A Conversation with Kristin Keen: Founder and CEO of Rethreaded

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to speak with Kristen Keen, Founder and CEO of Rethreaded, a non-profit organization here in Jacksonville, Florida whose mission is this:

Rethreaded renews hope, reignites dreams and releases potential for survivors of human trafficking locally and globally through business.

You can listen to our podcast here or read on!

Debbie DiPietro: Welcome to Courageously Go, where we will venture into places we’ve been afraid to go. Women of the world, we are going to start a movement. A movement towards courage. Hello, everyone. My name is Debbie DiPietro, and I am the creator of my award-winning blog, The Warm Milk Journal, where the mission is to live the life of our dreams by day and sleep restfully at night. For many years, I was challenged with anxiety, social anxiety, and insomnia, and found a supportive community out there and in many ways healed myself. This new show Courageously Go, is in many ways an extension of my work at the Warm Milk Journal. My aim is this, to facilitate a global conversation about courage. I believe that when we live from our hearts by choosing courage, the life of our dreams and a better world for all are possible. No matter our age or circumstances, we need never to feel stuck or alone. So, I wish to inspire, courage, ignite confidence, and live joyfully.
I’m so super excited about today’s guest. Her name is Kristin Keen. She worked for five years in Kolkata, India where she encountered the life stealing effects of the areas sex trade on a daily basis. She helped co-found a business with Sarah Lamb that could offer these women a safe haven. Today, Sari Bari, is a thriving business that employs more than 120 people in Kolkata, who create handmade blankets and other products from traditional fabrics. Upon her return to Jacksonville, Kristin felt called to fight the sex trade on a local level and Rethreaded was born. Beginning by forming relationships with women on the street and making prison visits, she knew the biggest need was for a safe supportive work environment, where these women could earn money while learning a skill and experiencing continued healing through community.
Kristin, I would like to welcome you to Courageously Go. I just … you’re someone I tremendously admire. I have been to your organization. I’ve taken the tour. I really believe in the cause and the good work you’re doing. I even want to, as I become a more successful author and podcaster, I want to help support Rethreaded, and so I definitely … I’m thrilled when you agreed to come on this show with me.

Kristin Keen: I’m super excited

Debbie DiPietro: This is 2018 now, so happy new year. Why don’t we start off with what are you excited about for yourself or for your organization, and life in the 2018? What are you excited about? We’ll start there.

Kristin Keen: Well, probably one of the most exciting things is our new partnership with Southwest Airlines. Last year, they started donating leather to us. They redid all their airline seats and they donated leather to us and we had this huge launch event. So that new partnership with Southwest Airlines is opening up so really really exciting doors for us that, you know, stuff that you dream of so it’s going to be a really exciting year.

Debbie DiPietro: Oh, it sounds like it. So why don’t we, while we have this time with you, tell us what’s going on. First of all, for our listeners who are not here in Jacksonville and may not have heard of Rethreaded, why don’t you tell them about Rethreaded and the work you’re doing. Let’s hear about it.

Kristin Keen: So, our mission at Rethreaded is basically is to change the lives of people through business. And we specifically work with survivors of human trafficking. We give long-term employment at Rethreaded, so we have women stay with us at least two to five years and they’re employed in our company. They work in one of the five areas and while they’re working here, they also have access to a mental health counselor. There’s a weekly mental health class, access to crisis counseling, help in housing, care management. So, it’s like whatever they need to get their life back. And then, we’re in the process of developing the career development program where we’re connecting our women access to education, because our goal really is for women to restore choice. Like, they work at Rethreaded, they are healed, they’re empowered, and then they get the education and the work experience they need to go out and change the world and the cycle of exploitation is done. Like, it’s done in their life, their children’s life, like it’s done.
And we do that like … we have a business. We have a business model and we are a nonprofit, but we’re super unique. Like, we’re 50% funded by sales, 50% funded by donations and on the business side, the sales side, we make product in house out of recycled tee shirts and now recycled Southwest leather. And then we buy products from companies all over the world who are employing women, so we are affecting the lives of over 4,000 women internationally, and we currently employ 12 women.

Debbie DiPietro: You have a very unique operation and as I’ve said, I’ve been there and it’s quite an operation of how you take all these … I guess you have businesses and people donate tee shirt material and you make wonderful products from that. It was a such a neat thing to see. It was so super cool. It really was.

Kristin Keen: It’s cool.

Debbie DiPietro: And the retail … it is. Yes, and then the retail side of it. It’s a beautiful boutique you have there, and I know I bought myself some coffee.

Kristin Keen: Yay.

Debbie DiPietro: And there’s some different unique items.

Kristin Keen: Yeah. People are surprised when they come.

Debbie DiPietro: No, there’s so many things I want to ask you about and it’s just I know we’re going to run out of time fast, so let’s take a step back. If there are women that need your help, how do they find you? I mean, they’re out, you know, they’re in the cycle. They’re in the circumstances that they’re in and how do they find you?

Kristin Keen: Well, some of our … right now, our women 100% come out of severe complex trauma and 100% come out of addiction, so we had started partnering with different rehab facilities around the city. So, that’s one way that women are referred to us. And then the second way is now our women that are here and are out and are clean, and sober, strong, being empowered working here, will now refer their friends to us.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay.

Kristin Keen: So, it’s super amazing that … and we talk about this a lot at Rethreaded, like when you’re working here, you’re really working for the woman behind you. Like, your hard work is going to allow another woman to have a chance at life, so that’s … and that idea is being translated throughout our whole company. So, it’s awesome to see women reaching out to empower women. I mean, it’s beautiful.

Debbie DiPietro: Yes. I have goosebumps just thinking about it and I was so impressed when I was over there, and I learned a little more about what it is you guys do. And if memory serves me correctly because it’s been over a year since I heard the … you don’t just take everyone, right? I mean, you have a certain amount … isn’t there an application process or a certain level of commitment that you expect from your ladies? I’m trying to remember. Maybe you can provide the details in my memory here.

Kristin Keen: You have to be clean, stable, and sober for six months. So, you have to be stable enough to come, you know, can come to work on time, perform. I mean at the beginning, we’re just like, just come to work. Like, just practice getting here and that’s a great starting place. But, it’s six months because any time before that, women are if they’re coming directly out of trauma or directly out of jail, it’s too soon. It’s too soon.

Debbie DiPietro: So, once you have someone there, is it a residential or are they just there as a day job? But, you employ them, right?

Kristin Keen: Yeah, we’re specifically employment. So, that is what our case manager does on staff. If they are having housing issues, tries to help them find housing. A majority of our women come from a transitional housing already, usually from a rehab facility. A lot of our women had been in transitional housing. Some are already on their own, so it just depends on their situation.

Debbie DiPietro: And typically, how long do you have a woman there before she … I guess the goal is to … go ahead.

Kristin Keen: Our goal is two to five years.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay.

Kristin Keen: And that happens sometimes and sometimes a woman will leave before that. Like, this summer we just had two of our ladies leave and leave very successfully and now they work at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center in our city and they’re leading the way nationally on the human trafficking movement with a survivor voice. I mean, it’s really amazing to see what those two have done, so that was a huge turning point for Rethreaded when those two ladies …

Debbie DiPietro: Yeah.

Kristin Keen: Yeah, it was amazing.

Debbie DiPietro: Wonderful. Wow. You know when you say two to five years, that’s a tremendous commitment that you and your organization are offering them and what they bring to the table too. That’s just awesome. I mean, in my mind, I’m thinking well, any kind of a program, you know, maybe six months tops. Like a two to five-year commitment, that’s pretty amazing. That in and of itself, I think makes Rethreaded pretty unique, wouldn’t you say?

Kristin Keen: Yeah, we’re going for the permanent life change, so that is why. And we see women come at different stages. Women, the first three months is super critical because that’s like they’re super vulnerable, you know, still living totally in trauma and if they can make it through that, they’ll usually make it the next year. And then women usually hit … they start to stabilize around a year, year and a half they start to stabilize. You know, their life slows down. They get, you know, more and more stable, but as they do that, all the effects of their trauma comes out. So, we see women, again, need like deeper counseling, deeper places of healing, so that is also why we do five years is just because the process to healing is, it just takes a lot of time. That’s why we’re committed to that long.

Debbie DiPietro: All right, well this is as you know, this is a show about courage and this whole, your story, and the women you are helping, and Rethreaded, I think the theme of courage is woven throughout. And let’s start with you. I think our listeners would be interested to learn a little more about you because you’re really a fairly, a very young woman and you started up this nonprofit, which is quite an ambitious endeavor. I wouldn’t know how to start up something like this and how did … what led you to this and how are pulling this off? You’re just doing such great work at really a pretty young age, really. And so, I know our listeners would love to hear a little more about your story and what brought you to this point?

Kristin Keen: Well, the heart of everything is for women to know their worth and value. That’s really what started me on this journey and that was when I was young. When I was like, late-teens, early twenties. And I had some experiences around sex and I was like, I never want another woman to feel this way and it kind of, without knowing it, it kind of became my life mission. So, that’s how I ended up in India when I was 27, 28-years-old. After spending five years in India, I met women here in Jacksonville and like listened to their stories and I was like, this is the same thing that’s happening in India. And women, if you don’t have a job, you cannot start a new life. Like, you can’t. You will always be dependent and that makes you so vulnerable. So, like if you do not have a viable career, the cycle is never broken.
So, I was like, let’s just start a business here. It’s good and I would say that, I mean, it’s like that with everything, isn’t it? Like, when you start something, you don’t really know what you’re getting in to. So, that’s probably …

Debbie DiPietro: And sometimes you just have to leap in.

Kristin Keen: Yeah, I mean and that’s my life is that I just leap in and do it, and let’s get it done and, which is why I usually end up over my head as well. So, I probably just my sheer passion and drivenness is what, you know, helped start it and kick it off. Like, that’s kind of my strength, but then it’s my team that really has carried it forward. Like, I have an amazing staff. They’re so smart, so talented. We have some amazing survivor leaders in place now, I mean, the community has just been more, I mean so generous and so receptive. I mean, it is definitely a we effort to get this off the ground and running.

Debbie DiPietro: And I guess you have people on your team that help you. Just the running of the non-profit, there’s a business side and the marketing side. You’re kind of like the … you overrun … what is your specific role these days in it on the day to day? What is your role?

Kristin Keen: Well, right now, I operate as the CEO and we don’t have a sales team, so right now I’m doing sales.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay.

Kristin Keen: So, we’re in the process of trying to hire a business development person. So, it changes a lot of day to day, like what my role is. Ideally, we’re trying to move me into a place of a true visionary role, where I’m out in the community, I’m speaking, I’m working on the culture of the company, I’m honing in ideas. We just got a building donated right around the corner. We’re in desperate need of space, so a lot of my energy’s going to be going to towards raising some money to build on the land we were donated. I vacillate between the day to day right now and then the big picture.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay. That’s great news about the building and it sounds like you are generating a lot of support locally, here in Jacksonville. What about outside of Jacksonville?

Kristin Keen: We’re working on it. Like, on our web sales this year, we’re 40% in Jacksonville and then 60% outside of Jacksonville, so that’s the first time that we’ve had that switch, so that’s really exciting for us.

Debbie DiPietro: That is.

Kristin Keen: And we’re seeing …

Debbie DiPietro: Go ahead, I’m sorry.

Kristin Keen: Oh, no. Go ahead.

Debbie DiPietro: I think this would be a good point to mention that people can visit you online and actually shop online because not everyone is here locally that can visit your store, so why don’t we just take a moment, Kristin, and share with our listeners your website. So, where can people visit Rethreaded?
Kristin Keen: It’s really easy, it’s rethreaded.com

Debbie DiPietro: I like it.

Kristin Keen: And you can follow us on Facebook at Rethreaded. We’re on Instagram as rethreadedinc, so yeah, we are on all the social media outlets.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay.

Kristin Keen: Yeah, the website is beautiful, so please shop on there.

Debbie DiPietro: They can shop, and I imagine and I think I’ve been on your website recently, they can also donate or just find out ways they can get more involved, is that right?

Kristin Keen: Yes. Shop or donate. Yes, and then we have volunteer opportunities, I think once a month on Thursday’s.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay. Now you’re still running those tours every month?

Kristin Keen: Yeah.

Debbie DiPietro: Or every quarter or?

Kristin Keen: Yeah.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay.

Kristin Keen: Third Thursday. Third Thursday we have Rethreaded 101, if anyone’s interested. For an hour you can come in and get a tour. It’s so different, I mean you know, you’ve been here, so it’s so different when you can come and experience it.

Debbie DiPietro: It is. It’s just awesome. It really is. So, currently how many women do you have working at Rethreaded?

Kristin Keen: We have 12 currently and this year, due to probably our space and our sales, we’re probably going to hire between let’s see, probably between three and six. So, just depends on what we’re going … yeah, three and six more this year. This is a big year, so we’re trying to create lots of stability this year and build really good systems. We almost hit a million dollars last year, so.

Debbie DiPietro: Wow.

Kristin Keen: I know. We’re so close to…

Debbie DiPietro: Yay.

Kristin Keen: $38,000 below a million, so this year we’d like to exceed that.

Debbie DiPietro: Well, this is such a great work you’re doing, and it’s more and more and this is probably a good thing. I mean it’s not a good thing that it’s such an issue and there’s so much going on all around the world concerning, you know, slave labor and human trafficking and the sex trade, I mean it’s a very sad, but at the same time, I’m, you know, I still get the newspaper and I’m reading more and more stories that’s coming out in the media and that’s probably a good thing that to increase people’s awareness about this issue.

Kristin Keen: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.

Debbie DiPietro: Are you finding … what’s that?

Kristin Keen: It’s pretty amazing all the press it’s getting. Like, I remember when I went over to India like human trafficking … we didn’t even use the word human trafficking and that was in 2003. And then by the time I came back in 2008, 2009 to the states and it started to get some traction, and now it’s amazing how, yeah. The awareness of it.

Debbie DiPietro: It’s great. It’s a conversation we need to be having. Are you doing any collaborative efforts with any of these other organizations that are aiming to help with this cause, with this issue?

Kristin Keen: Oh, yeah. It’s all partnership. There’s certain houses here in Jacksonville that are housing survivors of human trafficking. And just the way we sell other people’s products, so that’s why we’re trying to … like, we are signal handedly in some instances like, we’re the biggest purchaser of some of these companies from overseas, so it’s really cool to use our business for good, you know, to help women overseas. That’s one of the win-win’s that we love. Yeah, it’s all about partnership. It doesn’t really work without it. A cool partnership we have right now is with Anita at Amelia Toffee that we have survivor made coffee from Nicaragua. It’s a coffee and she took the coffee and she made us a Rethreaded coffee toffee. So, now you can even like, eat toffee and change lives.
Yeah, we launched with her in August and we were over like 8% of her sales, or something. So, it’s exciting. Lots of good stuff going on.

Debbie DiPietro: And that’s great because, you know, coffee is a staple. That’s something people are going to buy anyway, so why not support Rethreaded or an organization like Rethreaded and enjoy your coffee. And at least when I visited your store, you had your coffee in just a really neat one of your bags that your women make. It’s just a neat, even a neat presentation. I just loved it.

Kristin Keen: Yay.

Debbie DiPietro: So, with a few minutes left here, I know that people can visit rethreaded.com. For people who might visit Jacksonville or who live here, where are you physically located? Why don’t we give the address, so they know where to and the hours? Why don’t we share that?

Kristin Keen: Yeah. We’re located at 820 Barnett Street, which is off of Beaver Street, near downtown. So, if you’re coming from downtown, we’re before the farmers market. And we’re open, right now we’re open Monday through Friday, 9:00-5:00 and we would love to have you. And follow us on Facebook and for special events that we’re having.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay. All right. And I heard you say you are looking for a business development person? Is that, we put that out there.

Kristin Keen: Yes.

Debbie DiPietro: We can help you, right?

Kristin Keen: That would be amazing.

Debbie DiPietro: All right, can they email or is there a form they can fill out on your website if they’re interested in that opportunity?

Kristin Keen: Yes, just have them email the info@rethreaded.com, that would be great.

Debbie DiPietro: Okay. Okay, all right ladies, so if you’re looking for an opportunity and work with a wonderful lady and organization and do good work, I encourage and invite you to reach out to Kristin at rethreaded.com. So, we probably have just a minute left. Any final thoughts about Rethreaded or yourself in the new year?

Kristin Keen: I’m ready. Bring it on. I feel like it’s going to be a year of growth and being stretched, and I think we’re ready.

Debbie DiPietro: All right. Well, I’m excited to stay in touch with you and please do the same and let me know how I can support you. Keep up the great work you’re doing. I just think it’s awesome, so hats off to you and thank you.

Kristin Keen: Thank you.

Debbie DiPietro: Thanks for a being a guest here at Courageously Go. I think that what you’re doing and Rethreaded is just that’s it. I mean, this is it. It’s very, I think it takes a lot of guts and courage for you to pull off what you’re doing, so thank you.

Kristin Keen: Thank you.

Debbie DiPietro: All right, well ladies and gentlemen out there who are listening, thank you for tuning in. This is Debbie DiPietro and if you have any comments, feedback for me, or perhaps you’re interested in being a future guest on this show, you can email me debbie@courageouslygo.com I look forward to continuing the conversation about courage.

Until next time, remember this, it’s our time to shine, let’s make it so and courageously go.

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