Amid increase in domestic violence, students start online store to support victims

by Allison Wachen | 5/26/20 2:05am

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Isabelle Chung ’19 and Sara Cho ’20 have founded nullepartout, an online shop that features items bearing Chung’s designs related to cultural trends during the pandemic, like baking banana bread.

Source: Courtesy of Isabelle Chung '19

In an effort to raise awareness about the increase in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, friends Sara Cho ’20 and Isabelle Chung ’19 founded nullepartout, an online apparel and lifestyle shop that sells jewelry, apparel and other goods and donates its proceeds to domestic violence related charities. 

Cho and Chung said they became interested in starting the shop after reading a New York Times article that referenced a rise in domestic violence during the pandemic and described the stories of several women experiencing domestic abuse in different countries around the world. Chung said that she was also inspired by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and pop singer Rihanna’s $4.2 million grant to provide resources for domestic violence victims. 

Chung, who had no prior experience with domestic violence charitable work, reached out to Cho because of Cho’s experience volunteering with a nonprofit for homeless women and as a sexual assault peer advisor at Dartmouth. Together, they launched the shop on April 20.

“I just wanted to put my creative outlet to good use and was hoping to mold it into a brand with social responsibility that inspires others to take action,” Chung wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth.

The name nullepartout is a combination of the two French words “nulle part,” meaning nowhere, and “partout,” meaning everywhere, according to Chung. 

“For ‘nowhere,’ I was thinking about how victims of domestic violence kind of have nowhere else to go, especially in light of the crisis,” she said, adding that “for ‘everywhere,’ I was thinking about how the virus is everywhere, [as is] domestic violence.”

As of May 19, nullepartout has raised $150 for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The shop has sold $450 worth of merchandise in total. Chung said that while $150 “is not that much,” she is pleased that the shop may be increasing awareness about the issue of domestic violence.

“I am hoping to raise more [money] in the future,” Chung said, “but I was happy to see that more than 1,000 people visited the website.”

Cho explained that while domestic violence has “always been a very big issue,” she and Chung decided to use proceeds from nullepartout to support the National Domestic Violence Hotline because of the important role that the service plays for victims during the pandemic.

Julia Litzky Gr’18 Med’20, a volunteer advocate for WISE, an Upper Valley organization that works to end gender-based violence, has continued volunteering for the WISE crisis hotline during the pandemic. She noted that she believes the hotline is necessary “more now than ever” because of the lack of in-person options available. 

“People are emotionally stressed, and that tends to increase violent situations. Simultaneously, people can’t get away, and they’re stuck at home. I am sure that the combination of those things is increasing domestic violence during this time,” Litzky said. 

Peggy O’Neil, executive director of WISE, explained that although the media has been covering the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic, it is difficult to know how many cases there have been. She said victims have not been able to report abuse as easily due to being stuck at home, possibly with abusers, and having fewer resources available. She noted that WISE had a decrease in hotline calls during March because of the stay-at-home orders in New Hampshire and Vermont. 

“No one really knows what the volume of domestic violence instances are right now because people are not coming forward in the same ways as they were before,” O’Neil said. 

WISE is adapting to the pandemic through continuing its 24/7 crisis line and providing phone, telehealth and chat services to residents of the Upper Valley and anyone in the Dartmouth community, regardless of whether they are currently on campus, O’Neil said. While WISE’s hotline is now receiving a “steady” number of calls, they are expecting a “significant boom” once the stay at home orders end. 

In order to raise money to help domestic violence victims, nullepartout sells clothing, mugs, bags, pillows, jewelry, phone cases and aprons. Their most popular products are their banana bread bags, phone cases and hoodies. Chung manages the operations, social media and product design for the shop, while Cho manages outreach and strategy.

Chung decided to sell these specific items on nullepartout because she wanted to try to engage with young adults through an online shopping experience. Chung designed the products on Canva and connected her Shopify website with a printing company to fulfill the orders. 

Chung said that she designed the apparel with symbolic messages, such as the “Stay Home” collection, which is divided into two different collections: “Stay Home Bleu,” which is dedicated to health care workers, referencing their blue scrubs, and “Stay Home Violet,” dedicated to victims or survivors of domestic violence, as the purple ribbon is a symbol for domestic violence awareness.

Chung designed products featuring COVID-19-related messages in English, French and Korean. The messages on her products are references to cultural trends during the pandemic — like baking banana bread — as well as public safety reminders.

Cho said that while she and Chung want to “raise awareness about domestic violence and support victims and survivors,” they also considered other ways to reach the local community. Cho said that nullepartout is considering giving proceeds to local domestic violence shelters in Chung and Cho’s hometown in the Seattle area. 

“I know that no amount of money to the hotline or services to the hotline are ever going to fix the real issue,” Chung said. “[But] because we are in a crisis, I wanted to help relieve immediate needs … Once the crisis is over, maybe [Cho] and I will work with other organizations that help address the underlying issue or root of the problem.”

She said that even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, she hopes to run nullepartout “indefinitely.” 

O’Neil praised Cho and Chung for their efforts related to nullepartout and for supporting the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

“I applaud anyone who is first creating more awareness about the issue of domestic violence,” she said. “I think it is important for people who are survivors of domestic violence to know that there are students and others across the country who are concerned about this and want to be a resource.”

Chung said that she “just hope[s] that [nullepartout] encourages [people] to take their own initiatives … and do something about the consequences of [COVID-19.]” 

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