Knot For Sale: How One Brand is Fighting Human Trafficking

originally written by Megan Fradley-Smith

Jessica Winniford and Adisyn Pyles believe in women. Together, they formed Freeleaf, a growing social enterprise dedicated to empowering survivors of human trafficking and abuse through gainful employment. Freeleaf goes even further, and ensures that their artisans receive the holistic support needed to help them blossom and heal from their past traumas. It is a beautiful business, melding creative pursuits with economic freedom, and we here at Brightly are thrilled to add their wares to our platform very soon. Today, we are speaking with Adisyn and learning more about Freeleaf’s incredible journey.

What's your background, and what led you to create Freeleaf?

 

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. Being a natural introvert, a cautious decision maker, and a lover of simplicity, I always assumed I wouldn’t make a very good front-person or leader. But I have always been a rooter for the underdog. In college I studied International Studies & French and envisioned myself moving to French-speaking Africa to work in community development. But when I graduated in 2011 and applied to work for non-profits and social enterprises, nobody would hire me because I didn’t have any overseas experience! Crushed, I decided to spend a gap-year in Asia learning Mandarin and volunteering before I planned to go to grad school. Seven years later and here I still am.

A few years ago, I met a local Chinese woman named JiaYi. We realized that we both had a passion for women-in-need in the city, and slowly began talking to at-risk, abused, and exploited women to gather more information about what their needs were. It didn’t take long to realize that the root of so much abuse and exploitation was economic. When women are poor and lack educational or economic opportunities, they often find themselves vulnerable to abuse and/or exploitation. Slowly, we realized that if we wanted to create a safe space for women to heal in a sustainable and substantial way, we didn’t need to create some non-profit or charity program—we needed to create a business. So Freeleaf was born June 2016.

 

Tell us about the artisans working with Freeleaf. How do they come to join?

 

A: Freeleaf provides employment to at-risk, abused, and exploited women. This means we work with women from a large variety of backgrounds—homeless women, women with mental or physical disabilities, women who have been in the sex industry, domestic abuse survivors, women with low education, trafficking survivors, single moms, sexual assault survivors, etc. We meet our employees/ artisans through a variety of ways, but primarily through word-of-mouth and referrals from non-profit organizations.

When a woman contacts us for help, we do an initial interview to assess what her situation is and determine if we are able to hire her or whether she would be better served through a network of our partner organizations.

 

You mention that you provide Holistic Care to your artisans. Tell us more

 

A: Ultimately, we don’t only want to provide employment to women. We want to see women experience holistic freedom—physically, economically, relationally, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and more. Because of this, we have developed holistic care programs to address the non-economic struggles that our employees often face. To do this, we provide each woman with safe shelter in a company dormitory, medical care, professional counseling, coaching/mentorship, vocational training, and constant encouragement. Ultimately, this holistic viewpoint is designed to help women grow to understand their intrinsic value and give them the tools and confidence to stand firm and achieve their dreams—whether they stay at Freeleaf or move on to somewhere/something else.

 

We'd love to know more about the gorgeous products you sell!

 

A: All of our products are hand-knotted from a single strand of rope or cord. Knotting is an ancient art-form that has been practiced in China & all over Asia for centuries. In addition to tying knots for functional purposes, knots have been used to show elegance and express blessings. Freeleaf bases the design of all of our products in accordance with this rich history and significance of the Chinese knot.

In addition, the process of knotting can be quite messy as a single strand of rope is molded to become something beautiful. For example, our large cotton rug uses over 200 feet of rope! Throughout the process of tying the rug’s knot, it’s easy to feel like you’re making a bigger mess than you started with. However, with patience and dedication, the knot slowly begins to come forth and eventually you’re left with a stunning product. I find that this process so often mirrors our lives—if we’re willing to be patient and keep walking through the messiness or chaos of whatever’s going on around us, I believe that beauty always wins.

The play on words to creating a world where women are {k}not for sale is just extra.

Our primary line of products is home décor—rugs, coasters, trivets, bowls, placemats, etc. We also have a bright and fun jewelry line of necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.

 

What goals do you have for Freeleaf's future?

 

A: As a social enterprise, and not an NGO or charity, our ability to employ women and provide the holistic care services we do is entirely dependent on our sales. Because of this, our first dream is for Freeleaf to grow as a company so that we can have the ability to come alongside more women in need. We know that there are hundreds of at-risk, abused, and exploited women in our city who would benefit from a safe working environment where they’re encouraged and equipped, and we want to grow to become a company that can employ hundreds!

 

Most of our Community is working toward a sustainable lifestyle. Do you have any tips for them?

 

A: First off, I would say that mindfulness is the first step to developing a sustainable lifestyle. Previously, I admit that my purchases were mostly dependent on getting a good deal. It was only after running a social enterprise myself that I realized how incredibly expensive it is to run a business that pays people fairly and respects the environment! Suddenly I realized that there was no way someone wasn’t getting screwed over if I was only paying $3 for a shirt.

However, it’s not like I’m making millions in this industry, so developing a sustainably lifestyle still needs to be budget friendly. Over the last few years, I’ve looked for ways to reuse, recycle and repurpose rather than purchasing new. For clothing, this means shopping at thrift stores, Goodwill and websites like ThredUp. For appliances and home decor, it means trying to fix what I have rather than immediately purchasing something new (and throwing away the old). It means thinking twice about whether I actually need that new ____, or whether I’m only buying it to make myself feel better as a form of self-care. If that’s the case, I’ll choose to invest in my self-care in another way—maybe go get an ice cream or grab dinner with a friend. Ultimately, these decisions are better for my heart anyways.

 

We are inspired by these words, and hope you are too! You can visit Freeleaf here and keep an eye out for their latest items on their Instagram!

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