The hidden camera captured a supposed “ten year old” Cambodian girl, likely six or seven years old, offering sex to a foreigner for $10. This scenario exemplifies the world of slavery, shame, and abuse in which hundreds of thousands of women and children live every day.
The 10 years I spent living in China prior to seeing the video from this undercover investigation helped me to understand that when people value girls less than boys, it creates an great imbalance. Nothing I encountered in my travels, however, prepared me to watch a video exposing the darkness of the Cambodian sex trade. Watching this mini-documentary in 2007 introduced me to sex trafficking. I was overwhelmed by the depravity and scope of the issue. As I continued to learn about trafficking over the next several years, I desperately wanted to see this horror and injustice end, yet I didn’t know what could be done from my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
One of my favorite questions is, “How did you come up with the idea of Made for Freedom?”
It’s strange to say my dream to help rescue and restore trafficked people started with a pair of pants, but it’s true! I got the idea to start Made for Freedom (MFF) as I received an tons of compliments from strangers about the fisherman pants I had purchased in Thailand. I wondered if I could start a business selling wonderfully comfortable pants from Thailand. Since I already had several jobs and was recently married, it was easy to set the idea aside. I didn’t have time to start a business selling pants. About the same time, I was introduced to the concept of social enterprise, using solid, ethical business practices that can improve the way the world works.
An invitation to join a research trip to India to learn about the restoration of survivors of sex trafficking was the final piece of the puzzle. While on the two week trip, we visited a safe house where 60 girls, all 13-16 years old, were beginning this restoration process. The children appeared to have adapted to life in the safe house in spite of the pain they had endured – all except one, a 15-year-old I will call Ashna. A social worker informed us that Ashna had been taken from her family, likely by way of a promised job in the big city, only to be sold into slavery at a brothel. As it turned out, the day we visited was the day Ashna found out that her family did not want her back.
Stories like these and others compelled me to pledge, “If there is any way I can help these girls by selling pants, I will sell pants.”
That pledge marked the beginning of Made for Freedom. We altered traditional fisherman pant’s very baggy backside to create a more flattering, yet still comfortable pant. With a new pattern, I felt it was important to change the name to Creabeli, taken from CREating A BEautiful LIfe. This fantastic journey has involved deep dives into business strategy, product development, and social value measurements. It has been rewarding to work with people in St. Louis and around the world who are advocating for survivors, as well as building a team of brilliant people who cheerfully lend their abundant and diverse skills to MFF. Together, we are fully committed to help women around the world know that we are all made for freedom.
2014 was a significant year for us. With funding from YouthBridge/SEIC, Arch Grants, and Kiva lenders we placed our first order of pants made by marginalized women from a center in Thailand, with subsequent orders of crossbody bags. A PBS in a segment of Start Up about Made for Freedom aired across the country, and I was invited to speak to groups of all ages about ethical supply chains, vulnerability of women, human trafficking, and using business for social change.
As 2015 begins we are broadening our product line with jewelry, scarves, and a more professional line of purses. These products will be manufactured with dignified employment by women in India, Thailand, China, Nepal, and possibly Cambodia. I’m also thrilled to have been selected for the Grace Hill Women’s Business Center 16th Annual Wall of Fame and nominated for the She is Noble awards. We are preparing to launch a new line of products that will include a wearable computing device that offers security to the wearer I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year may have in store!
We are currently preparing to host our 2nd annual ethical shopping event on April 21 at in conjunction with Fashion Revolution. For more information about this ethical shopping/fashion show celebration check out http://madeforfreedom.com/FashRev