Abolitionists taking a stand against human trafficking have a new platform where they promote their cause — the runway.
Unchained, a local organization that presents educational fashion shows detailing the life journey of a human trafficking survivor, is set to be a part of the first Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus Sunday.
“(Unchained) is truly a great component that we’re bringing into the festival,” said Melissa Dickson, FMMF spokeswoman. “What they do and what they represent, we truly support, and we are really excited to incorporate them into the show.”
The Labor Day weekend fashion show will mark Unchained’s sixth show since its formation in February 2013.
“(Unchained) actually started because we were all working at New Life, a church on Ohio State’s campus,” said Stephanie Catani, co-founder and creative director of Unchained, as well as an OSU alumna.
“Our students had gone to a conference that talked a lot about human trafficking, and they wanted to do something to really highlight the issue.”
The students decided to organize a fashion show, which they presented at the Ohio Union in May 2013, Catani said.
“After the show, there were people asking (about) the next show,” she said. “So that helped us to know that people actually wanted to be a part of this — that this could be something bigger than a one-time show.”
The show features garments selected from an Amani Africa collection called “Sankofa,” which means “looking back but moving forward,” according to Unchained’s website. Amani Africa sells clothing as a “fair trade sewing and economic development program for marginalized women in Africa,” according to its website.
The collection was designed by Liberian designer Korto Momolu, who competed on Season 5 of Bravo’s “Project Runway” and has had designs featured during New York Fashion Week, according to the Unchained website.
During the Unchained show, Momolu’s designs are accompanied by a narration that leads audiences through the life stages of a human trafficking survivor, Catani said.
“These garments reflect a portion of a journey,” she said. “There is a very literal correlation between the fashion and the experience — the journey — of the survivor.”
Each Unchained fashion show features 22 garments and is divided onto three stages, Catani said.
“The first section of the narration and garments is called ‘Innocence,’ and the garments are in neutrals: gold, white and pink,” she said, because Unchained relies on the symbolism of both the color and style of the garments to guide guests on an emotional journey.
“Once abuse has entered into the survivor’s life, that’s called ‘Violation,’” she said of the second stage of the Unchained program. “‘Violation’ is dark reds, browns, burnt oranges and heavy black. Also, they are pretty avant-garde pieces. It is really an emotive response to the trauma.”
The show concludes with the final stage, “Restoration.”
“When rescue comes, there is restoration,” Catani said. “And it is the brightest colors you have ever seen. It is so dramatically and drastically different from ‘Violation.’ It’s hopeful, it’s life-giving, it’s vibrancy coming to life again after pain.”
The Unchained team worked to accurately portray the journey by carefully researching the common themes in survivors’ stories, Catani said.
“We went to the collection and organized it to really reflect the story of a survivor’s journey,” she said.
Catani said the issue of human trafficking is far from foriegn to the Columbus area, and she said she hopes that Unchained’s story — which was inspired by a Central Ohio human trafficking survivor’s journey — encourages audiences to take action against this contemporary social issue.
“I hope the audience believes there is something they can do about (human trafficking),” she said. “On the whole, people know that this is a heavy topic. And sometimes they are worried that they will walk away with a heaviness or a heavy feeling, but it is really our passion to ignite abolitionists, and to do that, we really give that very purposeful voice of rescue and restoration.”
FMMF runs from Friday to Sunday. The majority of FMMF is free to attend, but packages start at $99 for one-day and $250 for three-day VIP packages. An after-party badge, good for all three days of the festival, is available for $35.
VIP passes and after-party badges are available for purchase on the FMMF website.