Breaking Heels

Aashika Damodar from Washington, DC

The Project

We’re entering a challenging field, working with consumers to create a culture where the commercial sexual exploitation of children and young adults is no longer “cool” or fashionable or trendy. Breaking Heels is a social enterprise, a campaign and a social program. The social enterprise consists of survivor-designed fashion, such as high heel shoes (and height adjustable high heel shoes, which I created while I was in college, see www.breakingheels.com for prototype), clothing, jewelry, and more. The campaign is a the first ever in the U.S. to specifically address commercial sexual exploitation of young girls via hip-hop and rap culture by launching an album of donated songs from celebrity artists and other partners who have explicitly spoken against the exploitation of our young girls and boys at home. Finally, social programs will focus on scholarship and mentorship programs for young people, as a means of prevention from pimping and commercial sexual exploitation. Our youth development programming, public messaging and leadership training is aimed at creating a unified and comprehensive campaign that will address the various facets of our culture in the United States which glorifies and glamorizes pimping and sexual exploitation. Breaking Heels sales will help sustain our momentum, raise the profile of our cause, and will also help address public sector cuts to services for this population.

The Progress

Over the past year and a half, Breaking Heels has gone through an incredible journey. We first started by turning our concept of a height adjustable high heel shoe into a prototype. We have filed for patent applications in the US and EU. The prototype has been tried and tested. Now Breaking Heels is looking to raise money from private investors, loans, and grants to fund the next steps which include building our marketing plan, creating injection molds for all shoe sizes so they can be produced, and solidify a manufacturing partner. Other achievements include: created brand and Breaking Heels campaign; designed logo/product; completed market research; launched crowdfunding campaign; engaged hip-hop/rap artists and celebrities in partnership to rally behind the cause and social venture; developed partnerships with US-based nonprofits for Breaking Heels charitable activities; initiated preliminary marketing campaign through launch of website, social media, press release, etc.

The Team

I have over 5 years of experience as an activist in the anti-human trafficking movement. I founded an NGO three years ago called Survivors Connect, as well as launched several social enterprises to support anti-slavery activities around the world. When I was studying in Cambridge, England for my Masters, I twisted my ankle walking across a cobblestone pathway wearing high heel shoes. Out of pain and frustration, designed a way to alleviate women’s suffering by creating a high heel shoe that could adjust into a flat with one easy motion. I wasn't sure what to do with this idea until I heard a song called "Can’t stop pimpin" where the phrase "breaking heels" was used to describe trafficking. Our company reclaims this common street phrase, and empowers those who have been affected by human traffickers. We deliver a double-bottom line to our consumers: innovation in footwear, comfort and style, and the opportunity to make a positive mark in society. Since then, I’ve brought some amazing individuals to my team, Ms. Weirda, who has been working on the adjustable high heel technology for the last four years and is teaming up with Breaking Heels to perfect and manufacture the product. I also have Ms. Risch, an MBA student at the University of Southern California, who has helped us with our financial modeling, business plan, and other longer-term development issues.

The Fearless Changemaker

My proudest accomplishment was in 2008 when I won the Zimmerman Fellowship Freedom Award, presented by Free the Slaves and their International Advisor Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Freedom Awards is a series of awards recognizing individuals and organizations around the world that have done significant anti-slavery work. As a fellow, I worked on anti-slavery policy advocacy. This experience has allowed me to understand slavery more broadly as a larger economic development issue as well as an issue of human rights. We are all a part of this globalized problem, and also a piece of the solution. At the Freedom Awards, Archbishop Tutu said, “Don’t ever let anyone kid you, ‘what little can you do?’... All these little bits, remember the sea is just drops of water that have come together. These fantastic human beings show what you and I, all of us can do….” We are these integral drops. This has been a guiding principle for everything I do. What excites me most about this project is that something like this has never been done before. I am not afraid because I know it needs to be done now more than ever. My current team consists of an engineer and MBA student, with serious passion and drive towards the cause and the product. We commit a lot of time and energy every week to moving us forward and its been such a wonderful journey.

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