KAs@Work is a new series that profiles Korean Americans and their jobs. Want to share what you do, or know of people with interesting jobs? Get in touch.
Gallant Suits is a new menswear line that not only provides high-quality tailored suits to its customers, but also fights for human rights. Founded by Andrew Park, the socially-conscious fashion line addresses sex trafficking at the local level—particularly in Los Angeles, one of FBI’s top 13 sex trafficked cities in the nation.
We spoke with Andrew Park about his views on sex trafficking in the States and in South Korea, how his company is approaching the situation from the bottom up, and how he’s preparing for Gallant Suits’ upcoming Launch Party on October 21st. He also defines what it means to be a “Gallant Man” and why it’s key to breaking down the sex trade industry.
First off, what is Gallant Suits and its mission? Why suits?
Gallant Suits is a custom tailored, hand stitched, luxury suit brand for the modern day gentleman. Every Gallant Suit provides freedom and safety to a victim of human trafficking in LA. Our mission is to see the end of sex trafficking and to spark the resurgence of the truly modern day Gallant Man.
I made the connection to use suits in combating sex trafficking in LA after I watched Unearthed Picture’s documentary on sex trafficking in South Africa called Jacob’s Story. At the end of the documentary, the executive director of Unearthed said they learned that while it is good (and still very necessary) to continue rescuing and sheltering victims of trafficking, it becomes a never-ending battle because that addresses only the symptoms but not the root cause of the issue. Noticing that the global sex trade thrives because of lucrative business markets all over the world, the team at Unearthed realized that sex trafficking occurs because of a simple economic concept: where there is a demand, there will always be a supply. So who is feeding the demand for commercial sex around the globe? It’s us men. It’s us men who misunderstand what masculinity truly is who are the cause of the problem. This isn’t surprising because society has raised us men to be either brutes and bullies or woefully passive and cowardly (of which I have grown up tending towards).
There is hope, however, because though we are the problem, we are also the solution.
Every man feels more masculine when he wears a suit and every man will need a suit, if not multiple suits, at some point in his life. There is tremendous societal influence engrained in the suit already, but the suit has been branded by fashion companies to be self-serving, pointing the consumer to think only about how many heads he turns wearing the suit or how good he looks in the suit (me, me, me). A self-centered and consumeristic man is not a man but really still a child. But what if we could rebrand the suit to represent integrity, character, selflessness, and chivalry that not only makes you look good but also does good? In this we’ve got something special that has the potential to spark the resurgence of the truly modern day gentleman that all women want but just can’t find these days. When good men rise up in a generation, we see good change. There is no better product that can do this except the suit.
A few months ago, we profiled Freedom and Fashion’s Bonnie Kim, who said she was inspired to start FnF after her eye-opening experience volunteering with Nightlight. What triggered your passion to educate people about sex trafficking and help survivors of the sex trade industry?
What brought me to do something about this issue of sex trafficking was when I realized that it was a lot closer to home than I thought. Americans know sex trafficking exists, but we tell ourselves that it only happens over there in Eastern Europe or in SE Asia. Being a Korean-American, I had tremendous moral pride in my two identities. I naively believed that Korea and the US were way above sex trafficking and did not participate in such a debase and wretched trade. All of that came crashing down when my brother sent me an article by the SF Gate during my junior year at USC detailing the experience of a woman from South Korea who was trafficked to CA and forced to split her time in SF and in LA’s Koreatown working in massage parlors. Talk about a rude awakening to the realities of this world. The two countries that I believed exemplified freedom and justice turned out to be two of the most involved members of the global sex trade.
The woman’s experience being trafficked to LA from Korea was in and of itself heartbreaking as the things done to her (by Korean men, mind you) were absolutely appalling, but it was particularly burdensome for me because there was a Korean face to that story. These were Koreans hurting each other in our city of LA. People who look like you and me. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Could the K-town that I look to as a place to hang out with friends and to eat good food really be a place of slavery?” It was heartbreaking thinking about the possibility that within the buildings I would drive by on Vermont or on Wilshire could be places where all of this happens. It just didn’t feel right that I could walk around free while there were people who came to K-town in chains.
What further solidified the need for something to be done was when I went to Korea after graduating this past May and saw the brothels and red light districts in Busan and Seoul with my own eyes. You can say this was my version of Bonnie’s eye-opening experience in Thailand. It was strange knowing that even though I would physically leave Seoul and Busan, I would be finding the same form of slavery waiting for me when I landed in LAX.
As a fashion company whose main target audience are men, what makes Gallant Suits different from other socially-conscious businesses and organizations fighting sex trafficking?
When it comes to tackling sex trafficking, it’s important to note that this issue is much bigger than what one organization can handle. For example, we need organizations fighting on the front lines, rescuing and sheltering victims of sex trafficking and working with local law enforcement and government agencies to convict traffickers and to make an impact on the policy level. In addition, we also need organizations that are more removed from the front line work that are engaging the consumer masses, raising awareness of this issue and feeding support and funds for the non-profit organizations (NPOs) doing the actual fighting. This is why Bonnie and her team at Freedom and Fashion play an integral role in this fight. Seeing the end of sex trafficking in LA requires all current organizations fighting against sex trafficking to tackle their respective areas and to do it well. When we’re all in sync, I believe we will see some amazing progress.
To answer the question, Gallant Suits is different from other socially-conscious businesses and organizations fighting sex trafficking because we’re tackling a different and particular part of the issue: the demand. More and more organizations and, most importantly, our government are realizing the importance of tackling the demand but few have the demand as their sole focus (mainly because they’re stretched too thin). There are NPOs tackling this such as Men Against the Trafficking of Others (MATTOO) and Unearthed Pictures, but there are no socially-conscious businesses tackling this. In addition, almost all socially conscious fashion companies currently out there are selling more basic clothing like T-shirts, board shorts, and tank tops, but you haven’t seen any high-end, luxury fashion companies being launched in this space until Gallant Suits.
You wrote a series of four blog posts—“The Red Devil’s Red Haze”— about your trip to some of South Korea’s sex-trafficking hubs. What are a few key points you would like to emphasize to our readers from this experience?
When it comes to social injustice, in general, and sex trafficking, in particular, it’s very important that we do not subconsciously disassociate the humanness of this issue. Real people are being hurt and destroyed by this real problem. In Korea, I didn’t just see faces to the statistical numbers, I also got a glimpse of how they got there, and it certainly wasn’t as beautiful as they looked. At the end of the day, the women forced to stand on the window displays are examples of daughters who had fathers who failed to love them. The pain and emptiness I saw in the eyes of these women were linked to some man who abandoned her, neglected her, took advantage of her, raped her, exploited her, or abused her. I realized the source of all their pain and sorrow and emptiness comes from us men, when men were designed and created to be sources of safety, strength, dependability, and trust. We men certainly fall short in many ways to live out as walking examples of true masculinity, and this is why we need organizations like Gallant Suits, MATTOO, and Unearthed Pictures. If a generation of men isn’t taught to view women properly, to be good husbands and fathers, and to end the demand for the global sex trade, then another generation of daughters will find themselves in this life of exploitation, abuse, emptiness, and pain.
Lastly, and this is more addressed to the men, there are some things that are clearly our fault. As men, we are to own up to our mistakes and failures, repent, and change. But the thing that most men do not understand today is that there are many things that aren’t necessarily our fault, personally, but are still our responsibility, as men, to do something about it. The global sex trade is one of them. I would say a good majority of us out there aren’t johns who tour the world paying for sex or the pimps who exploit women, but that doesn’t mean the global sex trade isn’t our responsibility. The johns and the pimps do have their sins of commission to deal with, but if free men like you and I hear about this and turn a blind eye, then we have the blood of omission and passivity and cowardice on our hands. That’s worse than committing the crime itself. I am the first to admit that I am part of this group because I have so much tendency to be passive and to avoid confrontation, but I am learning. At the end of the day, it’s men like this who are the most dangerous to freedom:
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” –Edmund Burke
Gallant Suits is partnered with one of L.A.’s biggest activist groups against sex trafficking and slavery, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). Tell us about this partnership and how it will aim at addressing sex trafficking at the local level?
CAST has been identifying trafficking survivors, mobilizing all sectors of the community to identify and advocate against trafficking, and providing comprehensive long-term services to survivors of human trafficking in LA for over 10 years and has grown to become a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual human rights organization that has been nationally and internationally recognized for its dedication and work. Their work fighting human trafficking in LA is what is so crucial for Gallant. We wanted to make sure that our company was making a local impact since LA has such a prominent issue with human trafficking and CAST was the perfect fit for us. CAST knows very well what goes on in LA and works closely with local and state governments, law enforcement agencies, and other NPOs to tackle human trafficking holistically. The one place they haven’t been able to tackle yet was the demand side of the issue. This is why they are thrilled to be partnering with Gallant.
With our partnership, Gallant has incorporated a giving model into our business model so that for every suit sold, we are giving to CAST the amount they need to provide freedom and safety to a survivor of human trafficking. There is a direct impact to our giving, and it’s structured so that as the company grows, our support to CAST grows.
More importantly, because of the prominence of sex trafficking in Koreatown, one of the board of directors of CAST told me that 40% of the survivors they are currently helping are Korean women. 40 percent! As a Korean-American, though it is a heartbreaking statistic to hear, I’m glad that Gallant’s partnership with CAST is also serving the Korean community in LA.
During LA Fashion Week, Gallant Suits is making its debut and holding a Launch Party (supported by Freedom and Fashion) on October 21st. What are your hopes and goals for the event? What are some lessons you’ve learned while preparing to launch your fashion line?
For this event, I’m hoping that it will accomplish two things: tremendously bless CAST with fundraising and open the eyes of all who attend to the realities of human trafficking in LA. The more people who know that this issue is in our backyards, the better organizations like CAST and Freedom and Fashion can do their work.
The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that it is very important to have a purpose to what you’re doing. When you have purpose, the work you do becomes your passion. Money as your motivation will only take you so far and may even get you into some trouble, but it’s wonderful knowing that my doing a good job with Gallant will be helping others in our city of LA.
The next thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to have thick skin, perseverance, and a willingness to learn. Lots of things can and do go wrong when trying to start your company and there are many discouraging moments, but I’ve realized that you learn the most valuable lessons when you make mistakes and what picks you back up from setbacks is the purpose for why you started the company.
Lastly, what’s your definition of a “Gallant Man”?
The definitions of the word gallant are a young man of fashion and someone who is courageous and respects women (chivalrous). The words “Gallant Man” attempt to capture the essence of true masculinity: a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, protect, and provide for others. It’s a humble boldness that is neither chauvinistic (too much boldness) nor passive (not enough boldness) and uses its strength to selflessly serve others and to stand steadfast in the face of evil or trial with courage.
Check out Gallant Suits’ official page and Twitter.
For Launch Party Tickets and Info, click here.
[Photos: Courtesy of Andrew Park, Photographer: Calvin Lim, Styling: Freedom and Fashion and Hair/MUA: Ronnie Nunez]