When Katie Ford met Michelle Obama, she made sure to tell the First Lady just how she spends her time these days–helping combat the human trafficking epidemic around the globe. Realizing that prior to taking on the human trafficking issue, Ms. Ford had been the head of the legendary Ford Modeling agency, the apotheosis of glamour, Ms. Obama seemed astounded. “And you went into that?” she asked, meaning Ford’s mission to end modern slavery for the more than 27 million human beings currently enslaved. Yes, Katie Ford went into that. The former CEO was spurred by a United Nations conference on slavery she attended almost a decade ago, where she first learned slavery still existed–that in fact it was a thriving industry.
Ironically, Ford’s experience in bringing young, vulnerable women far from their homes with promises of a better life–the same strategy (with far different results) used by nefarious traffickers–was key to her understanding how slavery operated. And Ford has continued to bring what she knows deeply–fashion, operations (she has an MBA from Columbia University) and publicity–to this human rights issue she now knows equally deeply. On the fashion front, her foundation–Freedom For All–recently teamed with designers Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin of Tome, the fresh structural fashion line for women that just launched its third collection, entitled Resort. (Tome is sold in boutiques from Hong Kong to Saudi Arabia.) With the White Shirt Project Ford and Tome hope to increase awareness of human trafficking and raise real money, too. Tome created a simple elegant white shirt–symbolic of the blank slate, or new life, that Freedom For All wants to give each person currently in bondage. 100% of the proceeds from Tome’s White Shirt Project will go to Ford’s organization, which supports ongoing anti-slavery efforts on the ground in India, Brazil, Ghana, the Philippines and the US. Beyond publicity, the project’s legs will depend on its ability to hook the hearts (and fashion sense) of the 1%–this white cotton shirt sells for $440. Other partners in the White Shirt Project are: @netaporter and @narsissist. Freedom For All on Twitter: @freedomforallfn