As a young woman in Afghanistan, Hanifa Javadi dreamed of owning her own business. Each day at 5 a.m., she would take a seat beside her in-laws and meticulously weave a rug by hand for the next 15 hours.
Seven years went by like this, and Javadi never saw any earnings from her labor.
“All day I was working. Like a cage,” says Javadi.
Over a decade later, Javadi, now 35, is the owner and founder of Free Women, a sewing and handicraft business based in Salt Lake City, Utah. It has become a successful side hustle for Javadi and her employees. From 2020 to 2021, Free Women brought in $130,000, and employed close to 30 women refugees.
“For me, money is freedom,” says Javadi, who spoke with Grow from her home in Utah on an icy spring day. “That’s why I put Free Women … right now I’m free.”
Hanifa Javadi at her home in Utah.
‘I love to make something we can use’
Javadi and her three children arrived in the U.S. in 2016 as refugees from Afghanistan. They settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. Not long after, she divorced her husband, who did not travel with them to the U.S., ending a marriage that began, for both of them, as children.
For her first two years in Utah, Javadi worked odd jobs around the clock, taking night shifts and early morning shifts, and driving for Uber in her free moments. She earned less than $2,000 a month.
“For two years, I had a lot of problems,” she says through tears. “I never see my kids.”
Eventually, she landed a full-time job at a high-end tailor in 2018. Still, she endeavored to run her own business. “I love to create,” says Javadi. “I love to make something we can use.”
She formed an LLC and attempted to start her own tailoring shop, twice. Both times she failed to make the business sustainable.
Then in 2020, she met Melissa Sevy, the founder of Ethik Collective, a for-profit company that bridges the gap between artisans and a global marketplace for handmade products.
“My business start with Melissa,” says Javadi. “Everything change.”
‘People need jobs’
Sevy began her own endeavor of partnering with artisans nearly 15 years ago, while she was working as a public health educator in Uganda. Several sessions into a class about the impact of soap and disease prevention, she realized that many attendees couldn’t even afford soap.
“What we realized is that, before we can even talk about soap and access to health care, people …….