When Kelsey Reese graduated from high school, she didn’t follow the traditional path of going directly to college. Instead, she went to the Philippines for a year with Mission Youth. There, she witnessed something that would fill her with a passionate drive to fight for good change: a sex trade deal happening right in front of her. At the time, she was powerless to stop it, but the pain of what she saw has inspired her life’s purpose.
Reese has loved fashion her whole life and always wanted to make clothes; she’s also always had a heart for others. What she saw in the Philippines helped it all come together: she realized that she could create a clothing line to empower women and combat human trafficking.
“I’ve taken that scene with me,” she said. “With every project I do, I think of it. We’re all wounded, we all have broken pieces, but I want to challenge that, to see past these wounded parts and broken pieces. I want these women to know they can be the women they want to be, and I want to demonstrate this through my clothing, because what you wear shows your personality. I want them to be and feel respected and to have dignity — the dignity God gave us all.”
After her year in the Philippines, Reese headed to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in L.A. to get her fashion degree, which she just completed after 1.5 intense years of 10-week quarters, pushing herself to the limit. Now she’ll round out her education by pursuing a bachelor’s in business at UD.
“I want a business degree because I don’t want to just know the creative part of fashion,” she said. “I was also drawn to UD because of the Core curriculum and because I love my Catholic identity and want to grow in that and be strong in my faith, to be a witness through fashion — because fashion and God aren’t separate. God wants us to be beautiful. I want to put it all together — fashion, business, theology — give it to the Lord and see what he does.”
In the meantime, Reese is networking and growing her brand identity. Her work is currently project-based and her business in its beginning stages, but someday she would like to do something along the lines of Toms shoes — for every pair of shoes purchased, providing a pair for someone in need — but with clothing.
“My brand will use the idea of sovereignty — that we’re all royalty with our own style,” she said. “It will be a lifestyle brand advocating for women and children who’ve been victims of human trafficking. If possible, I want to engage them in my work, so that they can come back and use creativity, through fashion, to find themselves again.”
Reese has recently done similar work with Freedom in Fashion, an organization for men and women ages 18-25 who have suffered sexual abuse or other struggles, mentoring and guiding them in clothing design. Her part in the program culminated in a fashion show in downtown L.A. in December.
“They opened their hearts to me,” said Reese. “It was an incredible way to let my heart be on fire for this. I want to work with people, help them be creative when they’ve had so many things in life thrown at them. My heart is on fire for these young men and women, and I can’t let it rest.”