A couple of years ago, I came across the most stunning pair of gemstone studs at a small boutique. Not only did I fall in love with the simple design + minimal packaging, I noticed on the label that a part of the proceeds went to support anti-human trafficking efforts. I was sold. I wore those studs everyday and shared about the mission (and must-have pieces!) of Dear Survivor ever since. Fast forward to a year and a half later, on a camping trip in the desert, I discovered that the founder of Dear Survivor was there as well! Such a small world (which I am SO thankful for)! I had the pleasure of personally connecting with Christine, hearing more of her story as an entrepreneur + more of her heart to positively impact people’s lives, and was deeply reminded of the reality of injustices not just around the world, but in our own backyards – and that we do have the power to make a difference.
I get chills up my spine when I hear your story. Your skills, experiences and passions have all converged to meet a deep need in our society today. Would you shed some light on the reality of human trafficking, your personal connection to this cause and how it moved you to create Dear Survivor?
Yeah, human trafficking is very pervasive in our society. Whether it be sex trafficking in US port cities or exploitive labor practices around the world – it’s really hard to not come into contact with it. I went to college in San Francisco, and in my last year a brothel actually moved onto my street. It was posed as a “massage parlor,” but suspicious activity was immediately evident. We’d see men ringing the doorbell at all hours of the night. Two years later the police were finally able to bust the place. There are so many layers as to why it took so long, but it was just so heartbreaking having known from day one the truth of it all. I left this experience feeling passionate about bringing attention and justice to this issue – however, I’m not in a career that could create institutional change. But, I am an artist, and decided that if I were to move forward into a creative business career, then human trafficking would be the cause I built my brand around.
Is running your own business + being an entrepreneur something you’ve always wanted to do, or has that dream evolved over time? We’d love to hear a bit of your backstory and the different paths, places of employment, travels and experiences that have led you to where you are today.
My career path has definitely evolved over time. I graduated from SFSU with a B.A. in Sociology & Sculpture, so to say I had a hard time finding a job after college is an understatement, haha. But I moved to LA for an unpaid internship with a small non-profit clothing company that assisted the homeless on Skid Row. I loved it, and I learned about the intersection of social good and business. But I left that after a year because I was craving to work with my hands again, and out of the blue I found the perfect job as a leather seamstress. It was also a small business, and I was their first hire, so I got to see the inner workings of another grassroots company.
But after a year of that I began to feel restless again, so I applied and was accepted to a sculpture residency in Budapest. I needed to make a couple thousand dollars to afford the trip, so I took my $800 tax return to the leather store, bought myself some leather and jewelry supplies, and created my first product line. My goal was just to triple my money by the end of the summer so I could pay for my trip – but here I am today and Dear Survivor has turned into so much more. And looking back, everything makes so much sense. My LA jobs seemed so disconnected at the time, but they actually gave me the experience I needed to jump into entrepreneurship.
Your handcrafted leather bags + gemstone jewelry are absolutely gorgeous! Our entire team is obsessed. Can you take us behind-the-scenes and share how your pieces are made – from dreaming up designs, places you pull inspiration from, ethically sourcing materials and the time that goes into creating such beautiful + mindful goods?
Yeah, my design process starts with my notebook. When I create a new leather bag, I draw out the general shape and dimensions I want, then begin the pattern making process. This takes a few rounds of trial and error before I get the pattern perfect. Then from there I decide which type of leather will give the bag the right structure (should it be rigid? or should it be soft and supple?). Then I visit my leather supplier (a family run business that only sells ethically sourced materials) and select the perfect leather for the collection. In general, my bags are designed based off what I want to wear.
My jewelry design process is different though. Once I began learning about gems, I was fascinated with how different minerals will cluster together on one specimen. For example, Galena will often have Quartz points and Pyrite naturally formed with it. It’s so spectacular! So my earrings are based off this idea. I travel around California and Arizona to buy gemstones directly from the miners themselves, so that I can be confident that there was no trace of human trafficking in their extraction. Once I have a good supply of gems, I create little gemstone clusters that sparkle and catch the eye.
And we’re just so curious, where did your obsession with stones stem from and do you have a favorite?
The fascination actually started when I was in Budapest for my art residency. I went cave diving (which was a wildly claustrophobic experience), and at the entrance was a little rock gift shop. I bought small Pyrite and Blue Calcite crystals, and they sat on my studio desk my whole time there. When I got back to California I decided to start making jewelry out of them, and they became the first earrings I ever sold! And it’s so hard to pick a favorite gemstone – but my favorite is probably Celestite. It’s light blue and has so many crystal points, it’s mesmerizing.
In an industry + culture saturated by consumption, you’ve built a brand on the belief that you can create ethical products, make a positive impact and give back. How do you remain true to the mission + core values Dear Survivor stands on?
I see Dear Survivor as an unexpected gift in my life. Yes I’ve put a lot of work into it, but it also seems like something that fell into my lap. I didn’t start it as a way to make a lot of money, but rather as a way to show that companies can uplift rather than exploit people through their business practices. And so because of that, it’s been relatively easy to stay true to my core values of giving back and creating ethically.
Dear Survivor is found at shops all across the U.S. (plus, your online store) and was even featured in Glamour – congrats! Would you mind sharing some lessons you’ve learned along the way as an entrepreneur – throughout the beginning stages, the growth and the success of a small business?
I’ve learned so much in the last three years of business, but I think the biggest thing is to not let fear hold you back. Be wise and make rational decisions, but don’t let fear of failure paralyze you from taking steps to achieve your goal. Practical lessons I’ve learned: keep your operating costs as low as possible for as long as you can; pour time and effort into the product that sells well; and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
We’re so grateful we’ve been able to collaborate with Dear Survivor in the past and share PP products with you and your followers (and share your gorgeous goods with ours!). First of all, we’d love to hear which PP product is your fav and second, as a socially-minded + ethically-sourced brand founder, what’s most important to you when shopping, not only for skincare, but for other pieces and products you use personally?
Fav PP product is for sure the Beauty Cream, I’ve been using it every day for the last year and I love everything about it. Your deodorant is next on my list to try out. And the most important thing in shopping is knowing the values of the companies I’m buying from. I look for transparency in production, integrity in business practices, and sustainability.
Your quote could not be more true (or inspirational!): “There’s power in the consumer market. Let’s use it for good.” What are a few foundational tips + helpful resources you can leave us with to support our own journey in making decisions and using our dollars to leave a positive difference in our world?
My biggest mantra in life is to buy second-hand. There’s so much product already out there, and I want to put less of a demand on the market. For clothes I go thrifting and use Poshmark, or I’ll organize a clothes swap with friends. For home goods/decor I’ll visit flea markets or scour Offer Up. And then with the money I save from thrifting, I put that towards buying the higher priced items from brands that are creating ethically and sustainably, and trying to make the world a better place in the process.
Photography by Stefanie Vinsel