Every 30 seconds someone becomes a victim of human trafficking. Almost every country in the world is involved, whether as a point of origin, transit or destination for victims, many of whom end up as sex workers.

Many of these victims want to escape and start a new way of life, but are hampered by financial debts and lack of employable skills. Kite.pride, a social business based in Tel Aviv, is working to change that.

Kite.pride supports men and women exiting the sex industry by employing and preparing them to re-enter the workforce. In a studio in South Tel Aviv, a team of 15 employees, 90 percent with a background of being trafficked or employed as sex workers, creates one-of-a-kind bags out of recycled kitesurfing material.

Since starting the business less than two years ago, founders Tabea and Matthias Opliger have seen three of their employees go on to hold other jobs. Another employee, a transgender with a history of childhood abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and six years as a prostitute in South Tel Aviv, recently was accepted by Tel Aviv University to study psychology even though she never had the opportunity to finish high school.

“It was her dream,” Tabea said. “When you see cases like this, that’s when we know it’s worth it.”

15 products from each old kite

The Opligers, who are kitesurfers themselves, said when they relocated from Switzerland to Tel Aviv in 2014 their intention was to make an impact on the trafficking industry in Israel, where nearly 12,000 women, men and children are identified as sex workers.

“Instead of getting rid of kites that would typically go to the trash, we give them a second wind. And we’re doing the same with people,” Tabea tells ISRAEL21c. “The people we work with were literally treated as trash their whole life, or at least most of their lives, and now they are able to get a second wind too.”

Kites are collected and donated by individual surfers around Israel and from Israeli-owned kite brand Blade. The old and damaged kites are cleaned, cut, sewn, and crafted into finished products in the studio.

Each kite can be used to create up to 15 products, which range in price from $29 for a travel pouch to $119 for a laptop backpack.

Kite.pride products for sale at a market in Tel Aviv. Photo: courtesy

A safe environment

Kite.pride teaches its employees teamwork, reliability, manufacturing, design and marketing while at the same time allowing them to work through past trauma.

“All of our employees have some sort of PTSD. Most are known by welfare [authorities] and the government already but they don’t have stability or a place where they can go for a second chance. This is where we come in,” says Matthias.

The husband-and-wife duo is in contact with local organizations such as Elem, Saleet, Levinsky Clinic and the Maagan women’s shelter in Petah Tikva that refer capable workers to kite.pride.

Tabea emphasized the importance of maintaining a welcoming, family-like work environment while at the same time encouraging high standards and quality craftsmanship in the studio.

“We know where they’re coming from so we offer that safe environment, but we want to get them ready for the normal job market out there,” she says. “We don’t want to re-victimize the people that we employ; they’ve been victimized long enough. We want them to be proud of the work that they do now.”

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