Metro Jacksonville's Tamara Brisibe interviews the founder of a new local non-profit organization aimed at assisting women coming out of the sex trade.
I walk into a busy Bold Bean Coffee and spot Kristin Keen. Keen greets me with a warm smile and we begin discussing her nonprofit organization, Rethreaded.
Kristin Keen, founder of Rethreaded.
Rethreaded is aimed at helping women coming out of the sex trade. Those involved in prostitution, stripping, and human trafficking.
Rethreadeds mission is to Love those affected by the sex trade.
To accomplish this, Rethreaded imports products from all over the world made by women coming out of the sex trade and sells those products through home parties, located at Rethreaded's warehouse on Beaver Street. The organization also takes t-shirts donated by Jacksonville residents and up-cycles them into new products. All profits go to Rethreaded's t-shirt up-cycle company to help women in Jacksonville, as well as all over the world, gain freedom.
The organization has partnered with many companies to accomplish these goals. Sari Bari, one of Rethreaded's many partners, is a business that provides women who are coming out of the sex trade with employment and trains them as artisans to make handmade products.
Sutisana is another business partner of Rethreaded that helps women coming out of the sex trade. The company offers bible studies, therapy, nutrition classes, and training in professional sewing.
Volunteers are also a huge contribution from assisting in home parties, taking inventory, and tagging products.
Sari Bari Blanket
Rethreaded Launch Party
Keen discusses how it all began:
TB: How old is Rethreaded?
Keen: About a year old
TB: What made you want to do this?
Keen: I lived in India for five years and I worked with women coming out of the trade there. So when I moved back to the States, I knew I still wanted to work to gain women freedom. We're a business, but we're also a family. We're called to be in a relationship with each other and I believe that's what changes people's lives.
TB: How many people are employed?
Keen (laughs): No one, right now. Me! For the first year I worked as a part-time nanny, got Rethreaded off the ground and I've been full-time for three months. So, I'm hoping to hire women in November.
TB: What made you want to go to India?
Keen: I was working in campus ministry at the time and my heart has always been for women to know their worth and value. So, I heard about this organization called Word Made Flesh, where you can go and live among the poor. We went to the Red Light District there, I met some of the women, and it completely destroyed my world.
TB: Did you always see yourself working with women and helping them? What did you want to be when you grew up?
Keen: No. When I was 21, I told my Mom I wasn't one of those girls that needed to go off and see the world. I just wanted to get married and have babies. Now I'm 35, seen the world, and haven't been married yet. So, if you know anyone.
TB: You said you came in close contact with women involved in sex trafficking. What were some of the horrible things you saw?
Keen: In America or India?
Keen: We define the sex trade as human trafficking, prostitution, pornography, and strip clubs. I feel like, universally, those things steal a woman's soul and it affects men too but they just don't know it. At the red light district, where all my friends worked in India, there were ten thousand girls in a four-block radius. You could walk down the street, it's called working the line because the girls would literally stand in a line, and see fourteen-year-old girls on the street prostituting with their owners standing behind them making sure they got customers. It was horrible.
TB: Were you allowed to talk to these girls? Did the owners try to intimidate you?
Keen: Depending on the girls. There's different levels. You had thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year-old girls who were trafficked in, who were under strict slave labor. Then there are girls who are older, not under that strict labor, and we could talk to them.
TB: You count stripping as part of the sex trade. Many may think since there is no sex involved, it can't be as bad.
Keen: When women are looked at as an object and not a human being, I know the affect that has on them. No, the environment of strip clubs are not usually positive or empowering.
TB: Earlier you mentioned that you told your Mom you weren't the girl that wanted to travel. You went to India when you were in the campus ministry. Was it something they told you to do?
Keen: No. I graduated with a degree in nutrition and I didn't want to do that. I was going to get a master's degree in counseling and when I applied, the counselor asked me what my vision was. I didn't know. I just wanted a place safe for women. So, I took an unpaid internship with the campus ministry and decided to go to India for four months and had my world rocked. I never went to grad school and didn't become a counselor. In India, my friends and I started a business in India that's still going. They employ eighty-five women there. I didn't know this would become my mission.
TB: Where do you see Rethreaded five years from now?
Keen: Hopefully our distribution company will be fully developed, we'll have a successful online business, and our up-cycle business will, hopefully, employ thirty women. That's what we're hoping.
TB: Thank you for talking with me.
Keen: You're welcome.
For more information on Rethreaded, visit www.rethreaded.com
Interview by Tamara Brisibe