Where Does Your Beauty Come From?
Beauty is having white skin, beauty is being tan, having long hair or short. Beauty is skinny. Beauty is curvy, measuring 36-24-26. Beauty varies from one culture to another, but there’s no denying that physical appearance counts for so much of it. In our society, beauty is often presented as blatant sexuality or simply unattainable naturally. As a woman who is constantly being judged by my looks and judging others, a part of me craves a society in which beauty transcends time, appearance and the natural eye. Could there be a culture that gauges true beauty based on a woman’s character and individuality?
True beauty, she takes care of herself from the inside out. She cares for and nurtures her emotional and spiritual well being, without leaving behind her outer appearance. That’s the frosting. Then she takes care of others. That’s the cherry on top.
I spotted true beauty when I met Tegan Barnes in Laos. Tegan is 29 with a killer Queensland/Australian accent. I first encountered her beautiful soul and later discovered that Tegan is a pioneer and justice warrior. Kind in spirit, words and thoughts; she exudes love.
We connected at church over fashion! Tegan had something brewing inside of her; she was about the give birth to a vision called Story. Being a teller of stories myself, and a lover of fashion I said, “woman, speak more!” Story is a justice fashion brand that helps women in Cambodia to come out of prostitution and poverty by providing sewing training. Some of the women she partners with are still in prostitution.
Living in Cambodia and working in anti-trafficking, Tegan was bombarded with the reality of women, children and men - victims of human/sex trafficking, abuse, violence and sexual exploitation. What stirred her heart was the resilience of the Khmer people, despite the Khmer Rouge genocide and being exploited by greed, they carry on and look upon tomorrow as a new day with possibilities. Tegan knew she had to do something! All she had in her hands was fashion. Through prayer, God confirmed this is what she was designed to do, merge her two passions in life: Justice + Fashion.
Speaking to people about trafficking some would say to her "I don't know how you can work in it." Others visited for two weeks to taste and see, but never allowed themselves to get attached or wrecked by the mess. Tegan wanted to walk in their shoes, to fully grasp the pain and suffering these people have been through. What does that look like? For Tegan that meant working in the slums, building relationships with the poorest of the poor, loving the prostitutes on the streets by sharing meals, washing their feet, sitting and learning. Tegan listened to people's stories that encapsulated their life journey. Awakening to the knowledge that she has the power to change their life story was the remarkable moment that catapulted Story into existence.
One of these stories belongs to a girl we’ll call Hannah (name has been changed to protect identity). She was a happy, healthy kid, eldest of three. When her father died, she was left as the financial provider for the family. Being just a child, she resorted to picking up rubbish. Hannah celebrated picking up one or two cans each day, as she knew it would help feed her mother and siblings. She did this for a period of time and dangerously through out the night. She eventually found refuge in a local church. The pastor learned about Hannah’s life and connected her with a local NGO that helps women learn to sew while being paid. Hannah is a professional pattern maker now and co-owns the sewing center Story partners with to help women at risk.
This isn't just a fashion brand with good moral and ethics; Story is a source to change women's lives. It stands for sustainability, fair wages, great working conditions and re-writing people's life stories. Buyers have the power to change people's lives, to set people free from exploitation and enslavement. Tegan wanted to create a brand the helps women around the world feel empowered, inspired, full of joy, be kind to themselves and see that their individuality is beauty! She shares that “at Story we're passionate to create and not copy, inspire not duplicate. I draw inspiration from nature, people and cultures.” In a world of cheap fast fashion, I find Story’s designs refreshingly unique, marrying western sass with a touch of bold Asian glamour.
There is so much depth to this woman and her story of finding beauty in dark places. Tegan models to me a modern day example of true beauty, a woman of strong character, wisdom, resourcefulness, and great compassion. From this place of noble character she is able to share with other women what it means to be free, an individual and truly beautiful beyond what culture and society dictates. Her life journey has helped me to redefine my concept of true beauty, one that is grounded on noble character. I’m excited to share a few pieces from Tegan’s first collection. Support the brand knowing that you are helping to re-write stories of justice through fashion.