Our Jewelry Non-Profit Raises $850K/Year For Survivors Of Human Trafficking
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Wendy Dailey, and I, along with my co-founder Stephanie Pollaro, founded the non-profit International Sanctuary and Purpose Jewelry; jewelry made by and in support of young women who have escaped human trafficking.
We both saw firsthand the atrocities of human trafficking and asked, “What can we do?” What was needed was a safe and loving workplace where girls could earn a living and gain skills to build their futures.
Stephanie moved to Mumbai, India, teaching the art of jewelry making directly to survivors, while Wendy, based in Orange County, California, began educating the community about human trafficking, selling handcrafted jewelry, and growing non-profit.
There was a gap between rescue and true freedom that the International Sanctuary began to fill. The model worked and the supporter base grew as new anti-trafficking partners around the world articulated the need for jobs for girls and women.
Our Mission Statement:
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
International Sanctuary was founded in 2007 to empower girls and women escaping human trafficking. Stephanie had the idea of making handmade goods accessible to the Western market and survivors needed income-generating opportunities. Stephanie was a self-taught jewelry teacher. Jewelry was small, had no shelf life, the girls enjoyed learning to make it, and the social enterprise was born!
The nonprofit organization started in India and has now grown to five locations globally: India, Uganda, Mexico, the United States, and the Philippines. Each Sanctuary provides young women and girls escaping human trafficking the tools they need to rebuild their lives. We offer income, health, education, and community, filling the gap between rescue and restoration.
The Sanctuaries give girls and women a community to belong to. We provide the space where they can love and be loved, feel safe, and where they can heal, grow, and experience unconditional love from their co-workers as well as trauma-informed staff. For many of the survivors, this is the first healthy community they have experienced, and we have found that community is a necessary ingredient to unlocking true freedom for each woman.
Neither of us had a background in the non-profit sector. I was a school teacher, teaching abroad in Cambodia! But, we both felt called to start up a non-profit and help these women in need. Once we learned the atrocities of human trafficking, we could not walk away.
Our numbers have been greatly impacted by Covid and the necessity to partially close some of our Sanctuaries for the safety of our staff and the women we serve, but we have impacted the lives of over 450 women and their families.
Our jewelry sales continue to grow and we have been recognized in The Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed, Live with Kelly and Ryan, Martha Stewart, Marie Claire, E News, Forbes Magazine, TED Women, and Kind.est.
Our jewelry is sold in over 400 retail stores and boutiques around the world including the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. We are in a lot of small boutiques, hair salons, yoga studios, floral shops, and more!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Jewelry making was just a hobby for my business partner, Stephanie. We started by purchasing what we could find in Mumbai, India, and started teaching the women how to make earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. I lived in the U.S. where I would promote the jewelry and raise support and host home jewelry parties. Our start-up costs were just $3000. We quit our jobs to dedicate ourselves to the women in Mumbai. This was, for both of us, our first direct sales venture. Stephanie went to where the women lived to offer them this opportunity. Finding them was easy- but due to their history, it was difficult to earn their trust to join us. Working in India and starting an International Non-profit was difficult and required a lot of diligence and extra work. But after working with the women, we were motivated!
I moved into Stephanie’s parents' home to save on rent. We worked sales and fulfillment out of their garage. The first “trunk show” was held in their backyard. It was a crazy time but we were dedicated to helping these women! More in-home “parties” followed, and from word of mouth and networking we branched out to events with church groups, civic groups, and even small retailers.
Here’s our first logo:
We were able to hire our first designer in 2010 and Purpose jewelry was officially launched as the brand name. We designed a logo and the tagline “Wear Freedom”.
Today, all designs are created here in the United States. It is a long process as we go through many revisions before designs are approved. We try to locally source all materials, but India is still the main source of materials for all of our Sanctuaries.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our launch was divine. You could say it happened because of a perfect storm. Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture at the Oscars highlighting sex trafficking in India and a newspaper article on the front page of the Orange County register featured our work.
Do what you can. Expect to fail. And keep going. It won’t happen overnight, but one day you’ll look back and say… ”I remember when…”.
We immediately were sent into full swing. Every email inbox was full, every product online was sold out. We immediately had volunteers and donors and were invited to speak at events around the county. This launch didn’t lead to success, but it put us on the map. From there it was all uphill. We reached out to magazines we thought would fit our brand - but some reached out to us! We did not have any connections but it helped that we were a non-profit organization.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We attended New York Now for three years to grow our wholesale business. I would recommend attending a large trade show in your field. They are a lot of work and financial investment, but they helped us grow our wholesale business. Having a sign in your booth that endorses you helps. We printed a large poster with “As seen in….” to give us credibility. We tried a virtual trade show during Covid, but it was not successful.
We are also on Faire. We receive a lot of new wholesale accounts through them and I would highly recommend this platform if you are not currently on there. Faire takes just 10% of each order. If you reach out to them first or they are an existing customer, there are any fees. They have an easy-to-use marketing and email system so we use it to reach our wholesale partners.
We chose not to have our jewelry on Amazon. We tested it for a short period, but it was not advantageous for us. Know your target audience and customer.
The majority of our online sales come through our email marketing. We also continue to create new styles of jewelry and work hard to be on-trend. We partnered with other like-minded companies for collaborative “giveaways” to help grow our email database. We also switched from using “square” to “Shopify POS” so that we could capture emails and customer data. We use both Facebook and Instagram and post consistently on both platforms. We recently started live interviews and reels to bring up customer engagement.
Moving videos have also helped grow our brand;
Photography is important! Packaging your product is vital. You want your customers to return. We created special packaging for our “premier line” and have always strived to improve the customer experience when they purchase a product online. We are currently working on custom tissue paper and packing tape. We strive to be as eco-friendly as possible.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are a non-profit organization and our goal is to continue to be able to support the women currently in our system and to be able to open new Sanctuaries in the future. We were excited to be able to open a new Sanctuary in Cebu, the Philippines despite the global pandemic. I was in Cebu in March 2020 when the global pandemic started! Despite what was going on in the world, we knew that offering hope to the women there was vital and thanks to a key donor, we were able to secure a space for our new Sanctuary. We currently employ five women in our Sanctuary in Cebu. They are focusing on healing and are just starting to learn simple jewelry skills.
We are open to speaking engagements to both educate the community about Human trafficking and to offer a tangible way for them to support the women by purchasing their hand-crafted jewelry. We have a corporate gifting program and ways for corporations to get involved through volunteering.
Covid has hit our organization hard. We had to lay off ⅔ of our support staff in the United States. Unfortunately, we had to close our Sanctuary for women in the United States. We are hopeful that we can open it again soon.
Despite losing our entire “events” channel for sales, and many of our wholesale accounts closing, we are thrilled that our online sales continued to grow. We have amazing support from our donor base and are so thankful for them. Currently, our sales are approximately 50% retail and 50% wholesale. Our goal is to sell 40,000 units of jewelry annually. We are looking to expand our products by partnering with other organizations that employ survivors of human trafficking. We currently sell candles and are looking into expanding into other products.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My advice on startups?? Do what you can. Expect to fail. And keep going. It won’t happen overnight, but one day you’ll look back and say… ”I remember when…”.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Shopify for our selling platform. We had Stitch as our inventory system until they closed last month. Ship Station is our shipping system. We are NOT on Amazon. We are on both Facebook and Instagram. Create engaging photos and engage with your followers.
As a staff we use Google and we store all information on google drive. We try to avoid emails by using google chat and google meet if possible. Donorbase is used for donations but we are switching to fundraising. Emails are sent through Mailchimp. We use Trello as our task management system. We also use One Cause for our donor events and galas.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Good to Great, The Knack, The Hard Things about the Hard Things, and Seth Godin’s Purple Cow are a few that inspired.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Make sure you have a great team! I was lucky to have an amazing partner from the beginning. With a limited budget each position we filled needed to be the best. We also relied upon volunteers to work in-house and at sales events for us.
We partner with many other organizations that are also in the fight against Human trafficking. We have found it helpful to have strategic partnerships.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently hiring for a seasonal fulfillment position and a part-time sales assistant. We love interns and are always looking for people who want to learn about the nonprofit world. We have open intern positions for the following: wholesale assistant, photography work, and fulfillment assistant.
Email us at [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
- Purpose Jewelry
- International Sanctuary
- Instagram @purposejewelry
- Instagram @internationalsanctuary
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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