Over a quarter of all sex trafficking in the United States takes place in Texas, and Houston lays claim to the highest number of sex trafficking victims in the nation. Kendleton Farms is an offshoot of Elijah Rising, an organization dedicated to ending sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Here, survivors "live, heal and work" on 84 acres in Fort Bend County with the goal of making their way back to society with a viable employment history and work skills—as well as some start-up money.
Kendleton Farms' new boutique, which launched in late September, is a tangible way of developing those employment skills, said Samantha Hernandez, social enterprise director.
Hernandez said the boutique came about as a way to help victims transition into the workforce instead of thrusting them into a job they're not prepared for.
"A lot of times we would just find a local partner where [a survivor] could go work," she said. "But we found that was not a very seamless transition. We wanted something that was easy and replicable."
Kendleton Farms Market features high-quality items like hand-stitched leather wallets, hip t-shirts, beeswax lip balms and soaps. Hernandez said she wanted to create a unisex brand that appeals to all kinds of buyers. The products look like something you might buy at Manready or the local farmer's market.
The idea is to give the women on the farm a creative outlet, some ownership of what they create, and a skill they can take out into the world. It's also about camaraderie and resilience.
"Usually as soon as the women arrive on the farm they're in the shop," Hernandez said. "They take ownership of the work — like extreme ownership."
But the shop had humble beginnings, Hernandez said.
"Honestly, we started with candles because I knew how to make candles. We wanted anybody to be able to work. But we could switch to anything if we find candles aren't selling. I saw a video on leatherworking and was like 'We can do that'," she said. "It shows the ladies that they can figure things out for themselves."
Working in the shop gives the women a break from the counseling and hard introspective work that consumes the rest of their time at the farm.
"It's amazing bonding time," she said. "This is a time where we can just be ladies and hang out and talk."
Elijah Rising is also about to host its first gala, which Hernandez says is the largest fundraising event the organization has ever had. The gala will take place on November 10 at the Westin Memorial City, with all proceeds from the event benefitting the women of Kendleton Farms.
Hernandez said she just wants to women to find pride in making a quality item, and in the skills that they've learned.
"We don't want people to buy our things just because it's a charity item," she said. "We really want to try hard to be ethically-sourced, quality goods."