A group founded by Japanese university students has worked to help Indian women who fell victim to human and sex trafficking achieve independence through fashion and styling.

Last September, the Japanese group, dubbed Mode for Smiles, organized a fashion show in the northeastern Indian city of Kolkata in collaboration with a local organization teaching sewing to victims.

“Our purpose is to bring positive changes within the women,” said Fumika Date, 24, a graduate student at Hiroshima University.

Date created the support group in March 2014, as she learned after several trips to India that many women there struggled with physical and sexual abuse and being unable to earn a livelihood.

She incorporated fashion into the initiative after discovering Indian nongovernmental organizations providing those women with sewing training to help them become independent.

Date contacted some 20 organizations based in New Delhi and other cities, asking if they were interested in helping to organize a fashion event.

But negotiations were tough, with most responding negatively that it was not realistic to involve women who are basically poor and illiterate.

Yet a year later, one NGO based in Kolkata called Destiny Foundation sympathized with Date and agreed to co-host the event.

Mode for Smiles asked sewing schools in Hiroshima and Onomichi, a city also in Hiroshima Prefecture, to produce dresses to be worn at the fashion show titled “Make a Smile.”

Among the 29 costumes were traditional Indian saris made with fabrics usually used for yukata casual Japanese kimono and a formal kimono called uchikake.

To protect their identities, women who were victims of exploitation worked backstage as stylists selecting bags, scarves and other accessories they produced for costumes they picked. Local students modeled instead.

Some 150 people, including officials from international organizations and fashion magazines, gathered to see the show held on Sept. 26, according to Date.

The women told Date they were happy to see the items they made showcased on stage.

To fund the project, including costs to rent a venue, Mode for Smiles undertook crowdfunding on the Internet.

“What’s important for a students’ group is to keep our motivation high, I believe,” Date said. “I hope the success of this event will give a boost to our future projects.”

Mode for Smiles currently has about 15 student members who are interested in fashion design and helping developing nations.

The group plans to hold a similar fashion event in India in September next year.

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