The story behind our cotton bags
At O My Bag we have a motto: we not only make bags that make you happy, but also the world around you. This time we’ll tell you the story about our cotton bags. Our cotton bags are made – just as all of our other bags – in Kolkata, India.
As some of you might know, in India, prostitution is a huge problem. For example in Sonagacchi, the largest most infamous sex district in Kolkata. Within a few square miles more than 10.000 women stand in line, selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Many of them come 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. And that’s where Freeset Global comes in.
How it al begun
In 1999 Kerry and Annie Hilton left New Zealand with their four children and moved to Kolkata to work and live amongst the poor. They signed up for an apartment in the middle of the day. When Kerry was taking a walk at night, he discovered they had moved into the largest red light district in the city, Sonagacchi. Thousands of women standing there, 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 alternative where these women can make some money themselves. 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.
Then the business was up and running
In 2001 Freeset opened its doors with twenty women who where brave enough to trust a couple of foreigners and seize the opportunity to leave the sex trade behind. An Indian doctor who works in the community, Priya Mishra, played a key role in facilitating that trust and helping to grow the business. At the beginning it was really hard to teach the unskilled women to sew quality acceptable bags for the export market. Some of the women could barely use a pair of scissors and in those early days, the average daily output was less than two bags. Can you believe that some of the bags were sewed inside out?
But Kerry and Annie Hilton didn’t give up. They overcame this problems with training, quality control systems and a lot of patience. 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, not only brings freedom to themselves, but also to their 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 190 women are on their journey to freedom at Freeset.
Freeset X O My Bag
With this amazing story in your mind, you can understand why O My Bag bundled its power with Freeset Global. Together we can change the world, one bag at a time.
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