THE BLOG

The Beauty Industry Can Be A Force For Good

16/09/2016 12:09

I've always been fascinated by beauty, and started selling Avon products (with help from my mum) at the age of 14, then going on to train at the London College of Fashion in the 1980s.

After that I set up my own beauty salon, catering to a select group of celebrity clients.
Though leaving the industry to raise my children, I now work training beauty students in providing beauty services, including manicures, pedicures, waxing, and facials.

However I have always been committed to charity work and improving the lives of others, I participated in a number of charity events, including climbing Kilimanjaro in 2011 for Climb for Freedom to buy a house for sex trafficking victims. However it wasn't until I went to India that same year that I saw how the beauty industry could make a real change in the lives of impoverished women, or those trying to escape prostitution or trafficking.

My journey to India began after hearing a friend talk about walking down what is known as the Mumbai "Street of the Little Flowers", and seeing young girls chained to beds, imprisoned by their sex traffickers. The image haunted and sickened me, and a few years later I headed to Mumbai to visit a rescue house for young trafficked victims.

Once there, seeing young girls, some the same age as my daughters - 14 and 15 - I knew I needed to do something to help them. Back home I was setting up a salon in Cambridge, and looked at the candles and embroidery produced by these girls in the Mumbai Rescue Home. However, I knew these items would never sell. Then the thought hit me: Give me a pot of nail varnish and a nail file, and I can teach a skill, that no one could ever steal from them. They could use that skill to earn money, and provide for themselves and their families. The next day, the charity I was visiting said they needed beauty therapists who could teach the girls beauty skills. The charity leaders invited me to return to India, still, I hesitated.

I set up my Cambridge salon and climbed Kilimanjaro, and then after a year of careful thought, I set up the charity, Born to be Beautiful. Business at the salon was steady, but eventually, the charity took over. It took me two months alone to read through the Charity Commission website, but after that the charity took off. Someone offered to design the logo and website, and I tapped into the immense talent in Cambridge to secure volunteers, the charity started growing.

We taught our first course to impoverished women and trafficking victims in India, 2011, returning in 2014 to teach another course. One woman who was severely disabled believed she would never work. Now, because of her manicure and pedicure training, she can attract clients and generate an income just by sitting on her doorstep.

We headed to Kampala in 2012 where we were invited by local charity Watoto to train HIV+ women to perform beauty skills. After the first two weeks, two of our students already had paying clients.

We are now traveling to Sierra Leone in November, and will be one of the few international NGOs to return to the country post-Ebola. The trip has been five years in the making, and I'm excited to work with local charity Lifeline and give girls there an opportunity to learn a marketable skill. So many girls had their education interrupted by the Ebola epidemic and by unplanned pregnancies, and we can give them the tools to move forward.

We are hoping to establish a self-sustaining beauty salon and training school in Sierra Leone, which will admit girls with no educational qualifications who are denied education because of their socioeconomic status. Once the school can stand on its own feet, we will open other salons and schools where needed.

So many people think of the 'beauty industry' as the stunning Kylie Jenner selling foundation and lipstick to the western world. But I believe the beauty industry can do so much more and provide women in poverty stricken countries hope and a chance to raise themselves up and create a livelihood. This is what Born to be Beautiful is doing. If you fancy joining me do get in contact, I'd love to hear from you.

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