Jill Kummer: Hi, everybody. This is Jill with The Event Technique and Eventsburgh. We are talking with two really dynamic women who have put together an organization that is just going to blow your way. This is really cool. So I’d like to introduce to you Heidi and Andrea, and they’re going to tell you a little bit about what they’ve been doing. Have at it.
Heidi VanderWal: Aw, thanks so much for having us on, Jill. We are so honored and just super grateful.
I am the founder of Crowned Free, and we are a company that gives back to fight human trafficking. We do that through fashion, which is really been an amazing journey for us, for sure.
Andrea, I’ll let you introduce yourself second.
Andrea Krueger: Okay. So, hi, ladies. Well, you’re the ladies, but whoever’s listening, hello to all of you. My name is Andrea Krueger, and I recently signed on with my good friend, Heidi VanderWall, to be a rep/brand ambassador for this incredible line with an even more incredible mission.
Heidi VanderWal: Aw. So good. It’s so good.
Jill Kummer: That’s cool. So tell us a little bit about what the mission is and then we’ll kind of go back to the fashion part, because that’s always cool. That’s fun.
Heidi VanderWal: Yeah, for sure. For sure. So this journey started, oh goodness, probably about eight to ten years ago, I would say my. My job experience, career experiences, is in direct sales, so being representatives with several direct selling companies and representing them. So jewelry, scrapbooking. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I was born and raised in an entrepreneurial family. My dad never had a, quote-unquote, nine-to-five job.
Jill Kummer: [inaudible 00:01:53].
Heidi VanderWal: Yep. Yep. So that was definitely modeled to me from a very young age, and I kind of knew I wanted to go that route. But for me, human trafficking, sex trafficking, it was something I think I was probably first exposed to it watching the movie Taken. I don’t know if you guys have seen that.
Jill Kummer: Yes. Yes.
Heidi VanderWal: So I saw that movie years ago, and there were a couple of them out there. So that was kind of my perception of what human trafficking was all about, and that it happened like in Asia, Europe, other countries. I did not know that it was happening maybe a little bit here in the US, but that it was so prevalent, and it was a really awful thing that was happening right in our own communities. I had no idea.
So about 10 years ago, I’m just going to guess, because these years go by so fast, I actually went and heard a speaker at a local church. It was a women’s group. She was talking about human trafficking in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That’s where I’m from. She brought a survivor with her and they shared her story. I was horrified. This woman was from Chicago. She told her story. I mean, acid being poured down her throat, and just how she was from a normal middle class family and how she was lured into this whole human trafficking ring.
I was just wrecked. Then to find out that in my community that any one time there’s around 2,400 girls for sale.
Jill Kummer: 2,400?
Heidi VanderWal: 2400. I was absolutely-
Jill Kummer: Oh, my gosh.
Heidi VanderWal: Just floored. So I think like that’s where kind of that seed was planted. Like, okay, I want to do something, I have no idea what I can do. But that’s where I learned about it and that’s where my eyes kind of were opened to the fact that, yes, it is happening in our local malls, in our local schools, and that’s everywhere in the country, not just in Michigan, not just my hometown.
So that, yeah, that’s where that kind of started. At the time I was in a drug selling position with Andrea, and that’s how we met. We both were representatives in the same company and we were both just having the time of our lives. We were just loving it. Yeah, it was an amazing experience. So that’s where I learned the whole business of direct sales and learned about coaching and learned about parties and kind of the ins and outs of that industry.
Heidi VanderWal: Well, during that time, I just had several people come up to me and just say, Heidi, I feel like you’re going to have a business of your own. I’m like, well, I already have a business of my own. I have a very thriving business with the company that we’re with selling jewelry and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But people from around the country, friends that didn’t know each other, kept saying things to me like that. I was like, wow, okay. Prayer is something that’s very important to me and so I just started praying about it. Like, okay, whatever this is, Lord, you prepare me for whatever it is.
Well, then in January of 2014, I woke up with this idea to start this fashion company. So I have always had a huge passion for all things pretty. You can see my office. It’s pink. I love color. I love fashion. I love to jewelry. I love all of that.
Andrea Krueger: Heidi would look cute in a garbage bag, by the way. But she doesn’t wear garbage bags. She always was the icon, the fashion icon, of this company that we were with. I mean, it was a lot of really fashionable women. Heidi was just a cut above. So, yeah.
Jill Kummer: It’s a remarkably awesome office. My office, there’s a reason we’re not in my office right now. That’s hilarious.
Heidi VanderWal: When we were building this house, some of the builders actually thought it was a nursery. I’m like, no, that’s my office.
Jill Kummer: Oh, I think it’s fabulous.
Heidi VanderWal: Thank you. Thank you. Anyways, so yes. So fashion, jewelry, accessories, that is something, it’s just been in me. So when I woke up with this idea to start this company with clothing, I was like, okay, God, is this this idea, is this this business that you’ve been talking about for years? I just felt very strongly, yes. So I immediately started walking that out.
When I first had this thought about this, having a fashion company, I did not know it was going to be connected to the cause of human trafficking. But I was literally driving about two miles from my house, I was literally driving down the road, and out of nowhere I just had this screaming thought, and it was just attach your business to a cause, and I immediately knew it was human trafficking. Like it was not even a question.
Jill Kummer: Wow. Wow.
Heidi VanderWal: Yep.
Jill Kummer: That’s fascinating.
Heidi VanderWal: Yeah. It was very powerful. So we started out with three t-shirts.
Jill Kummer: You’ve got to start somewhere.
Heidi VanderWal: You’ve got to start somewhere.
Andrea Krueger: I have one of those three t-shirts.
Jill Kummer: Of the original three t-shirts? That’s amazing.
Andrea Krueger: It’s still in really good condition. The quality is really, really amazing.
Heidi VanderWal: Aw. Yep, Andrea has supported us from day one. Like she was buying stuff off me at conferences.
Andrea Krueger: Poolside on an incentive trip with the other company, Heidi comes out like with her few things. I mean, all of us, all the girls, were shoppers. We’re fashionistas. So we’re like swarming around her like flies. Like, I’ll take one of these and give me one of those.
Jill Kummer: Wonderful. Good.
Andrea Krueger: What size should I get in that? So, yeah, I have some vintage Crowned Free purchases.
Jill Kummer: Oh, that’s just super cool.
Heidi VanderWal: It was hilarious. It was a frenzy poolside in Palm Springs. Other people who were there, not on this incentive trip, we’re like, what is going on?
Andrea Krueger: What’s happening over there?
Jill Kummer: Oh, my gosh. Was this on an incentive trip for the other company?
Andrea Krueger: It was.
Heidi VanderWal: Yes.
Jill Kummer: Oh, my gosh. Okay. I bet they were thrilled to pieces.
Heidi VanderWal: It was hilarious. Oh, it was funny. It was amazing. That was a really good confirmation that we were onto something for sure.
Jill Kummer: Yeah. Yeah. That’s amazing. So, Andrea, how did you get involved in all of this? What made you decide that you were going to make this leap from one company to another company and start on a new venture?
Andrea Krueger: Right. Great question. So four years ago, the other company that we had been working with closed.
Jill Kummer: Okay.
Andrea Krueger: I was in a position where I needed to make some immediate significant income for my family. So as much as I loved the direct sales business, it wasn’t going to be a viable option for me to pursue solely that, so I reentered the corporate workspace where I operated and worked for the last almost four years until just a few weeks ago I was laid off from my job.
Jill Kummer: Okay.
Andrea Krueger: The interesting thing is, though, weeks before that, I was feeling a stirring in my heart and my spirit. I’m like, okay, God, something is about to happen. I just knew that something big was brewing. Then I got the phone call that I was laid off from my job, and like anyone would be whenever you lose your primary income, I was in shock. I was, oh, my goodness, what am I going to do? But then very quickly after those feelings shifted to peace and joy.
Andrea Krueger: I had really missed being an entrepreneur. Like Heidi says, I was raised in an entrepreneur family, as well. Entrepreneurial family. I was like, thank God, I am free again. I can do whatever I want with the rest of my life. What a very amazing opportunity.
Andrea Krueger: So I quickly reached out to Heidi. Well, I should back up and say that the week after I was laid off, I went on vacation, and a week before I was laid off, I was thinking, hmm, I need some cute sleeveless graphic tees to take on vacation. So I thought of Heidi and Crowned Free. So I bought this Hello Beautiful shirt before I was laid off, just as a customer, a supporter of the product.
Jill Kummer: No kidding?
Andrea Krueger: Yeah. So I bought this shirt before I was laid off, and then I was laid off. I said to myself, I need to talk to Heidi. I just couldn’t get her and Crowned Free off my mind.
Andrea Krueger: It’s interesting because I had said that I would never ever do another direct sales network marketing business. I had been so crushed and so devastated when the other company closed that I’m like, I am not going to do that again. So Heidi and I talked, and Heidi prayed over me, and I just started to sob and I just let go of all of that. I’m like, you know what? This is where I’m meant to be right now.
Jill Kummer: It is amazing. Yeah, it is amazing that it really clicked and all of a sudden-
Andrea Krueger: Yeah, I was led back. I mean, it wasn’t going to just be any product. It wasn’t going to be led by just any old person. It was really Heidi and her love of God and her love of saving and rescuing other women and her love of fashion and the product, I’m not going to lie, that really was like a three punch close there. I was like, all right, I’m in. I’m good.
Andrea Krueger: So I just signed up recently, and it’s been so much fun sharing this product with friends and family. Sold almost $2,000 without having done a party or anything yet.
Jill Kummer: Oh, my gosh.
Andrea Krueger: So the cool thing is in this day and age, yes, we can do popup shops, we can do parties, but the cool thing, especially in a pandemic, with social media you can just share some pictures, some links on social, or text them to friends and family and say like, hey, check out this product, and of course hearing that over 50% of the products, I don’t know if you mentioned this yet, Heidi, over 50% of the products are made by women who are in recovery from trafficking. Yes. And 15% of the proceeds goes towards programs to rehabilitate and rescue women from trafficking.
Andrea Krueger: So I believe that a lot of my friends and family have stepped up to support me because the products are really cute and really cool and really amazing, but also once they heard about the mission, it’s kind of like a no brainer. You’re like shopping for a cause. A lot of people have told me that they’ve been purchasing gifts. So even if these items don’t speak to you for whatever reason, most people can think of someone who they want to purchase something for.
Andrea Krueger: So it’s been a real blessing and a joy just the past couple of weeks. I’m excited to see where it leads and certainly I’m open to talking to anyone that might be interested in learning more about the organization.
Jill Kummer: Where can they find information about you?
Andrea Krueger: Okay, where can you find information?
Andrea Krueger: So the company is called Crowned Free. However, if you go to my personal site, I’d be grateful, and that site is mycrownfree.com/andrea. So that’s M-Y-C-R-O-W-N-E-D-F-R-E-E.com/andrea. There you can read about Heidi, you can read about the mission and the purpose of the company. Of course, you can see the products. You can find out about hosting a popup shop. You can learn about signing on to be a rep. You also can learn, and Heidi, I’ll pass it back to you, so you support organizations through the proceeds. So I’ll pass it back to you to talk more about that.
Jill Kummer: That was my next question, is once people, they buy the product and they know that 15% goes to this, what is this?
Heidi VanderWal: Yep, great question. So the two ways that we have felt really called to give back and to be part of this solution is, one, by financially supporting organizations who are doing the rescuing, the rehabilitation. So if you go on our website under our Where To Give tab, you can actually see some of the organizations that we financially, not sponsor, but give to every month.
Every month we prayerfully consider who we’re going to give to, and then if you know of somebody, if you know of an organization that you think we would maybe be a good fit for to financially give to and you would like us to consider them, there’s actually a form that you can fill out and submit to us. Because that’s a lot of times how we learn about different organizations, is through our customers.
One of the biggest needs that these organizations have is financial. It’s very expensive to do what they do. It’s very expensive to do the rehabilitation, to do the rescuing, to do all of the support. Just the therapy alone that is involved in rehabilitating survivors, it’s very costly. So we feel called to be part of that solution of financially supporting these organizations.
Then the other way that we give back is through sustainable jobs. So that is a very key piece to ending the cycle is providing income to families around the world. So one job can keep a whole family and can keep a community out of that whole cycle, because one job can support a lot of people. We can’t really quite fathom that here in the US, but it’s very true.
So that’s a very important piece. So we work with organizations around the world, manufacturing organizations. All of our products are ethically made, but over half of our products are actually made by survivors. So like in Cambodia, these earrings are made in Nepal by survivors. We have products made in Vietnam by at-risk women. A lot of jewelry we have made by at-risk women in remote villages in Vietnam, which is super cool. So I think that’s just a really amazing piece of what we’re able to do is this sustainable income.
Then the other thing that I think we weren’t really anticipating was just the awareness factor that comes. Because human trafficking is a very difficult conversation to have, and it’s like, how do you start talking about that just in your every day life? Well Andrea could be wearing that tank as she’s at the grocery store and somebody will say, oh my gosh, I love your tank. Then a conversation starts.
Jill Kummer: Then a conversation starts. Yes.
Heidi VanderWal: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep. So it’s very powerful. Fashion is a really amazing bridge, we have found, to have difficult conversations about a really hard topic.
Jill Kummer: Yeah. Yeah. I think part of reaching people in that manner, it also drives home what you’re doing, if there’s a lack of a better phrase. Because I think it’s difficult, occasionally, to explain to someone who doesn’t understand what human trafficking is all about. They think, well, it’s not happening in United States. The truth is you could be sitting next to somebody on an airplane who’s involved in human trafficking, going someplace, and it’s frightening to think about.
Heidi VanderWal: Right.
Jill Kummer: Oh, go ahead. Sorry.
Heidi VanderWal: No, no. I think you’re so right on. I think the biggest piece just starts with the awareness, because that is empowering. If you see something that looks suspicious once you’ve learned about it, it’s like, hmm, that does not seem right.
For instance, now I’ve had several experiences where we’ve seen trafficking. One is probably five miles from my house. We were doing a photo shoot, and the photographer said, yeah, really strange. She was in kind of like a strip mall type of place. It was by a truck stop. She’s like, yeah, I’ve been seeing a lot of Asian women, they stay there overnight. It’s a physical therapy office that’s open from 7:00 AM til midnight. They blacked out all the windows. These women aren’t allowed to talk. Fancy cars come and go, and it’s all men that are coming and going. So she ended up calling 911 and that got broken up. But that was a whole trafficking ring.
I mean, if you start looking around, you’ll see. You know, different massage parlors, possibly. In Grand Rapids, there’s tons of massage parlors. I had no idea. So I think that is a really big piece of it is the awareness to start keeping your eyes open for those types of things and then making a call.
Jill Kummer: Is there anywhere on your website that could go and find information such as what you were just talking about, things to look at?
Heidi VanderWal: Yes.
Jill Kummer: Realistically, I wouldn’t have really thought about it, to be honest.
Heidi VanderWal: Right.
Jill Kummer: But I guarantee you, I’m not alone.
Heidi VanderWal: No, you’re not. You’re not alone. Yes, we have a lot of information on our website. Then also there’s amazing information just on the internet. The Blue Campaign, that is a really amazing campaign with our government that talks about human trafficking.
Honestly, I’m trying to see if I have a brochure handy here of, yeah, the human trafficking hotline number. If you do see something, I’m just going to give that to you.
Jill Kummer: Okay. Yeah, go ahead
Heidi VanderWal: Because we’ve actually had, I know, one story in particular, a woman at one of our popup shops, she was like, oh my gosh, I think my daughter is being trafficked. She ran out of the party with our brochure in hand and found out that, yeah, her daughter was online through a guy she had met in Texas.
Jill Kummer: Oh wow.
Heidi VanderWal: So this hotline number is one 1-888-373-7888. Yeah. In the US, it’s really hard, the numbers, it’s hard to kind of estimate. But they estimate that over a hundred thousand young men and women are being trafficked.
Jill Kummer: Okay.
Heidi VanderWal: Just in the US.
Jill Kummer: Yeah, you just mentioned something that was interesting. You mentioned young men, which wouldn’t have been the first thought in a lot of people’s minds, and it certainly wasn’t in mine. So does your organization help them as well?
Heidi VanderWal: Yeah. So there is an organization that we have helped. I’m trying to remember, I believe it’s in Thailand. I believe it’s called Urban Lights. So there are not many. When we found them, we were so excited, because there are not many organizations that are specifically focused on helping men, young men. So there is another organization we learned about in Atlanta as well.
Jill Kummer: Okay.
Heidi VanderWal: So, yeah. But it’s rare to find organizations that are specifically solely focused on men, but there are a few out there.
Jill Kummer: Wow. Yeah. I never would have guessed that.
Heidi VanderWal: Yes. [inaudible 00:23:16].
Jill Kummer: [crosstalk 00:23:16] the other way around. So this is for anybody, from young children on up to adults, correct?
Heidi VanderWal: Yeah, yeah. Yep. Yep. Absolutely. It doesn’t discriminate. The average age is around 13, 11 to 13.
Jill Kummer: Wow.
Heidi VanderWal: That’s average. There’s a lot of things go with that, but many times they’re much younger. They’re more valuable the younger they are.
Jill Kummer: Yeah. Has there been any decrease that you know of because of COVID with the borders being closed and things like that? Or is it still just as rampant as it was before, it’s just coming from different sources?
Heidi VanderWal: I’ve actually heard it’s increased.
Jill Kummer: Oh, my.
Heidi VanderWal: Because more people are home and online.
Jill Kummer: Yeah.
Heidi VanderWal: And have more time on their hands. So they’re not able to be out and about, so more things are happening online. That’s what I have heard.
Jill Kummer: Okay.
Heidi VanderWal: So, yeah. This has not been helpful.
Jill Kummer: Yeah. This is actually been a really rough time across the board for people. Domestic violence victims, and child abuse, and suicides, and all those other things. This is one more thing that’s added to it that just makes it worse.
So tell me a little bit about where you see all this going, because this is really amazing. I mean, what you have managed to start and get going, awareness alone is pretty cool. If Andrea hadn’t posted that day, I never would have seen it and thought, hey, we need to talk. You know? So where do you see it going from here?
Heidi VanderWal: Yeah. So we are so excited because we, just before COVID, we had launched our wholesale retail partner campaign, where now representatives can basically represent a store. So we now have so many ways for people to get involved to support what we’re doing, where they can find us. For Andrea, for our representatives, they now can, let’s say there’s a local store, or not even local, if you know of a store across the country, if you reach out to them and they carry our products, then our representatives then can earn sales commission from everything that that store purchases through our representatives. So now our representatives can sell at events, at popup shops, online, social media, and now through retail partnerships.
Jill Kummer: Wow. That is a cool concept.
Andrea Krueger: It’s very cool. With the company that we had been with before, that wasn’t an option. So this is a brand new opportunity for me. I’m used to selling directly to individuals. I haven’t yet reached out to any businesses, but I’ve got a few in mind and I know I need to get on that. Right, Heidi? It’s a whole new like way of sharing the product. As stores are opening back up again and people doing more in-person retail therapy and seeing things in person, I think that there’s going to be a lot of great opportunities.
Jill Kummer: Oh, I could see, when events spool back up again, I could easily see all sorts of, any place that has a vendor area in an event, a luncheon or anything like that, I could see that just being hugely successful.
Heidi VanderWal: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Jill Kummer: Which is awesome. So, all right. So where can people find you to find out more information about getting involved in being a rep if they’re not in Andrea’s area?
Andrea Krueger: Even if they’re not in my area, they can certainly still come through for me. So it would be the same site that we shared before. I can support and educate and help folks get up and running regardless of where they are in the United States. So that’s mycrownedfree.com/andrea.
Jill Kummer: Andrea.
Heidi VanderWal: You don’t need to know a thing about human trafficking to be a representative with us. We have tons of training and tools and resources available. So if you know nothing about it, that’s totally okay. We will help you in that.
Jill Kummer: Oh, I think this is remarkable. So how long now has this been going on?
Heidi VanderWal: Yep. So 2015, January of 2015, was when we officially became a company. We took about a year to get started. We did not switch to a direct sales model until 2017. So yep, because I was still representing the company I was with, same time with Andrea, until they closed. When they closed, the next day we started switching our business model over to direct sales.
Because right from the beginning, I had questions like, are you going to be a direct sales company? I want to get involved, how can I help? That what’s so cool is now we have like every way you can think of to be part of the solution, you can be part of it. You can be a customer, you can purchase our products, you could be a hostess and help others learn more about being part of the solution, what human trafficking is. You can be a representative. You can sell our products through your stores.
It just allows for so many people to be able to be part of that solution. You don’t have to be the one out doing rescuing.
Jill Kummer: Right, right.
Heidi VanderWal: You can just simply purchase a product, and there’s so much power in that. I think we have found, even through COVID, like in May we had our best month ever.
Jill Kummer: Oh, my gosh. Congratulations. That is awesome,
Heidi VanderWal: Which is amazing.
Andrea Krueger: This shirt was part of that.
Heidi VanderWal: That’s right. That’s right. It just goes to show you people, especially now, I think, are more aware than ever that their dollars, their purchasing power, is powerful.
Jill Kummer: Yes.
Heidi VanderWal: So I think that is one of the reasons why we had such a successful May.
Jill Kummer: Oh, my gosh, that’s fantastic, and it’s such a short amount of time. But tell me, again, if someone wants to actually get in touch with you, is there a phone number they can call?
Heidi VanderWal: Yes. We do have a phone number. I have to look up what it is. But probably the easiest thing would be is to just if you want to actually reach out to us as a company, there is a contact us form-
Jill Kummer: On the website. Okay. Excellent. I wanted to make sure where to send people.
Heidi VanderWal: You can find us on Instagram. It’s CrownedFree, one word. You can message us there. You can find us on Facebook. We’re we’re on there as well.
Jill Kummer: Oh, awesome.
Andrea Krueger: Heidi, did you want to mention about the big fashion show event that you do?
Heidi VanderWal: I was thinking about that. I was like, I’ve got to talk about that. Because, yes, we do have a really big fashion show every year in Grand Rapids. Our goal is someday to take that on the road, but we had to move it because of COVID, and it’s rescheduled to November 18.
At that fashion show, we have Rebecca Bender. She is a survivor. She’s an author. She’s amazing. We are so thrilled and so honored to have her come and be our guest speaker at our event. She’s from the Washington area. So she’s going to be coming in, sharing her story.
We also then do a fashion show and we talk about the impact that Crowned Free is making. So it’s a lot of fun. It’s a very empowering night.
Jill Kummer: Wow. This is just too cool. I’m absolutely blown away. This is really neat.
Andrea Krueger: Jill, if you want to road trip, we can go. November 18th. I’m all about it.
Jill Kummer: That’s right. I think that’d be cool.
Andrea Krueger: I’m serious.
Jill Kummer: What was the date again? It was November 18th?
Heidi VanderWal: Yep. It’s a Wednesday night.
Jill Kummer: Okay. I’m going to actually ask you to put it on Eventsburgh. It is free. Go in and just create the account and put it up there and we’ll send it out and see if we can’t get some more folks to get involved.
I think what you’re doing is awesome, and not enough people know about the issue of human trafficking, and it needs to be addressed. In and amongst everything else, it’s really hard to get people to focus on some things that are really unpleasant to talk about. So I commend you both for getting out there and really trying to raise awareness and getting people involved with this. So super, super cool, what you’re doing.
Heidi VanderWal: Well, thank you. Thank you for helping us get the word out there.
Jill Kummer: Yeah.
Heidi VanderWal: We are so grateful.
Jill Kummer: Yeah. So at this point, I’m going to go ahead and let’s wrap it up. So if there’s anything else that you want to say, I’m just so grateful that you were here today. We’ll try and help you and see what we can do to get the word out. Okay?
Heidi VanderWal: Thank you.
Andrea Krueger: Thank you, so much, for having us.
Jill Kummer: Thank you, so much.
Heidi VanderWal: Thank you.
Jill Kummer: For everybody else, of course, have a great day, and we’ll talk to you soon. Thanks, so much. Bye-bye.
Heidi VanderWal: Bye.
Andrea Krueger: Bye.