'The fabric of freedom'

The International Princess Project headquarters near John Wayne Airport stocks thousands of pairs of brilliantly-colored, batik-style drawstring pants known as PUNJAMMIES.

This trademarked line of textile wear with an Indian twist targets Western women as a market, including the fashion-minded yoga set, through a word play on "pajamas."

Women in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and elsewhere in Orange County now promote IPP's mission by hosting so-called "PUNJAMMY Parties" at their homes — all for a good cause, freeing women from the international sex trade.

The cotton pajamas bottoms are made by hand and push-pedal sewing machines operated by women in India, who are trying to put back together the seams of their own lives tattered by coercion into prostitution.

Since the mid-2000s, the International Princess Project, a faith-based nonprofit, has worked to support Indian women by rescuing them from the underworld of the forced sex trade and by providing them with fair trade wages, housing and health care and helping them build up micro-enterprises through the fabrication of PUNJAMMIES, IPP leaders said.

On Saturday night at the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach, the nonprofit will host the Fabric of Freedom Gala, its annual benefit fundraiser.

"We want to be change agents in the world of forced prostitution or human trafficking …," said Heather Motichko, one of the International Princess Project's board members and co-chairwoman of this year's gala. "The thread of hope, dignity and purpose becomes the fabric of freedom."

The benefit is sold out. Nonetheless, the organization, which mainly sells its product via its website and through aforementioned PUNJAMMY Parties, is always looking for donors as well as prospective vendors and retailers for its product. IPP also relies on private donations and grants from nonprofits, such as the Newport Beach-based Tarsadia Foundation, started by a local Indian-American family.

"We are really hoping for a good amount of money to be raised," said Executive Director Julie Wood. "We are growing and want to be able to continue to grow."

Women and girls in developing countries, including India, are believed to be caught up in human trafficking, and many of them are forced into, or even enslaved, by the sex trade, according to women's rights experts and advocacy groups such as IPP.

"A common characteristic of bonded labor is the use of physical and, in many instances, sexual violence — including rape — as coercive tools, in addition to debt, to maintain these victims' labor," the U.S. State Department's 2011 "Trafficking in Persons Report" said. "Ninety percent of trafficking in India is internal, and those from India's most disadvantaged social economic strata, including the lowest castes, are particularly vulnerable to forced or bonded labor and sex trafficking."

Tucked in the Copper Tree Business Park on Kalmus Drive in Costa Mesa, the IPP's offices currently stocks about 6,500 pairs of these block pattern-printed PUNJAMMIES.

In 2010, the IPP sold 3,803 pairs at $35 each. So far this year, the nonprofit has sold 1,954 PUNJAMMIES, and hopes to clear the stock during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Because the number of women rescued from the Indian forced sex trade has swollen to 155, the IPP needs more money to be able to increase its staff, Wood said.

Through partnerships with support groups in India, the International Princess Project cares for the 155 women, who have come out of forced prostitution and now live and work at IPP's three care centers in India, where they produce the PUNJAMMIES.

The local effort was started by Newport Mesa Church in Costa Mesa but volunteers come from a variety of religious backgrounds.

The International Princess Project sustains its Indian operations by paying for material acquisition costs upfront, IPP representatives said. The proceeds from PUNJAMMY sales go back to the Indian women, then the IPP and its partner groups in India split the profits for their overhead costs.

"They are doing the kind of work that we need to see more often," said Sandra Morgan, director of the Global Center for Women & Justice at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa who previously served as administrator of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force referring to the IPP.

"If we don't give people a way to make a living … they can become re-victimized," she added. "The importance of creating jobs [for them] cannot be understated."


Twitter: @ImranVittachi

How To Help

To donate to or find out more about the International Princess Project, visit http://www.intlprincess.org.

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