FAIR Talks | The Tote Project

The Tote Project

Free to explore. Free to bloom. Free to soar.

Best friends Michelle and Fay focus on a hopeful approach toward fighting human trafficking. They have observed how the weight of tragedy causes the public to pop out from under the pressure of inciting change altogether. Hope for change is the first element necessary for people to be willing to participate in justice movements. Instead of black and red color palettes and statistics, their line of watercolor totes and pouches are designed to celebrate all the things people are free to do when they are…well, free.

They intend for this hopeful perspective to cause people to take inventory and be a good manager of their gifts, skills and educational background. Michelle and Fay picked up their tools of accounting, watercolor painting and posting on Instagram and created their company, The Tote Project, focusing on spreading awareness about human trafficking, ethical manufacturing and giving back.

Their website includes shareable information blurbs on how to spot and respond to human trafficking, encouraging people to know the facts and spread the word. In a world where 21 million people are victims of forced labor, enslaved to middlemen and the societal norm of making 30-cent shirts, Michelle and Fay set out to find an ethical factory for their production. Like a family stuffs clutter into their closets when the doorbell rings, so factories try to clean up their act when they are receiving potential new clients, making it difficult to find a truly ethical producer.

The first thing you will see at the entrance to the red-light district in Kolkata, India is “Freeset”, one such hard-to-find ethical manufacturing company. Freeset provides jobs for women recovering from sex trafficking. The women learn how to read, write, handle their finances, and are given pension and health care plans and the chance to attend therapy. The entire line of pouches from The Tote Project are manufactured by Freeset with organic cotton and lined with upcycled saris. Fay then exercises her gift of watercolor painting, adding the finishing touches to their designs.

The third facet of their business is giving back. The main way they do this is through donating 10% of their gross profits to Two Wings, a local Los Angeles non-profit for women exiting safe houses and preparing to enter society. Michelle and Fay volunteer when possible to teach classes about social entrepreneurship as the women are given space to dream about their futures and are equipped through the academy to act on those dreams.

It’s true. You can’t change the world. Not alone, anyway. But if you linger under the pressure even a minute longer, your view of your talents, finances and time may change. You could even partner with your best friend to use the skills you already have, to fight human trafficking, one life at a time.

People who do not have the luxury to hope, need us to hope and act for them, until the day they are free to join us in the fight.

To those who are free to hope, hold onto it.

To learn more, visit thetoteproject.com/.