Caitlin Dodge Interview: Founder of Caitie Nicole Clothing Line

Can you share your journey of chasing your dream and transitioning from fashion design to working in the Human Sex Trafficking sector? How did these experiences shape your perspective and ultimately lead you to establish the Caitie Nicole clothing line?
The best answer for this is I have always loved fashion. It has been a passion for me, and the artistic discipline I have always gravitated towards. I was always following my own path, and the best way for me to stand out was style. So it was a natural progression that I went to school for fashion design, and ended up working for a large corporate fashion company for four years. That corporate company is now under investigation for human sex trafficking. 

While working for the company, I was drugged and sexually assaulted by my manager during a mandatory corporate dinner. After the assault, my manager threatened to fire me if I spoke up or went to the police. At this time in my life, I was not in a healthy mindset, or a healthy relationship, so I kept quiet and tried to keep my job. About six months later, I found out he had done the same thing to a friend/coworker of mine. This realization that I was not the only one who had gone through this abuse set off a fight in me, and I decided to try and expose what this man was doing. Though that exposure, we found that this was a company wide treatment that was happening with multiple women and managers. This is still an ongoing investigation. 

While I was going through all of this, a friend of mine from school confided in me that she had been assaulted while working for a luxury brand in New York by the creative director. This is a man that walks the runway, is in the public eye, etc. I was upset that the discipline I loved so much was so toxic, and people just turned their heads to it. 

That was how I ended up in the Human Sex Trafficking Sector. I didn’t know what was next, or if I would ever be able to work in fashion anymore. But I was so lucky to have escaped something that could have been much worse, and I think about all those women who still go through that abuse. 
Caitie Nicole started as a healing project for me, and helped me re-examine my passion and my dream. I have always wanted to create clothes that make women feel like their best selves, and why would I stop doing that. So, here I am today.

Your brand is dedicated to celebrating resilient women who continue to find joy and believe in life after trauma. What inspired you to focus on this specific mission, and how does Caitie Nicole clothing line contribute to empowering these women?
After my assault, I wore baggy clothes, never washed or brushed my hair, and wanted to completely disappear. I struggled a lot with self esteem, confidence, and depression, and it was hard for me to find myself in that mess. The clothes I have created are inspired by the fight to exist again after assault. I wanted to create clothes that are comfortable enough to sleep in, to hide in when she needed that escape, but celebrated the body that is still hers. Sexual assault makes her feel like her body doesn’t belong to her, but the designs are open enough, comfortable enough, and sexy enough for her to reclaim her empowerment. The first design was the Ava Naked Dress, named for a working girl I met while working for the LADA. She said once that she just wanted to feel safe naked again, feel like her body was hers. I was inspired to create the Naked Dress, barely there but still enough to keep her safe. 

Sustainability is an integral part of Caitie Nicole's ethos. Why do you believe in sustainable fashion, and how do you ensure that your brand adheres to fair and small-batch manufacturing practices?
Sex trafficking is only one violation that many of these large corporations are committing. A bigger issue with fashion is slave labor. I learned a lot about this working for the company, and through sustainability classes in school. 

I want to be able to control the narrative of this fashion label. Fair pay, fair hours, benefits, etc are an important part to taking care of employees. If I am able to keep it small batch and USA based, I am able to use manufactures who I know pay and treat their employees well. 

My ultimate goal as I grow is to open up on site manufacturing, a vertically integrated business, where all work is done on one campus. I want to employ sex trafficking victims transitioning out of that work and into “normal” life, whether they need something to put on their resume, or a job they can move up in.

Could you elaborate on the narrative of strength and renewal that Caitie Nicole represents? How does the brand's commitment to authenticity and providing employment opportunities for survivors align with this narrative?
The biggest thing I hope to provide, whether it is as a business or through the clothing, is empowerment. Trauma of any kind strips ones concept of empowerment, and the struggle to heal can be just as traumatizing as the trauma itself. 

The clothes are “sexy” - deep neck lines, nude shades, etc. - meant to empower the body. The rainbow bias we use as an accent in our clothing represent the colors finally shining through the darkness that one had gone through. 

Caitie Nicole is not meant to “save” anyone - not through employment or stories told by the clothes. It is meant to empower one to move forward through healing. 

As the founder of Caitie Nicole, what is your long-term vision for the brand? How do you envision it evolving and making a positive impact in the lives of women who have experienced trauma?
For the next collection, I would like to do a project where I have women tell their stories, and each garment is names after them, and their story is attached to the garment - on the website and when you buy it. With this, I hope to start a chain of empowerment for women who can connect to the stories that are told. Eventually, I would like every collection to be created, modeled, and inspired by women who tell their stories. One large goal is impact the fashion industry. There is no longer a need to victimize and take advantage of young women who want to be in a creative industry. There is no need for slave labor. I want to prove that a brand can be successful without such toxic practices. 

As the founder of Caitie Nicole and someone who has overcome significant challenges, what are your next steps or goals in your fashion career? How do you envision further expanding the impact of Caitie Nicole and continuing to empower women through your brand?
Right now I am focusing on brand awareness. Without brand awareness, there won’t be much impact from the brand, which is my ultimate goal. I am working with a non-profit right now to bring free and discounted mental health services to victims of sex trafficking, and hope that Caitie Nicole will be able to connect to these women while they go through their healing journey. Another project I am working on is design workshops for sex trafficking survivors in transition, teaching illustration, color theory, sewing, and construction so they too can find comfort in the same discipline I found comfort in.

As someone who has overcome personal traumas and built a successful brand that empowers women, what inspiring quote or message would you like to share with women who have experienced emotional or physical trauma, to encourage them on their journey of healing and resilience?
I recently read a memoir written by a women who was trafficked into porn when she was a child. She wrote “For me, forgiveness is a lifelong practice of accumulated moments of seeing the truth of the harm inflicted fully and deeply, as well as the fallout from that harm in my life, releasing the ashes of all of that into the winds, and then rising up, turning my back on what was, and walking away.” (Jewell Baraka - Coming of Age on a Porn Set) 

Or my favorite “Healing doesn’t happen in a straight line” - Kacey Musgraves, Justified off of her album Star Crossed .