she met with local artisan women, most of whom are mothers working in a small studio or from their homes while they care for their children. They began to collaborate on designing a signature bracelet that spells “Klahan,” which means “Brave” in Khmer, the Cambodian language. The first bracelet took months to design and craft; the bracelets are all carved and woven by hand. They also had to build a process that focused on high quality rather than speedy production.

Brave bracelets start an approachable price point ($38.00), so they can be shared as gifts, and Jessica dedicates 10% of profits to help fight human trafficking in Cambodia. At first, she donated to large nonprofits; now, she donates to smaller organizations working on sex trafficking prevention efforts, such as providing creative education and skills training for girls. Two girls are now on a scholarship to learn metalsmithing, traditionally a men’s role, so that they can work with The Brave Collection.

The story behind a Brave bracelet is truly a message of empowerment. Jessica says that once, during an intensive acting course, her teacher told her something she would never forget:

“He said, ‘You’ve now learned how to be a provocative storyteller—now, what is the story you want to tell?’ I am still storytelling, but through a product,” she said. “This was a story I needed to tell. Everyone needs a little bit of bravery.”


Jessica, We are so proud to call you a CCS alum! Your story is inspiring!!!
Posted at 11:11am on January 19th, 2016
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