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June 21 2018

Made For Freedom: Empowering Women Through Ethical Fashion

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a St. Louis native who lived in China for 10 years and am now building a social enterprise that empowers women around the world. The most important thing in my life, the calling to which I often fall short, is to love well. I hope that at the end of my life people will remember me as one who loved God and expressed love to others.

What exactly is Made For Freedom?

Made for Freedom is a lifestyle brand that partners with centers, globally, to provide dignified employment for survivors of sex trafficking and those coming out of marginalized situations. All of our products are made by women rescued from red light districts and brothels or those coming out of situations where they would be vulnerable to exploitation.

You’re helping fight human trafficking, can you tell us about that?

When we think about human trafficking we often think about those people who are at risk because of vulnerable situations or those who have been rescued and are in a safe house. Too often we neglect to think about that phase after the safe house, which I call return and re-integrate. It’s wonderful and essential to provide a safe space for a woman once she has been rescued but if we neglect to provide her with job skills and training to help her support herself and fail to help her get a job, she becomes vulnerable again. Made for Freedom focuses completely on providing dignified employment for those who are at risk, as a preventative measure, and those who have been rescued, as a restorative measure, to lessen their vulnerabilities. When a woman has a good job, she doesn’t need handouts.

What inspired you to start Made For Freedom?

The roots of my passion were born during my time in China as I saw the results of devaluation of the girl child and extreme poverty. I knew children who had been trafficked from the rural villages into the big cities with the promise of getting a good job and making lots of money only to be used as slave labor. A few years later I saw a video of an undercover reporter who went into Cambodia asking for the youngest girls he could find. As they ushered in young girls for him to choose from, my stomach turned. It was at that moment I realized this issue was much larger than the street kids I had met in China. I desperately wanted to do something but I had no idea how I could make a difference. Fast forward a few years and I married an incredibly handsome young man and received two wedding gifts that were incredibly significant. My husband gave me a pair of sandals I had seen that were made by young ladies in Uganda to help them further their education. This was where I started to fully comprehend the impact of social enterprise, using solid business strategy to help people. Another wedding gift was several pairs of my favorite international pants from Thailand, brought by one of my bridesmaids who was teaching in Thailand at the time. The day after the wedding, as we were going through security to board the plane for our honeymoon, a TSA agent complimented me on my pants. When was the last time a TSA agent commented on your clothing??? I got on the plane and the flight attendant commented on my pants. That began months of strangers coming up to me (and chasing me through parking lots!) to ask about these super comfortable, one size fits many, unique pants. At a certain point I wondered, could these pants be the foundation of a business that could help rescue women from this horrible issue? If so, I need to start a company so I can sell pants!

It’s been several years since we started with pants and now we have products from over 15 centers around the world, all of which are providing dignified employment, life skills, job training and a new way of life for women coming out of desperate situations.

How did you come up with the name?

Actually, I didn’t. I talked to a friend of mine who works in communications and is incredibly creative. I told him the concept and what I wanted to do and that there was no pressure since I knew he was busy with his job and family. You know how those creative types are though. Once they get an idea in their mind it simmers and percolates until they come up with something amazing! About a week after he told me he was too busy to help with a name he contacted me with a different idea for the name and Made for Freedom as the tagline. As soon as I saw Made for Freedom, I knew it was perfect for the empowerment this business would bring to people.

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Where are your products sold? Are they sold in stores?

The easiest place to find Made for Freedom products is on our website but we also have product in some gift stores and boutiques.

What is your favorite part about running Made for Freedom?

Hearing how dignified employment has changed the lives of the women at our partner centers is always exciting. On a larger scale the more we grow and the longer we are in business, the more dignified employment we are able to generate. To date we have generated over 12,000 hours of dignified employment for sex trafficking survivors and marginalized women.

What is your least favorite part about running Made For Freedom?

The set up and tear down of events. And as much as I loathe the setup and teardown process, all of that frustration dissipates when the first person approaches, hears the background of Made for Freedom products and says in astonishment, “Wow.“

Is there a favorite product?

Favorite product? That is a tough one. For a while it was the infinity scarves made by young ladies intercepted at the border as they were being trafficked from Nepal to India. Then there is the professional purse that is durable enough to take my overloading of it, made by marginalized Hmong tribe women in northern Thailand. And a couple of my go-to pieces are the silver Teardrop with Black Onyx earrings made by refugees in St. Louis, paired with my Brooklyn multi-chain necklace made by ladies rescued from red light districts in the northern part of China.

How do you spread the word about your company?

I love hearing from our customers that they frequently receive compliments about their Made for Freedom products. That gives them a chance to say, “Let me tell you about my necklace/purse/T-shirt/pants.” and our customers become more than just customers, they become advocates!

I have to say one of the most exciting developments in the past year has been our Join the Fight programs. I meet people constantly to have the same passion I did when I started made her freedom, they want to do something but they’re not sure how they can help. Our Join the Fight programs give people everything they need to be part of fighting human trafficking by educating them about the issue and being part of the solution. Everything we do is to empower and protect women through dignified employment, so we are inviting women to go DEEP (Dignified Employment Empowers & Protects) and change lives around the world.
If you would like to go DEEP with some friends, check out the Join the Fight programs at https://madeforfreedom.com/join-the-fight/

Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

Don’t become an entrepreneur because of lofty sayings about working your own hours and being your own boss. It’s more like jumping off the edge of a cliff. It’s hard to imagine how much time and energy you will pour into your business and if you knew before jumping you might not take the leap, but if it is your passion and you feel good after all the hours about the impact you’re making in our world, it’s worth it.

Do you have a favorite quote or go to saying?

Another tough one! We have some stylish statement pieces that carry a powerful message but I will land on a verse from Proverbs that beautifully describes the hope Made for Freedom strives to bring.

“Strength and dignity are her clothing and she laughs without fear of the future.“

About Zara Puskuldjian

Hi, I’m Zara Puskuldjian! I am from Long Island, New York but I currently reside in Boca Raton, FL. Recent graduate from Lynn University with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in Photography. I love traveling, my friends, family, photography, warm weather and my 3 lbs. min pin, Nova. Oh and how could I forget my undying love for… chipotle. I am a firm believer in the wise words of Coco Chanel “Beauty begins the moment you decided to be yourself.” (:

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