January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. To find out more and how you can help, visit nctsn.org.
Standing in line at the fair trade coffee house, I couldn’t take my eyes off the legs of the woman in front of me. I bent down at the waist to inspect her dazzling pants—dark blue, wide legged, and dappled with dancing white elephants. Golden flowers and peach stars trimmed in glistening silver skirted her ankles. The woman wearing them tapped the top of my head. As I looked up, she smiled gently.
That’s when I first met Shannon Keith, the founder of Sudara, a clothing company that makes pajama pants, called Punjammies, with a mission to help free women from sex trafficking. That day in the coffee shop, she did not seem surprised at all to find me close to stroking her leg.
“They are nice pants, aren’t they?” she said.
“Can I purchase a pair somewhere?” I asked.
“You can do more than that. You can set a soul free with Punjammies.”
Sudara teaches women in India to sew in order to help them escape sex trafficking and indentured sex slavery. Shannon had no intention of creating such a company when she traveled to a small town in India with an NGO in 2005 to donate a clean water well—a well that she didn’t realize would be placed in a red light district.
“I have learned that if you turn toward something versus shy away from an issue you are passionate about, or that’s breaking your heart, it will absolutely change your life.”
During the dedication ceremony she was asked to speak, and as she stood on the podium, Shannon stumbled over what to say to the gathered crowd, which she saw included prostitutes from the town. Suddenly the field was filled with brilliant colors ranging from bright morning oranges and sunset yellows to cool ocean blues and moss greens. In the harsh Indian sun, the gold and silver–trimmed silks glimmered like shooting stars. The women had come to honor Shannon and the fresh water well in their best saris.
In that moment Shannon knew she had to get involved in helping these women secure their freedom. She had a vision of a beautiful silk river flowing into our lives as functional pajama pants. So she went to the market and purchased a few suitcases of material and brought them home. She invited her friends over to talk price points and possibilities.
In 2006 Sudara hired its first six employees and started a sewing center. Each woman began learning the skills necessary to become an official seamstress. By employing the women in the red light district and training them in a new trade, they could evolve from the ancient caste system of India and put their skills to use for long-term economic stability.
And thus, freedom began with one stitch.
In the time since the company launched, the Sudara community has grown into multiple sewing centers and has trained over 200 women. The final products are shipped to the United States and proceeds are put back into the sewing centers. Sudara itself has evolved, incorporating other Fair Trade items and, last year, changing its name from International Princess Project and evolving into a Benefit Corporation.
And it’s not just a place to work. It is a place to heal. “These women need to find a place that is safe. They need to feel they can transition back into real life and be re-absorbed with respect into society,” says Shannon. “Counseling, information, education, and a loving community to replace the family that ostracized them is the goal, not just jobs.”
Shannon has never lost her faith in the face of government quagmires, obstruction, and lack of support. Women, men, and children can wear the modest design. The platform remains simple: everyone needs pajamas—even if you don’t sleep in them, we all love to wear them. Punjammies flow, move, and invite you to stare at their magical dyes and color combinations.
Remembering that day back in the coffee shop, Shannon didn’t preach, nor did she suggest that I throw out all my clothes. But suddenly, it was clear to me what I needed to do. As we parted ways, I realized that for all the money I was spending putting virtuous things into my body, Sudara was a company that could change a life with what people put on their bodies.
As Shannon has said, “I have learned that if you turn toward something versus shy away from an issue you are passionate about, or that’s breaking your heart, it will absolutely change your life.”
For Wanderlust and YOGANONYMOUS readers, Sudara is offering a discount code. Use WLYN15 at checkout for 15 percent off.
Andes Hruby has spent 30 years as a certified fitness instructor in five disciplines and graduated Columbia University with an MFA in writing. The American Council on Exercise accredits her as a Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Facilitator. To better balance her body Hruby began her training in the Ashtanga community under Beryl Bender Birch, David Swenson, and Nancy Gilgoff. Hruby was previously the NBC Fit Guru of Connecticut, and for over a decade was the owner of Studio Blue: Fitness Made Fun. She currently writes a lifestyle and fitness column for ConciergeQ and has been a contributor at: Glamour, Elle, Allure, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and numerous on-ine zines and blogs. After an injury she has turned her attention toward coordinating unique retreats at Manu Yoga Retreats in Costa Rica.