How one woman is helping sex trafficking survivors become breadwinners.

She saw an opportunity. And she gave others the same.

What do these bracelets have to do with sex trafficking?


Image via Olivia and Diego, used with permission


They’re a symbol for some women's second chance at life.

Olivia and Diego — a sustainable, upcycled jewelry company based in the Philippines — gives women transitioning out of the sex trafficking industry a place to begin again and to find work.

Olivia and Diego's founder, Yana Santiago, has a unique perspective.

When she moved back to her hometown in the Philippines, she started working with Taikala, an organization that supported women who were victims of sex trafficking. There is not much in the way of economic opportunity for these women, many of whom are mothers who must tend to their children.

Estimates indicate that 300,000-400,000 women are human trafficking victims in the Philippines, and 80% of them are under the age of 18.

Santiago got to know these women — many of them mothers who work all day to raise their children, who fight daily to transition out of hardship, to overcome their past --- and she saw an opportunity.

These women were hard-working, kind, and eager to find an avenue for empowerment. So Santiago gave them jobs.

"Our goal was to transform these women to artisans and entrepreneurs."

Image via Olivia and Diego, used with permission

Santiago started Olivia and Diego. It's a sustainable, upcycled jewelry company. In Santiago's words: "My wish for the world is for its people to work together to achieve inclusive growth, where people of all kinds are empowered and celebrated."

And one of the simplest ways to empower someone is to give them a livelihood. As human trafficking survivor (and member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking) Evelyn Chumbow wrote in an op-ed for CNN, "There are times when I feel like screaming, on behalf of all human trafficking survivors, 'We need jobs, not pity!'"

And that is exactly what Santiago and Olivia and Diego are about: jobs.

Each piece is crafted by women who had no source of stable income until Santiago saw a whole sea of opportunity and a way to seize it. She was going to turn these women who'd faced so much hardship into artisans, into breadwinners for their families. As Santiago said when we reached out to hear her story, "Our goal in [Olivia and Diego] was to transform these women to artisans and entrepreneurs."

Not only are the beautiful, colorful pieces handcrafted by artisan women with a new lease on life, they're made out of old T-shirts and textiles that would otherwise be tossed into landfills.

Upcycling, unlike recycling, takes a product and turns it into something even more valuable. And if you look, you can see upcycling trends all over: from backpacks made out of old juice pouches...

Image via TerraCycle/Wikimedia Commons

...to fancy interior decorators creating chic coffee tables from wire spools.

Image via Alex Rio Brazil/Wikimedia Commons

And through posting gorgeous images on her Facebook page, Santiago is able to connect her jewelry lines with other businesses as well — she's been featured by Bride and Breakfast, The Good Trade magazine, and elsewhere. By having a home for her business on Facebook, her products are searchable, easy to find, and with just a glance you can see what a player Olivia and Diego is in the ecosystem of businesses whose bottom line includes helping others.

"I believe my purpose in life is to help women in Filipino communities to rise above poverty and exploitation through fashion." — Yana Santiago, founder, Olivia and Diego

Santiago is just another shining example of a woman starting a successful business that not only makes beautiful products, but that also gives back.

That alone would be wonderful, but her success in business and online on Facebook might also create an amazing ripple effect. So if Santiago has created a business whose purpose is to support other women, imagine the waves of support, hope, and potential she's unlocking as more women feel empowered.

And it all began with a bracelet.

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