We believe every person needs a community to belong to. At Freeset, we live in communities marked by extreme poverty and vulnerability. Our people are world-battlers, fighting daily for the good of their families and neighbors. We want to see freedom prosper in our communities, with every person having a chance to not only feed and clothe themselves but ultimately reach their full potential.
Freeset began in Sonagachi, one of Asia’s largest red-light areas with ~10,000 sex workers, many of whom were taken from homes in villages and communities across West Bengal. Our women hoped for something better. Through jobs at Freeset making bags and tees, we worked to build new homes and a new community of freedom in Kolkata. We launched Freeset Trust to provide better counseling and care for staff and community.
In 2014, our women started dreaming about returning to their ancestral homes. We visited communities across the Murshidabad district (rural West Bengal) and began starting new businesses in strategic locations. We’re seeing some of our women return home for the first time. Better still, as we’ve gotten to know our new neighborhoods, we can help communities ensure their daughters are never trafficked away.
Our heart is for the thousands still seeking a safe, caring community to call home, and the millions more at risk. We’re still launching new businesses in Kolkata and more in West Bengal. We make bags, tees, scarves, and apparel for sale around the world. In buying Freeset, you’re strengthening homes and communities.
In 1999, Kerry and Annie Hilton left New Zealand with their four children and moved to Kolkata to work and live amongst the poor. Naively, they signed up for an apartment in the middle of the day. It was only when Kerry was taking a walk at night that he discovered they had moved into the largest red light area in the city, Sonagacchi. Their new neighbors were thousands of women forced into prostitution by trafficking and poverty.
To make a difference that would bring real freedom for these women, the Hiltons began to understand there needed to be a business alternative. Women could be trained with new skills for a new job and empowered with life-skills needed to appreciate freedom. After experimenting with different products and testing the market, they decided to make jute bags for the export market.
Freeset opened its doors in 2001 with twenty women brave enough to trust a couple of foreigners and seize the opportunity to leave the sex trade behind. Priya Mishra, an Indian doctor working in the community, played a key role in facilitating that trust and helping to grow the business.
It was hard work teaching unskilled women to sew at a quality acceptable for the export market. Some could barely use a pair of scissors and in those early days, the average daily output was less than two bags each. Would you believe some of the bags were sewn inside out and upside down!
These problems have been overcome with training, a lot of patience and quality control systems. While many of the women are still not the fastest sewers, the business now produces around 1000 bags a day. Consistent quality is important for Freeset to be a competitive, self-sustaining business that is able to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation for these women once and for all.
The women are paid around twice the going rate for an equivalent job elsewhere and as part of their employment package have health insurance and a pension plan. A woman is employed full-time to ensure that staff are able to access their health insurance entitlements.
Every woman who finds freedom through Freeset also brings freedom to her family. They find hope for a brighter future and the means to make it a reality. As the business has grown, a positive community has emerged calling itself the “Freeset family. This family not only supports its own members, but impacts on the wider community. The common understanding is “we’re in this together”.
The Freeset Trust is a charitable organization which operates alongside the business providing literacy classes, child care, budgeting and debt management services.
Today more than 250 women are on their journey to freedom at Freeset.
We believe business has the ability to lose its way in the world. For too long, profit has been more important than people, and sourcing cheap resources has been at the expense of the environment.
Join us as we commit to fair trade and eco-friendly practices in a bid to bring business back to its rightful place.
Fair Trade is a growing movement supporting fair wages and conditions for producers in the developing world.
Freeset is committed to providing fair, living wages and a healthy working environment for all employees. Wages are above the national minimum and all staff receive training, health care, child care, and savings plans.
As a business that subscribes to the ideals of Fair Trade, we are committed to empowering our staff and working to alleviate poverty in our community. We also want to empower you, the consumer to choose products made under fair conditions.
Freeset Bags & Apparel has been awarded Fair Trade Guaranteed status by the World Fair Trade Organization (Guaranteed status valid from 12 April 2016). This achievement recognizes our existing Fair Trade practices and our commitment to constant improvement. The cotton in our Tees is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified 100% organic, which means it is good for the grower and for you.