ASI Feature: MADE FREE Provides Life-Saving Jobs for Thousands

ASI Feature: MADE FREE Provides Life-Saving Jobs for Thousands

Made Free Provides Life-Saving Jobs for Thousands

An ASI article featuring how MADE FREE is working to give marginalized people a new chance by paying them a living wage to create products made from sustainable materials.

By  Riley Atkinson

Thirteen years ago, Brad Jeffery had a conversation that changed his life – and the lives of thousands of others.

The founder of supplier Made Free (asi/68405) was in Nairobi, Kenya, to see the results of microfinance. During that trip, he spoke with a woman who said they earned $3 a day, which was good, but when Jeffery pressed them they admitted that they needed so much more.

“I witnessed the poorest of poor in the most inhumane circumstances developing small businesses with a high level of work ethic and attention to detail,” Jeffery recalls on Made Free’s website.

woman working at sewing machine

Made Free says it provides self-sustaining jobs for women in impoverished places to help change their lives.

When Jeffery returned to the U.S. and his affluent neighborhood with its large, custom homes and well-manicured lawns, he couldn’t shake the idea that he might be able to help some of the millions of people suffering from human trafficking, slavery and extreme poverty.

Brad Jeffrey

Brad Jeffery, founder of Made Free

With skills he gained through working at his family’s business, Jeffery started Made Free in 2011 to help the marginalized people of the world, co-founding the company with his wife, Katherine. Twelve years later, the supplier of artisan fashion accessories has provided livable wages and safe jobs for thousands, paying up to five times the average minimum wage and empowering women to take control of their lives.

“Our driving measurement of success is how many people we can provide life-changing jobs to,” Jeffery says. “We’ll take a lower profit to accomplish our vision and mission.”

Several women from India have told Jeffery that the opportunity to work for Made Free rescued them from dehumanizing situations … or even suicide. There are around 700 million people who live at an extreme poverty level globally, many of whom are vulnerable to human trafficking and slavery. Jeffery says he encourages businesses to be part of the solution, not the problem, when considering how to treat overseas workers.

His passion for social enterprise has been contagious. Doug Mlicki, an account executive at Top 40 distributor HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000), says he didn’t have much knowledge of the terrible work environments until Jeffery explained the problem.

“Every order from Made Free has such a huge impact on that part of the world,” Mlicki says. “HALO has been so proud to be involved in that – to help these women globally and get them out of poverty.”

Although production costs increase by paying workers a livable wage, Made Free is proof that his business model doesn’t have to limit a company’s success.

“We actually ranked in the Inc. 5000 as one of the fastest-growing consumer brands, which gives, I think, credibility to our model – it’s working,” Jeffery says.

Made Free ranked 791 in the most recent Inc. 5000 list, which tracks the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. The supplier saw a three-year growth rate of 804%, according to Inc.

Every Made Free item is handcrafted by small teams in factory partners that meet the World Fair Trade Organizations (WFTO) standards. The WFTO provides 10 principles that ensure businesses are set up and operate in a way that puts people and the planet first. These principles include fair payment, good working conditions and climate action.

yellow hip pack

Made Free offers this hip pack made with durable weather-resistant recycled polyester and an adjustable strap made from seatbelt material.

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All Made Free products are crated from recycled, organic or eco-friendly materials. According to ASI’s 2023 Ad Impressions Study, 46% of consumers would feel more favorable about the advertiser if they gave them an environmentally friendly product. This percentage has increased by 4% since 2019, and millennials especially seem to want high-quality promotional products rather than cheap ones that are likely to end up in the trash, Jeffery notes.

infographic about Fair Trade

“Every project that we’ve done with them, from the tote bags to little leather journals, the quality of the products has been fantastic,” Mlicki says. “You can tell a lot of detail is put into the product, and you can tell the products are made with care.”

Businesses should be intentional about producing or purchasing high-quality, ethically made products rather than seeking the cheapest price, Jeffery says. While some promotional items might be thrown away after they rip or wear out, Made Free products come with a lifetime guarantee that minimizes waste.

“What we’re advocating for is to buy fewer things that last longer and that are backed by a company that is held accountable for durability and long-term use,” Jeffery says.

Made Free’s overall mission is for 1 million people to be made free through self-sustaining jobs – every purchase made gives hope to people who might not otherwise have it.

“It’s one thing to use sustainable materials, but if the maker isn’t cared for, sustainability can have a net negative impact,” the Made Free website notes. “We are doing all that we can to help end the injustice of slavery and extreme poverty through well-paying ethical jobs, while at the same time using eco-friendly, organic and recycled materials.”


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