A typical day for Nicole Robyn ranges from conference calls at all hours with India and Moldova, to meeting with local social entrepreneurs.
Robyn is the CEO of Polished Pearl, an accessory business that provides employment for victims of trafficking in India and Moldova. It all began in 2010 with a group of women who had been praying together about the issue of trafficking. They were looking for a way to get involved in fighting it after a life-changing trip to India.
Knowing that India has the largest trafficked population in the world, the women originally visited the country to figure out the needs of the trafficking victims. “On the trip, we found that there was a huge need for employment opportunities both for survivors and preventatively,” Robyn explains.
Having already started a small accessories shop in England, the women saw this as an opportunity to blend the skills and gorgeous textiles they found in India. The business first started in the U.K. Then, two years ago, the women began a U.S.-based company. Now they are opening a store front and event space in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. “At Polished Pearl we believe that every life is a pearl,” Robyn says, “rare, unique, and valuable. So we are passionate about making ‘meaning-filled’ pieces.”
Polished Pearl accessories not only allow one to join in the story of freedom for those they employ, but they also make custom pieces that allow one to express the unique individual. “We are not a fast fashion company,” Robyn says. “We are a company that believes in ethical, impactful production and choosing heirloom pieces.”
The company partners with a program that offers care to survivors to employ women part-time while they are receiving job training. In addition, they work with Freeset Business Incubator in order to set up a production unit in the north of India. “In Moldova, we partner with a production unit that employs at risk women in the villages who desperately need employment,” Robyn explains, adding that Polished Pearl goes to both countries and does training on their products.
Depending on whether they are serving an online customer or shipping to a store, the pieces are sent to the Cincinnati and then shipped to the customer. Polished Pearl is comprised of a small team in Cincinnati that does the designing, marketing, sales, logistics, and business admin.
“We consider this an amazing place to be home in the U.S. as it is a city known for launching start ups, a great fashion design program at the University of Cincinnati’s school of art otherwise known as Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning [DAAP], as well as having a heritage of abolition,” Robyn says. “It has taken a lot of perseverance; we have had and continue to have, so much to learn! It is easy to have an idea on this side of the ocean, but whether it works in India or Moldova is a whole different thing. We have had to remain flexible, with the goal clear: to employ as many as we can!” Robyn enjoys making a positive impact on these lives. “What I love most about what I do is getting to be a small part of the journey of freedom for such amazing women all over the world,” she adds. “I love watching and participating in seeing women be who they were made to be: brave, beautiful, and free.”
Robyn says they recently produced a line of products under the Free at Last brand in Dillard’s stores, currently available in Kenwood, Crestview Hills, and Eastgate stores locally. In the next year, Robyn will be opening her brick-and-mortar boutique and event space where she can host local “Unique You” styling events in the community. They are also looking to expand sales online in the U.S., UK, and into Canada. In addition, Robyn hopes to get the Indian production unit up and running in the next year.
In the next five years, Robyn plans to expand into bridal gowns, menswear, skin care, and home goods. “We also are looking into additional countries both in terms of markets and being able to offer employment opportunities,” she adds. “The needs and opportunities are plentiful.”
The Polished Pearl storefront opens May 5 at 118 N. Fort Thomas Avenue in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. To learn more, click here, like them on Facebook, or follow on Twitter or Instagram at @PolishedPearlOfficial.