Fighting with fabric
Human trafficking is the fastest growing illegal industry in the world, according to Equality Now, an organization for women’s rights. With 20.9 million people and growing sold globally, Bellingham’s newest boutique, Betty Be Good, aims to combat trafficking.
Suzanne Smith, Betty Be Good’s owner, curates fashionable pieces from small Los Angeles-based designers and donates 2 percent of her profit to victims of human trafficking.
“In the third world, victims are as young as eight. Here in America, they’re probably around 13 or 14-years old,” Smith said.
A desire to fight against human trafficking began to resonate personally with Smith after she watched a documentary on the subject. With the establishment of Betty Be Good, this global issue became the epicenter of her life.
“I dreamed up this idea of a boutique that would be socially conscious, and so we are a business that educates women about this subject,” Smith said.
“Those are all the values the girls at Deborah’s Gate are relearning, or learning for the first time. How to be classy, how to value themselves, how to be empowered and how to be feminine again.”
Betty Be Good and the Salvation Army collaborated to create Deborah’s Gate, a fully secured safe house for victim’s safety that offers emotional support, drug addiction counseling and clothes for the women in need.
With every purchase at Betty Be Good, 2 percent of purchases go toward Deborah’s Gate to give opportunities to victims. Smith said the clothes her boutique sells represent similar characteristics she hopes the girls at Deborah’s Gate can adopt.
“If anyone described our collection, they would say it’s classy, empowering and feminine. Those are all the values the girls at Deborah’s Gate are relearning, or learning for the first time. How to be classy, how to value themselves, how to be empowered and how to be feminine again,” Smith said.
Smith said one victim in particular was saved by Deborah’s Gate and was able to bring her trafficker to justice in court.
“He had gone years and victimized dozens of girls, made so much money on these women, and he’d gone years without seeing a jail cell for it,” Smith said.
When the woman attended the court hearing, she wore Betty Be Good apparel from head to toe.
“She just seemed like a different woman to this man,” Smith said. “He only saw her one way, and then he saw her in court looking completely different and carrying herself completely differently, and he realized he did not have control over her.”
For Smith, her devotion to combat human trafficking stemmed from a detour she took during her time in a past career. For about six months she worked with the Salvation Army, building awareness around sex trafficking for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Smith said the next step in ending trafficking was to help “johns,” men who purchase women for sex, change their perspective on seeing girls simply as commodities.
“[Johns] need to start seeing these girls as women, as daughters, as friends, as women with dignity,” Smith said.
As far as the future of the store goes, Smith hopes to eventually open more locations.
“I never thought I would have a boutique,” Smith said. “I started as an online store and a pop-up store, so to have my first store was like a dream come true. I thought that would be enough, and then I was like, ‘No, I think I can do two, I think I can do 10.’”