This beauty shop saves lives
Passion, purpose and work don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Kristy Alexander knows this better than most. After a decade in the corporate world, she decided to marry her two loves, nature and science, and pursue a career in beauty. She’s now the founder of Apple Rose Beauty, an organic skincare line that uses ingredients like cayenne, turmeric and cloves, all of which are renewable and grown in abundance in Trinidad and Tobago, where Alexander grew up.
As the daughter of an organic gardener, Alexander was always taught to respect the earth and its natural resources. As such, sustainability is a core value at Apple Rose Beauty. But while it’s important to stay true to her childhood roots, an unexpected and harrowing awakening in adult life provided the founder with the true mission of her beauty brand. In addition to making organic skincare, Apple Rose Beauty supports survivors of modern slavery and educates consumers about the realities of human trafficking.
Supporting human trafficking survivors through beauty
Corporate fatigue and a desire to give back led Alexander to Thailand, where she worked as a volunteer at Samaritan Creations for a month. The Christian organization works to rescue and support women who have been forced to work in the sex trade. Alexander worked with counselors to help survivors in Bangkok.
“My heart broke for the cause,” she recalls. “I felt like I had to do something for these women. It was no longer just a statistic or a sad story. I realized that if I had faced different circumstances, it could have been me.” After leaving Thailand, Alexander was ready to give up her business life and pursue her dream of starting a beauty brand. It was only then that she knew the brand had to have a different purpose: to support survivors, like the women she had met in Bangkok.
Apple Rose Beauty now works with several anti-human trafficking organizations that the founder calls “Freedom Partners.” These include Rethreaded, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit that helps survivors rebuild their lives, and Wellspring Living in Atlanta, where Apple Rose Beauty is now based. The organization works with sex trafficking survivors and provides therapy, education, and support for personal and professional development.
After rehabilitation, Apple Rose Beauty works with the organizations to create jobs. So far, Alexander has three survivors working for her. “They fill a lot of our customer-facing roles, they host pop-up events and they blog,” she explains. “We also want to involve them more in marketing.”
One of the brand’s employees, who asked to be identified simply as J, shared how Alexander helped her transform her life. “I’ve overcome feeling lost and believing that my identity will always be associated with my past and not my future. I’ve overcome falling victim to society’s labels. Yes, I’m a survivor and an overcomer, but my goal now is to succeed,” says J. “Apple Rose Beauty provides meaningful work for someone like me.”
With an ongoing Macy’s distribution partnership, Alexander’s little passion project is now a startup success story. We sat down with the founder to learn more about the women who have transformed her life and how she works every day to use her company as a platform for education and change.
LIVELY: You have a history of charity work. What changed you about working with survivors of human trafficking in Thailand?
Kristy Alexander: I was there around the same time as the Bring Back Our Girls movement. That was when Boko Haram, a terrorist group, kidnapped 276 girls from school in Nigeria. They threatened to sell her to human traffickers. The girls were kidnapped from physics class. I grew up loving science, so I figured this could have been me had I been born in a different part of the world or faced different circumstances. It all kind of stuck in my mind living with women who were going through something similar in Thailand. I saw that after her rescue there was a great opportunity to create options for her. So I decided to fill that gap with Apple Rose Beauty.
LIVELY: It is estimated that more than 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide. More than 70 percent of them are women. Two of them, Apple and Rose, inspired your brand’s name. Can you tell me more about her?
Alexander: I met Apple on my first foray into bars in Bangkok. She was from rural Thailand. There, the oldest girl is responsible for looking after the parents. But her family was very poor and her mother was ill. She figured she was coming to the big city to work in a restaurant and do a little waitressing. But it became something she didn’t know would become. She was trapped. My team met Rose later. The seed was planted to create this organic skin care company. And I thought, that’s it: Apple, Rose. It all came together. I’m no longer in contact with them, but my dream is that one day I’ll get in touch again. I want to return to Thailand with many women who have inspired her and the brand.
LIVELY: A 2018 study put the number of victims of human trafficking in Thailand at more than 600,000. Rescue is a difficult and lengthy process, but most think the job is done afterward.
Alexander: I knew a certain girl, she had a one year old baby. She had a really tough childhood. A really strange relationship with her father. After I returned to the US, she ran away and left the baby there. That really broke my heart. It turned out that there is a lot of trauma in the lives of these people. Many studies show that many women who are victims of human trafficking have experienced some type of sexual trauma before the age of five. All their lives they have been engaged in something. There’s a lot of hurt and pain and things that need to be undone. So now I’m trying to work with organizations that do the deep work. Those who work with psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors to truly ensure that these women can live strong, healthy lives once they are rescued.
LIVELY: Caring for people is vital to you, but I know your Trinidad & Tobago upbringing also nurtured a love of the outdoors. So how does Apple Rose Beauty reduce its environmental impact?
Alexander: I grew up with many of the ingredients that we use. Cayenne pepper, for example, is big in Trinidad. We try to use ingredients where the plants have a short life cycle. They come back every year. We take nothing away from the earth. We try to ensure that everything is sourced fairly, that the people doing the work on site are fairly remunerated and are in a safe environment. We work with manufacturing partners to look through the supply chain and review all of these things.
LIVELY: Another important element of your brand is education. How are you using Apple Rose’s platform to raise awareness of the risks of human trafficking?
Alexander: We do Facebook Lives, we have blogs on our site, and I’ve also had conversations with various organizations. I talk about what human trafficking is, how to spot it, and what you can do to help. The greatest thing is consciousness. If something feels strange, just pay attention. Many people think human trafficking only happens through violence. But often it happens over a longer period of time. That’s called compulsion. One of the things traffickers look for is young women who are not very confident. I encourage parents to build self-esteem and keep communication open with their children.
LIVELY: The most rewarding part of Apple Rose Beauty has to be the work you do to support the women who have been through so much. Can you describe how it feels to know that you are making such a difference?
Alexander: It’s a dream come true. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, even in my roles in American companies. But the difference is that it’s really mission driven, really mission oriented. It’s tied to who I am inside. That is why it has a long service life. There’s nothing like feeling like you’re living your purpose. Like doing what you were put on this earth to do. I consider myself lucky to be able to live that out.
To learn more about Apple Rose Beauty and its mission, visit the brand’s website here.