Horse instructor-turned-belly dancer Sarah Matson has become a local advocate for women helping women in Oregon. Alongside partners Angela Gee, Abby Blinn, and Melanie Kay, Matson has created Lydia Rising, a clothing company with the goal of helping to provide ongoing support to women who have fallen victim to sex trafficking. Even when victims survive, she explains, it can take years for them to recover from the trauma.
“We want to provide them with ongoing support to become a whole and complete person,” said Matson, whose friend was sex-trafficked in Portland and brought to Mexico where she was forced into modern slavery. “It’s a situation more terrible than anyone could imagine. We want everyone to know there are ways to help people who have gone through something horrible. They can live again.”
Human trafficking in the US is at an all-time high, and Portland has become a hub for the sex slavery trade. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 56 cases of sex trafficking were reported in Oregon last year, and since 2007, 239 cases of trafficking were reported in Portland.
That number only reflects those lives that were saved. The quantity of people currently involved in the sex trade in Oregon is far higher. Matson says Portland is now America’s number-one port for moving human sex slaves from the US to other countries.
Matson and her friends have been interested in fashion for years. In order to make enough money to send part of their proceeds to foundations like Compassion International—which is dedicated to serving adult survivors of sex trafficking—they would like to take the idea of women helping women one step further by creating apparel that can be worn by men and women of all sizes. “I want to provide clothing that makes people feel good about themselves,” said Matson. “We take for granted that when you look good, you feel good, but not everyone looks good all the time.”
Lydia Rising will sell clothes made of forgiving fabrics with give and stretch for both plus-size and petite women—and men, as well. “It’s an easily approachable way for both men and women to help,” Matson explained.
The idea for Lydia Rising came to Matson and her friends in September of last year, and since then they’ve found seamstresses and collected multiple sewing machines. They are currently looking for fabric donations, and plan to launch 10 different pieces—mostly shirts and dresses—to be sold at local businesses and an Etsy site online. The Roundabout Boutique downtown is the first store that has agreed to sell Lydia Rising’s clothes.
“Our target demographic is 18- to 35-year-olds,” said Matson, who got the idea for the name of her company from an ancient Bible character who sold purple fabric in order to benefit the disabled. “She was a pretty bada*s chick,” Matson said. “In those times, women didn’t have authority in the social sector. The name Lydia embodies strong, independent women arising from difficult situations.”
The current state of the sex trade in Oregon—and around the rest of the world—is dire. Lydia Rising plans to send 10% of their proceeds from initial clothing sales to organizations including Compassion International and the Oregon Center Against Rape & Domestic Violence, though the amount donated will increase as soon as they are able to sell more clothes. “As we expand and grow we definitely want to increase the percentage given back to the people,” said Matson. “We’re taking a small bite of this, but I know it’s going to be a good thing.”
By Kiki Genoa