Penn Grad Daniella Sakhai ’15 recently launched her own jewelry collection featuring a line of fashion-forward whistle necklaces. The sleek and chic design make them a fashion statement on their own, and a social justice statement through their function. The whistles are meant to equip women, and a portion of all sales are donated to female empowerment organizations. I had the opportunity to interview Daniella about her inspiring company.
To start, I’d love to hear a little bit about the origin of VOIX. What gave you the idea, or inspired you?
- It actually all started when my mom moved me into my off-campus apartment on 41st and Walnut during my sophomore year. After moving me in, she continuously asked me to carry pepper spray or call Penn police to walk me home at night. When I told her that those options were unrealistic she told me she’d come up with a different defense mechanism. She’s a jewelry designer by trade so that background came into play and she designed the VOIX whistle.
How did you decide on the design? Why was it important to you that the piece be functional and aesthetically pleasing?
- We realized that traditional rape whistles weren’t effective- young women didn’t want to wear bright neon plastic cord necklaces. For a rape whistle to work, first and foremost it has to be worn. We knew that the way to convince women to wear them was through fashion. If the whistles were disguised as beautiful pieces of jewelry, women wouldn’t have to sacrifice style for safety. We designed the core of our whistle to have a solid, bold aesthetic adorned with a delicate elegance through the different styles of each necklace. We spent three years designing different prototypes, developing the whistle to ensure that it blew piercingly loud, while still having a delicate and sleek design. The trademarking and patenting process of our design was also time-consuming.
Also- what about this cause spoke to you specifically?
- I think sexual assault is a fear [for] most women, especially on college campuses. It is an emotionally disturbing reality that our society faces. It was when I started reading the statistics that I knew it was a reality that had to be changed. 1 in 5 women in the US have been raped in their lifetime. College women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than robbed. Every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted. The numbers speak for themselves. There’s a human being behind each of these statistics. We wanted to fight to end this rape culture, to put faces, names, and voices to this epidemic by encouraging women to speak up.
Are there any public figures- in fashion or social justice who inspire you?
- Malala Yousafzai — after being shot in the head by the Taliban for seeking education in Pakistan in 2012, she fervently committed herself to fight for girls’ education around the world. She’s had terrorists threaten to attack her if they get the chance, she’s been called by her own people a westernized mouthpiece. And yet, she does not waver in her opinions nor is she intimidated. I think she’s a role model for all of us.
A portion of the sales is given to organizations that empower women. How do you choose who you give to, and why?
- We partner with various female empowerment organizations, because it’s impossible to choose just one. There are numerous causes that need our support. We want to fight against sexual assault, against human trafficking and against domestic violence. We support girls’ education world-wide. We also want to partner with illness based organizations because we believe that many women are silenced by their diagnosis. Studies have shown that speaking up is an important part of the healing process. We want every woman to have a whistle and to remember that they have a voice — against all barriers and obstacles that they’re faced with.
If you could address the way sexual assault in general or sexual assault on college campuses is being talked about or handled what would you hope to change or shine light on?
- We’ve seen an ongoing effort to silence the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. Colleges want to maintain their reputations and keep their crime levels low, often encouraging female victims to keep silent and not report assault. This prevents perpetrators from being held accountable. Most rapists are actually repeat offenders, committing an average of 6 rapes. If women raised their voices, they’d actually be protecting future rapes from happening. Silence is our biggest enemy.
How has this project shaped a larger aspect of your life, if it has?
- It’s most definitely opened up my eyes to the inequalities and double standards that women are facing world-wide. By speaking with rape victims, meeting social innovators like Amanda Nguyen who has implemented a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, I’ve been inspired to embody their strength and vocal assertiveness. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work side-by-side with my mom and sister, which has added a new dimension to our already strong relationship.
What advice would you give to any current student hoping to make a difference or start their own venture?
- If your business idea is something that you want to do when you wake up in the morning, and are willing to stay up wired thinking about it, just do it. Adopt a “why not” mentality. Stop worrying about the finance and consulting opportunities at OCR, and go full force ahead with your venture. Its success is just a matter of your grit and determination … and the company won’t build itself.
You can support VOIX by purchasing your own piece at VOIXNewYork.com, and following the brand on Instagram, @VOIXNewYork, for more updates.
Images courtesy of The Voix on Facebook