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Freeset – Kolkata, India

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Freeset is a fair trade business offering employment to women trapped in Kolkata's sex trade. They make quality jute and cotton bags and organic cotton t-shirts, but their business is freedom!  They would like to see the 10,000 sex workers in their neighbourhood empowered with the choice of leaving a profession they never chose in the first place.

Freeset is located in Sonagacchi, the largest, most infamous sex district in Kolkata, India. Within a few square miles more than 10,000 women stand in line selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Many are trafficked from Bangladesh, Nepal and rural India. For others poverty has left them without options. The cries of their hungry children drive them to sell their bodies.

 At thirteen, Sonali* was stolen from her village, dragged to the back streets of Sonagacchi and sold into prostitution. Her first customer drugged and raped her unconscious body.
Bashanti*, a daughter of poverty-stricken parents, was sold into the sex trade by her mother, sacrificed so the rest of the family could eat.

In India, prostitution is big business and thrives on exploitation and slavery, robbing the poor of dignity and innocence.
* names changed

Birth of a BusinessFreeset-sewing

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 over-come 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.

Positive CommunityFreeset-women

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 160 women are on their journey to freedom at Freeset.

From our customers

  • EPHAS offers fantastic customer service, postage is reasonable and quick and the products are simply beautiful. It is easy to promote such gorgeous pieces when they have a story behind them like EPHAS does, and my customers appreciate my sourcing products that are Fair Trade and align with their beliefs. (So not only are the products amazing, but they also sell well.) Wouldn't hesitate to recommend purchasing EPHAS products

    Mel, Owner, Surya Gift Shop
  • I have been thinking about your products a lot. They have struck a cord with me. The story cards were very useful and helped me to clearly understand what Starfish Project does and the important work they are doing. I am really glad to have met EPHAS - thank you for introducing me to your products and giving me the opportunity to support such a meaningful cause.

    Yumi Director, One Village Shop
  • I am always really excited with the new jewellery designs that we order in from EPHAS. The entire range has been very popular with our customers and ever since it landed at One Village, it has been flying out of the shop! We have now increased our range of Starfish Project jewellery to keep up with the demands of our customers. We feel very fortunate to share in the journey with EPHAS to create a brighter future for the women who are behind the beautiful jewellery. Thank you for always providing us with excellent customer care.

    Yumi Director, One Village Shop
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