Making jewellery and making a difference to women’s lives is the mission behind F.R.E.E (the Foundation for the Realization of Economic Empowerment). Created by entrepreneur Dawn Close in Zambia, the goal is to empower highly skilled craftswomen in the country to create high quality, handcrafted jewellery for sale around the world.
LoA found out more about this high impact social enterprise during a recent visit to Zambia.
What does your company do?
We are a women's empowerment organisation adding value to Zambia's natural resources through handcrafted copper and silver jewellery. There are nine young women making the jewellery. It has been selling in many countries since we first started. We got our first order for Europe when we were only in existence for a few months. We've now expanded to copper home decor. We are working on a national handcraft development initiative to develop the sector as a whole, using what has been learned thus far.
“We are a women's empowerment organisation adding value to Zambia's natural resources through handcrafted copper and silver jewellery.”
What inspired you to start your company?
F.R.E.E. was formed to start for-profit enterprises. The name says a lot about why I started it. A heartfelt awareness of the love of God for one's self is the foundation of all real empowerment. If women don't believe that they have value, their work will be substandard, they won't charge what they should. If they don't believe in themselves, they won't believe in what they do either. The acronym is F.R.E.E. which says even more. We are free women. We call the jewellery line F.R.E.E. Woman.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
We are proudly Zambian. Our jewellery is made by young women who are highly skilled and professional in their workmanship. They take great pride in their work. We are fashion forward and trendy. We have a positive and empowering story.
“Our jewellery is made by young women who are highly skilled and professional in their workmanship.”
Tell us a little about your team
There are nine women aged 19 to 28. Some have been with us since we started in 2012. One is a university graduate who wasn't hopeful of finding a job in Zambia and wanted to be an entrepreneur. She learned silversmithing and makes awesome jewellery. Several of the women graduated high school but had nothing to do. Others didn't finish school but making jewellery has helped them further their education. All of them are passionate about making jewellery and have become very confident through their success. Some have had opportunity to travel because of their involvement.
We became a young women's initiative by default. We started with a group of older women and they just couldn't learn the skills. Then, as the whole thing appeared ready to die, two young women came along and within a week we had product we could sell. They brought in a friend and she was the same. Then I started to get it and encouraged other young women to join us. With few exceptions, they've been very capable. They are open to using tools that are normally a man's domain. They are interested in learning new skills and broadening their horizons. They are creative and have learned about market trends. Together we've been successful.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I am learning how to do this as I go. I have a degree in business administration but have never really been in business. It has been a challenge but by the grace of God we've been successful. I used to think that being an entrepreneur meant you had some special something within you. I've realised instead that it is doing all the little things right, which adds up and creates success.
“We are working on a national handcraft development initiative to develop the sector as a whole.”
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
With the success we've had in training young women to do something as complex as making jewellery from metals, we've realised there is huge potential in the youth of this nation, particularly the young women. I want to take the principles of success that we've adapted from the Zambian experience and go national with a handcraft development. The global market for handmade is huge and demand is growing. This is for upper end artisan crafts. We are in the midst of launching the first phase of Development by Design.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Seeing the women make real money and grow in their confidence as a result, realising there are people out there willing to pay top money for what they made with their own hands. That does something to them. It also instills something in me, to realise that my dream is becoming a reality and that others are benefitting.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Get a God given idea first. Then run with it and never give up. Look to Him to guide you and show you how to do everything! You are capable of so much more than you ever dreamed.
Contact or follow F.R.E.E
Why LoA loves it….
If there is one woman who knows the power of empowering other women through business and artisan entrepreneurship, it’s Dawn Close, founder of F.R.E.E. in Zambia. She is creating a positive and nurturing business environment where young women in the country can hone and harness their unique craft skills to create the most beautiful jewellery for the world to buy and enjoy. Her impact and business model is destined to now only positively impact the lives of her own women crafters, but on the sector as a whole in the country. This is one inspirational social entrepreneur to follow over the coming months and years. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and ceo of Lionesses of Africa