Passion, purpose, and work don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Kristy Alexander knows that better than most. After a decade working in the corporate world, she decided to marry together her two loves, nature and science, and pursue a beauty career. She is now the founder of Apple Rose Beauty, an organic skincare line that uses ingredients like cayenne pepper, turmeric, and cloves—all of which are renewable and grown in abundance across Trinidad & Tobago, where Alexander grew up.
As the daughter of an organic gardener, Alexander was always taught to respect the Earth and its natural resources. So with Apple Rose Beauty, sustainability is a core value. But while staying true to her childhood roots is important, an unexpected and harrowing awakening in the founder’s adult life provided her beauty brand’s true mission. As well as producing organic skincare, Apple Rose Beauty supports modern slavery survivors 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 spent a month volunteering with Samaritan Creations. 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 I needed to do something for these women. It was no longer just a statistic or a sad story. I realized that it could have been me had I faced different circumstances.” After she left Thailand, Alexander was ready to abandon her corporate life and pursue her dream of starting a beauty brand. Only then, she knew that the brand must have another purpose: supporting survivors, like the women she met in Bangkok.
Apple Rose Beauty now works with several anti-human trafficking organizations, who the founder calls “freedom partners.” They 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, offering therapy, education, and support with personal and professional development.
After rehabilitation, Apple Rose Beauty collaborates with the organizations to provide employment. So far, Alexander has three survivors working for her. “They do a lot of our customer-facing roles, they host pop-up events, and they write on our blog,” she explains. “We’re looking to get them more into marketing, too.”
One of the brand’s employees, who asked to be identified simply as J, shared how Alexander helped change her life. “I have overcome feeling lost and believing that my identity will always be associated with my past and not my future. I have overcome falling victim to society’s labels. Yes I am a survivor and an overcomer but my goal now is to thrive,” J says. “Apple Rose Beauty provides meaningful work for someone like me.”
With an ongoing Macy’s distribution partnership, Alexander’s small passion project is now a startup success story. We sat down with the founder to learn more about the women who transformed her life, and how she works every day to use her business as a platform for education and change.
LIVEKINDLY: You have a history of charity work. What was it about working with human trafficking survivors in Thailand that changed you?
Kristy Alexander: I was there about the same time as the Bring Back Our Girls movement. This was when Boko Haram, a terrorist group, abducted 276 girls from school in Nigeria. They were threatening to sell them into human trafficking. The girls were abducted from physics class. I grew up loving science, so I felt this could have been me had I been born in a different part of the world or faced different circumstances. It all kind of hit home as I was living with women going through a similar thing in Thailand. I saw that once they were rescued, there was a big opportunity to create options for them. So I decided to fill that gap with Apple Rose Beauty.
LIVEKINDLY: It’s estimated that more than 40 million people are current victims of modern slavery around the world. More than 70 percent of them are women. Two of them, Apple and Rose, inspired the name of your brand. Can you tell me more about them?
Alexander: On my first excursion to the bars in Bangkok, I met Apple. She was from rural Thailand. There, the oldest girl is responsible for taking care of the parents. But her family was really poor and her mom was sick. She thought she was coming to the big city to work at a restaurant and waitress a little bit. But it turned into something she didn’t realize it was going to be. She was trapped. My team met Rose later on. The seed had been sewn for starting this organic skincare company. And I thought that’s it: Apple, Rose. It all fell into place. I’m not in contact with them anymore, but my dream is that one day I will get back in touch. I want to go back to Thailand with a host of women that they, and the brand, have inspired.
LIVEKINDLY: One 2018 study puts the number of human trafficking victims in Thailand at more than 600,000. Rescue is a difficult and lengthy process, but most think that after that, the job is done.
Alexander: I knew one particular girl, she had a one-year-old baby. She had a really tough childhood. A really strange relationship with her dad. After I came back to the U.S., she ran away and left the baby there. That really broke my heart. It brought home that there is a lot of trauma involved in these people’s lives. A lot of studies show that many women who end up being trafficked have been through some type of sexual trauma before the age of five. All of their lives they have dealt with something. There is a lot of hurt and pain and things to undo. So now I try to work with organizations that are doing the deep work. The ones that are working with psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors to really make sure that these women can have a strong healthy life after they are rescued.
LIVEKINDLY: Looking after people is vital to you, but I know your upbringing in Trinidad & Tobago nurtured a love of nature too. So how does Apple Rose Beauty reduce its environmental impact?
Alexander: A lot of the ingredients we use, I grew up with. 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’re not stripping the earth of anything. We try to make sure everything is sourced fairly too, that the people doing the work on the ground are being compensated adequately and they’re in a safe environment. We work with manufacturing partners to look through the supply chain and check on all of those things.
LIVEKINDLY: Another important element of your brand is education. How do you use Apple Rose’s platform to teach about the risks of human trafficking?
Alexander: We do Facebook lives, we have blogs on our site, and I’ve also hosted talks with different organizations. I speak about what human trafficking is, how to identify it, and what you can do to help. The biggest thing is awareness. If something feels odd, just pay attention. A lot of times, people think that human trafficking takes place only through force. But often, it happens over a period of time. That’s called coercion. One of the things that traffickers look for is young women who aren’t very confident. I encourage parents to build up self esteem, to keep the lines of communication open with their kids.
LIVEKINDLY: The most rewarding part of Apple Rose Beauty must be the work you’re doing to support the women who have been through so much. Can you describe what it feels like to know you’re making such a difference?
Alexander: It’s a dream come true. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, even in my roles in corporate America. But the difference with this is that it’s really mission-driven, really mission-focused. It’s tied to who I am on the inside. So it’s had longevity because of that. There’s nothing like feeling like you’re living out your purpose. Like you’re doing what you were placed 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, you can find the brand’s website here.