A new gift shop and tea room in downtown Fredericksburg can trace its roots to a life-changing trip a decade ago.

Freedom Society Tea and Gifts co-owner Nicole Robyn and a group of friends flew to India to meet with anti-human trafficking organizations to better understand the problem and see how they might help. The biggest need, they were told, was gainful employment for survivors. Few ever find a way out of modern-day slavery, and the majority of those who do are re-exploited because they have no way of earning a living, she said.

That inspired Robyn, who was living in England at the time, to start Polished Pearl. The company designs bridal accessories, trains survivors how to make them and markets their work at fair trade prices. She now runs her business internationally and serves on the worldwide board of the Freedom Business Alliance, a trade association for companies like hers.

When she and her family moved to Fredericksburg three years ago, they fell in love with its downtown and made friends with some of the business owners. But they missed the tea and scones served in tea rooms back in England.

“We determined that if we were ever going to do a tea room, it would be in downtown Fredericksburg,” Robyn said.

She recently teamed up with her daughter, Karin Robyn, to open Freedom Society Tea and Gifts at 1015 Caroline St. They see it as a way to combine a tea room with awareness about human trafficking and support for its victims.

“We really wanted to create a place where we could carry more things and have a space where people can celebrate special occasions, meet friends and have an impact,” Nicole Robyn said.

Karin Robyn, who interned at Abolition Bakery in Cleveland, runs the tea room side of the business. Customers can order organic, loose leaf tea and French-press coffee along with British-style scones served with clotted cream and jam. High tea is available on Saturdays.

The gift shop section carries handcrafted items, including organic skin care products, leather goods and purses made by survivors of human trafficking. There are some Polished Pearl offerings, but most are sold in bridal shops across the United States and the United Kingdom, Nicole Robyn said

She and her daughter plan to launch a Freedom Society as well. Members will hear talks on freedom-related topics and meet artists who use their gifts to help combat human trafficking. She’s also working with the Fredericksburg Area Museum to put together an exhibit for the shop on the history of abolition in Fredericksburg, and wants to connect that to today’s abolition movement.

“We want to help people understand that abolition is a current need, and they need to combat this issue,” Robyn said. “We love the history of the abolition movement, and we need a modern abolition movement. We’re doing it with delicious scones and fair trade, organic tea.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

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