Designing With a Heart: How a Dressmaker Uses Fashion to Fight Human Trafficking

March 25, 2021

CINCINNATI — In a sea of white, there’s a beaded bodice, tulle skirt or sleek silhouette that suits every bride, and behind each beautiful gown is a careful, meticulous hand and dedicated designer.

At Renée Grace Bridal, that’s Teresa Eklund. The designer has more than 30 years of experience designing wedding gowns and five years running her own business, but what sets her work apart is its heart. She does her best to ensure each gown is as ethically-made as possible.

Many beautiful gowns have an ugly history due to fast fashion, labor exploitation and human trafficking.

As a seasoned designer, Eklund wanted to examine her role industry’s role in that system.

About 10 years ago, she and her husband Steve made a trip to India and Moldova for research. There she learned just how common trafficking is and how inextricable it is from many of the products we consume.

“Women in Moldova have a 90% chance of being trafficked of some sort,” Eklund said.

That can be for the sex trade, debt bondage or forced labor. The fashion industry depends heavily on that last one, using sweatshop labor to produce inexpensive clothing they can import and sell for cheap.

“There has been a trend over the last probably 20 years of what we call in the industry fast fashion,” Eklund said. “That turn around of fashion that people want really quickly. They want the consumerism that’s fed into that.”

Eklund said even higher-end portions of the fashion industry are not immune.

“Most wedding gowns are made in China or Eastern Europe,” she said.

When Eklund started her own company, she wanted to make a difference.

“I have less than 10% of my fabrics from China,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of my laces come from either France, Italy or England.”

The most significant difference though is her staff.

Read the full story by Michelle Alfini on Spectrum News 1.

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