Fort Worth’s ‘First Justice Enterprise’ Empowers Women Through Employment

The Worthy Co. plans to open its first brick-and-mortar store this fall, selling apparel, jewelry, and candles created by the women it employs—female survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. One hundred percent of profits benefit local trafficking survivors.

Melissa Ice was frustrated. She saw a gap between the outreach that her nonprofit The Net provided to female survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction, with their ability to get jobs. So she and Sarah Bowden decided to create an extension of The Net called The Worthy Co., a new network that gives quality employment to the same group of women.

Melissa Ice

“If they can’t get a job and they don’t have income, then there’s no hope for them,” Ice, founder of The Net and The Worthy Co., told Dallas Innovates. “They can’t really taste freedom if they can’t provide for themselves and, of course, their children.”

Trafficking and exploitation victims have not always been treated as such, despite there being a Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in-place. Instead, these survivors have often been branded as criminals within the justice system.

This has given them criminal records that last for up to ten years, making it difficult to secure jobs and provide for families.

Through The Worthy Co.’s online store, the nonprofit is working to change the system by providing female survivors with restorative support programming. The company currently sells apparel, jewelry, and candles created by the women it employs through the program. One hundred percent of The Worthy Co.’s profits benefit local trafficking survivors. 

“My hope is that as a community and as cities that we can make restitution for, ‘Hey, we didn’t intervene when they were children,’ but it’s not done yet,” Ice says. “And so now is our time to be able to do that and I hope that my girls live in a community where vulnerable women are cared for.”

The Worthy Co. plans to open a brick-and-mortar store this November in Fort Worth with hopes to expand its outreach. The nonprofit is all about quality over quantity, which is why it currently only employs two survivors, but expects to hire four to ten more women once it moves out of its 200-square-foot classroom and into the new space.

Before that happens though, The Worthy Co. has ongoing efforts to raise enough money for its building and startup costs. The goal is to raise $500,000; one-third of the goal is already met. 

“My hope is that as a community and as cities that we can make restitution for, ‘Hey, we didn’t intervene when they were children,’ but it’s not done yet.”
Melissa Ice

It’s not all just pouring candles and making jewelry for these women. The Worthy Co. plans on teaching tangible skills like retail sales and management, order fulfillment and shipping, and eventually marketing and e-commerce once the physical location is open. The Worthy Co. wants to ensure that it’s giving its workers experiences that can help them build their resumes and lead to other jobs. 

“I’m just excited that we get the opportunity with a handful of women to really see their lives completely changed by offering them not just a fair wage, but eventually we want to offer them a living wage,” Ice says.

This is more than just a job for these survivors—it’s a life-changing experience.

Ice sees the pride that these women have in the products they create. For one of The Worthy Co.’s employees, this is the first full-time job she’s legally had in over a year.

“I’m really proud that we get to be that stepping stone in her life,” Ice says.

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