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Mere hours before we met Johanna Tropiano on a sunny Tuesday morning, the L.A.-based blogger, stylist and anti-human-trafficking advocate had been overseeing a packed house at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, where Natasha Bedingfield and Questlove respectively took the stage to toast the launch of Made In A Free World.

Tropiano is the newly minted VP of Strategic Partnerships for the nonprofit, which aims to eradicate modern-day slavery through a mix of awareness campaigns, field work and business solutions. (Ethica is one of 34 companies working with Made In A Free World to examine our products’ supply chains and identify areas potentially at risk for the use of forced and child labor.)

Despite her late night, Tropiano was lively and infectious as we took a walk down the High Line. Within minutes of conversation, she’d had us check our cosmetics for mica (an ingredient that is mostly mined by young girls in India), added The Locust Effect to our reading list, and created an Ace & Jig layering situation that was pretty darn perfect.

Hear about the disturbing conversation with a stranger that led Tropiano to commit her life to fighting human trafficking, and how she went from being an admitted shopaholic to a champion of #consciousclosets.

johanna tropiano made in a free world

Tropiano on the High Line wearing head-to-toe Ace & Jig.

Certain issues are so overwhelming that our tendency can be to think of them in conceptual terms rather than as realities. Whats one thing that you want people to know about human trafficking and how very real it is? In 2009, I took a trip to Nicaragua to visit a child I sponsor at an orphanage in Leon. I struck up a conversation with a young man living in New York and teaching middle school P.E. I asked him what he was flying to Nicaragua for. He told me he wanted to hike the volcanoes. Then he looked up at me and, straight-faced with no emotion, said, “All my buddies have been there. They say the sex is cheap. You get young girls for cheap.” That conversation changed my life forever, and I’ve been fighting for human dignity ever since.

There are evil people like that school teacher from New York who seek to prey on the vulnerable and poor. I experienced it firsthand. Trafficking doesn’t just happen in movies. We are incredibly blessed to be born here. We can’t take that for granted.

Youve written–bravely and beautifully–about how attached we can become to our clothes. How long has it been since your big closet cleanout, and whats the best part about having a less-than-half-full closet? Thank you! I cleaned out my closet in a huge way in March of this year. I got rid of over half my clothes. It is a relief. I feel like a weight has lifted in a lot of ways. My husband I recently moved to a new home with small closets, and I was actually thrilled to see that all I had left took up half my closet. That’s a very different mindset from when I was proud of owning 50 pairs of designer jeans.

I continuously ask whether an item of clothing will bring me joy and only purchase something if it fulfills that. I also try to adopt a one-piece-in, one-piece-out mentality. There’s something to be said about having a small amount of beautifully curated, quality pieces rather than a closet full of fast-fashion throwaways. A friend of mine says, “Happy people make happy things.” I truly believe that. I want everything I own to be made by happy people. I’d rather spend money on something good and have less to make that happen.

“A friend of mine said, ‘Happy people make happy things.’ I truly believe that. I want everything I own to be made by happy people.”

Do you think your #consciousclosets journey would have been different if you had gone through it privately rather than sharing your progress on Instagram–and now on your new blog? I’ve always been a passionate, wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person. I’m super inspired by people who are vulnerable enough to share their stories and what they are learning. So I thought if I can help someone who is in a similar place as me through sharing my story, that’s awesome!

I believe my personal journey would have remained the same whether I shared it openly or not, but if even one person starts to think differently about fast fashion or shopping addiction or human trafficking, it’s worth it to me to be public. I live to inspire change in myself and in others. That motivates me more than anything. When I see small changes in friends or family taking place, that’s a real win.


Visit Made In A Free World’s Slavery Footprint calculator to discover how your choices might be impacting people around the world. Keep up with Tropiano on Instagram (@johannatropiano) and at consciousclosets.co.

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