Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Stephen Ezell of Truly Free Is Helping To Change Our World

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There is no one secret sauce to starting a business. It’s like saying there’s a perfect recipe for the best chocolate chip cookie. In reality, it doesn’t matter how good your technique is. The best businesses (and cookies) are based on one common thing: truly great, quality ingredients.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Ezell, CEO and Founder of Truly Free.

Stephen Ezell is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Truly Free, and is known for being an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and sustainable living enthusiast. Through his career he has positioned multiple companies strongly in their markets and has created sustainable jobs in three countries.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Before I started my conscious capital journey, my background was in restaurants. I was building restaurants for Food Network stars and flipping restaurants in the heart of New York City. The work was exciting, but it wasn’t fulfilling. In fact, my career felt empty. There was no purpose, just money.

In 2009, I found myself having to start over when we lost everything. I had to sell my fishing boat just to fund our move to Michigan. While it was hard, it was also a blessing in that I was able to re-evaluate what I wanted out of life. I wanted to do something that would change the world.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When my first child was born, a routine bath turned into a life-changing event. When I undid his onesie, he was covered in a head to toe raised rash and was bright red. After numerous appointments with pediatricians and dermatologists, we still didn’t have a firm answer.

It was then my aunt called me with the question that would change my life: what laundry detergent are you using?

We went home and stripped his clothes and sheets and made a homemade laundry detergent. In less than 24 hours, without any medication, my son was fine. But the incident made me question everything. If laundry detergent could make my son sick, what else was in my home that was affecting our family?

Later, I met a grandmother selling homemade laundry soap at the local farmer’s market that supported everything I believed in. I invested in her product and Truly Free was born. Since then, we have dealt with building a digital presence and pioneering a new way of packaging that eliminates plastic waste. Today we are the fastest growing eco-friendly cleaning company in the country.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I started building Truly Free from nothing and it was not easy. In fact, in 2015 we were on the verge of losing everything again. In an effort to sell more products locally, I drove to the local grocery stores and asked them to include our product. One of the major grocery chains in the area refused, saying no one would buy it. Well I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I rented a Penske truck and rounded up abandoned pallets to make a display out of reclaimed wood. I showed up at one of the chain’s stores and created a POS display without their knowledge and left it there. The store owner found out when customers tried to buy the laundry soap only to have it not ring up in the system. Needless to say, the store owner was not impressed.

While this type of ‘cowboy entrepreneurism’ was a mistake, I find there’s some poetic justice in it. After all, the very building where I set up that display is our new headquarters.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Truly Free is destined to show that a mission driven company can scale. We are very selective in who we work with across the lifecycle of our business. We want to build strong bonds with our suppliers and ensure they’re as dedicated as we are to building sustainable, mission-minded companies and quality products.

Take our Dryer Angels, for instance. A Dryer Angel is a fully reusable product that replaces a dryer sheet. When I began looking for a new supplier, I found a China based company that could create something at $.72 a piece. But when asked about how they treated their employees and about the facility where the product was produced, we quickly learned that the low price point came at a cost.

Instead, we found CCCD, Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf, out of Jamaica with a focus to help those in need. We ended up paying them $5.25 a piece and as a result, they were able to reinvest the profit and create other sustainable ministries that teach worth and value. Since the partnership began in 2015, the unemployment rate has decreased from 92% to 64%.

Ultimately, social impact for me is about changing the landscape for future generations and that happens with each choice I make as a business owner.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

At Truly Free, we believe that giving back to the world we serve is a responsibility for any company and a necessity for making our planet a better place. Through this mission we have met so many inspiring individuals who have seen immense hardship. These are women who have lived through poverty and trafficking and children who are looking for safe houses, support and educational opportunities. It’s inspiring each and every day to see these individuals get a chance at hope, empowerment and a better life. This past year, Truly Free has donated over $220,000 back to global communities through our Dryer Angels, which are hand-sewn by women rescued from poverty and human trafficking, and CCCD Jamaica.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Too often we as a society vote blindly with our wallet. We spend money without understanding what our funds are supporting and the types of products we empower. The truly great brands look for ways to serve humanity better and bring their innovations into the market to change the world. To do better, we must:

Research beyond the product to the heart of what a company stands for.

Spend our resources with businesses who are dedicated to doing good and align with our values. Consumers are the first step in changing macro buying behavior.

Actively work to not support corporations who are hurting people in the creation or implementation of their product.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I once brought in a guest speaker who was the head trainer of the New York City Bomb Squad. He wore a shirt that said, “if you see me running, try and keep up.” To me, that perfectly encapsulates what leadership is.

Are you willing to go into hostile territory for your people? Are you the first person in and the last person out? Are you radically transparent? When things are great, or when they’re not, do you let them know? Leadership truly is an act of service, and you have to be willing to do the things no one else will do for your team.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

First, websites don’t magically appear. In 2015, I created a website as a last-ditch effort to save our company. This allowed our product market to open to other parts of the country. But it all started with me teaching myself code.

Second, website traffic doesn’t magically show up. You have to actively engage and pursue customers through storytelling and connection.

Third, employees don’t magically follow you because of a title. Be the type of leader that does things no one else is willing to do.

Fourth, consumers don’t magically buy stuff from you because you think they should. In today’s climate, customers are actively looking for ways to engage with socially conscious brands. Make what you stand for front and center in your brand story and on your website. Show them how purchasing your product will make a difference.

Finally, there is no one secret sauce to starting a business. It’s like saying there’s a perfect recipe for the best chocolate chip cookie. In reality, it doesn’t matter how good your technique is. The best businesses (and cookies) are based on one common thing: truly great, quality ingredients.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I truly believe the most innovative businesses use their platforms for good, to tell the story of others and create a more hopeful world.

Customers should become partners with brands, rather than passive consumers. Start by researching the products you buy for your household and their mission and values. For instance, Truly Free produces laundry detergent and cleaning supplies. By purchasing these common household necessities from a company like ours, you’re empowering families to protect themselves from harm and reducing your environmental footprint. Truly Free has helped eliminate over 6.2 million single-use plastics and free 230,000 homes from harmful chemicals. Our consumers have also helped generate over $481,000 for local communities, which has helped empower women in Jamaica with hearing impairment and free women from sex trafficking in Southeast Asia.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If not me, who? If not now, when?

We all can make an impact on the lives of other people. By embracing empathy and service first, we begin to change the lives of those around us. For me, it all began with understanding how simple things like the products I buy or use in my home affect my family. From there, I was emboldened to ask how the creation of those products impacts our planet and underserved communities around the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

G. Edward Griffin, author of The Creature of Jekyll Island, which opened my mind to the modern monetary system. He has inspired me to take action in a way no other book, aside from the Bible, has and is a fundamental driver of the work my company does.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can visit our website at, or follow us on social media:

Instagram: @trulyfreehome

Facebook: @trulyfreehome

Twitter: @trulyfreehome

LinkedIn: Truly Free

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Stephen Ezell of Truly Free Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.