By Adam Lovinus
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By Gabriel San Roman
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Jordan Lovelis had no motives other than taking in the country and participating in skate demos when he first traveled to India in 2010. But the sponsored skateboarder stumbled into a situation that changed his life forever.
As the 19-year-old walked through the slummy trenches of New Delhi's Garstin Bastion Road, a boy Lovelis guesses was no older than 10 approached him, asking graphic questions about his preference in young girls and saying really obscene things about specific options and ethnicities.
"[He] came up to me and started pointing at girls and asking 'Which one do you want?'" Lovelis, now 23, recalls. "He was so young, and looking back, he was probably working for his dad." The boy was offering to charge $3 for anything Lovelis wanted. "I just kind of broke at that point," he says. "That was the moment I realized I had to do something. I witnessed it with my own eyes and couldn't walk away like I hadn't."
Sponsored skateboarders have always won admiration from young kids for their style, gravity-defying tricks and resilience. Rarely, if ever, does the battle against sexual slavery come to mind. Costa Mesa-based skaters Lovelis and Chris Weigele met while riding together for Siren Skateboards, and they co-founded the clothing line Sound. But after witnessing some gut-churning reality, they joined forces to spread awareness of human trafficking, a cause that affects more than 27 million people worldwide, through music, art and skateboarding.
The two friends started an effort called the Sound Movement. Lovelis says the philosophy behind Sound Movement is simple: Eliminate the demand, and eliminate the supply. The first phase of the movement targets young men in India who are at risk of participating in the prostitution of young girls. By educating and informing these men about the consequences of sexual slavery, Lovelis and Weigele hope to impact their choices and heighten their respect for women.
Going with a product-based approach instead of forming a nonprofit organization stemmed from their desire to provide goods in exchange for funds raised. Lovelis promises continual transparency for Sound's finances and says that all profits go directly to the cause. He explains that while they're not the first company to try to promote a cause through branding, they believe Sound offers relevancy in the clothing industry. Creating a cause-based clothing line that's fashion-forward will allow them to reach young people, furthering awareness by staying current.
Production for the line was originally scheduled to take place in New Delhi through a distributor called Open Hands, which Lovelis and Weigele chose because of the life-altering opportunities it would offer to the area's women, including job training and day care. After samples came back that weren't up to their standards, the two redirected production to a distributor in the U.S. "There's no way we're giving up on that relationship," Lovelis says of Open Hands. "It will happen eventually, but they just weren't ready for us. . . . We're just giving them a little time to develop."
Open Hands will be a priority during Lovelis' trip this month to India, to which he'll travel alongside Weigele, three ramp builders, two interns, a photographer and a filmmaker, all of whom raised funding for their voyages independently. Their plans include distribution of hygiene products, outreach to locals, and renovations to India's only indoor skate park, owned by Steve Weightman, founder of the rehabilitation house known as Courage Homes. Establishing a brand that impacts a global cause is daunting, and Lovelis admits there are times when he feels overwhelmed. But, he says, the pressure he sometimes feels is trumped by a burning desire to address the issue, using Sound as the vehicle to put his ideas into action.
"There are plenty of times when I've wanted to throw in the towel," Lovelis says. "But at the end of the day, if I don't do something about it, then who will? If we can't influence people, then how will we ever achieve change?"