Lauren Carpenter: From t-615 to BRANDED Collective

Lauren Carpenter, Co-Founder of BRANDED Collective

Most of you reading this are probably already familiar with the social enterprise formerly known as t-615. It’s probably what brought you here. If you don’t already know, t-615 has rebranded itself as BRANDED Collective, a business that employs survivors of human trafficking who work with local artisans to craft a line of jewelry from recycled metals ethically manufactured in the United States. The jewelry is traceable from the earth to your bodies. BRANDED Collective also donates 25% of its profits to anti-human trafficking efforts.

Transparency and adaptability are two words that I think best describe the social enterprise co-founded by Lauren Carpenter and Emily Landham. These two women are owners of a company that isn’t afraid to rebrand to better communicate its purpose. Through its adaptability, it continues to pursue its goal of “turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.” The journey of this company is as outstanding as its mission.

Instead of taking out a business loan to start their company, Lauren and Emily decided to fund themselves by selling BRANDED cuffs for $100 a piece. The response was overwhelming. They sold 100 cuffs in just two months, and their business quickly became afloat in the Spring of 2013. From there, they were able to stock and begin selling screen printed tops, their first business goal.

After further educating themselves about the history of cotton and its commonly unethical practices in the fashion industry, Lauren and Emily decided to start a new line of tops “that [they] could trace from the cotton seed to your closet,” Lauren said. So, in the Fall of 2014, that’s what they did – everything with transparency and what’s referred to as ‘slow fashion.’ They hired two NYC designers who had recently relocated to Nashville to design their new line of tops. Then, they found a cotton supplier in Asheville, NC, whose cotton was organically grown in Texas. When they met the cotton supplier, “he had a water faucet hanging around his neck,” Lauren said. I can’t find a way to contextualize that fact, but I didn’t want to leave it out either. Moving on.

The new line of tops were beautiful but sold with less speed than the BRANDED cuffs. “We learned that people don’t normally do this because it’s much easier to outsource to China,” Lauren said. The process of slow fashion cost them almost $90 to make one top, an expense that required communicating to buyers “why ethical clothing costs so much to make and why it’s important to know where your clothing comes from,” Lauren said. Of course this message overlaps with anti-human trafficking efforts; however, the message they send through their BRANDED line of jewelry rings out louder, clearer, and more efficiently. “Do one thing really, really well,” Lauren said. For them, that’s crafting jewelry with a message.

Lauren and Emily are now returning to their roots as a company, to its original message. That’s why, today, they’re called BRANDED Collective. “It’s our tribute from Nashville to the world,” Lauren said. “We are doing it because we’re passionate about it.” Since interviewing Lauren, I’ve adopted her mantra that perfectly sums up her conscientious mission through BRANDED Collective and all of its endeavors: “Buy less, pay more, take care, and give back.”