Human trafficking is a ‘hot topic’ in today’s world, especially with the rise of education and awareness that organizations worldwide are bringing to this issue. You have heard me write about different industries that are looking at new ways of targeting the supply and demand of human trafficking as well as ways in which to better educate people. But how can hygiene – particularly soap bars – fight this issue?
Chyanne Ledbetter is a dear friend of the family who has a tremendous heart for the issue of human trafficking. In order to effectively combat the issue while providing survivors with vital skills after recovery, Chyanne has created a company that provides a unique yet powerful niche in this arena. Chyanne was gracious enough to do an interview with myself, explaining what her company is all about while providing useful tools for us to get involved in combating human and sex trafficking.
How and when did you first hear about the issue of human trafficking?
I heard about the issue in a very broad sense four years ago at my church. I really came to understand and care about the people who are being oppressed two and a half years ago when I saw the documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.
What prompted you to get involved?
I was deeply affected by this issue when I saw the faces that brought the statistics to life. We often hear horrible things that are happening in the world, and at times are non-responsive to all the perils those are facing around us, but this is something I could not be silent about. It became personal to me at that moment, and I realized I needed to something, anything, to help.
I know that you have previously visited Cambodia through William Jessup University. Tell me a little bit about that trip and how that impacted you.
I have been serving with Agape International Missions (AIM) for the past year and a half, and so I was able to see the business office side of this fight against human trafficking. Actually seeing what the money goes to was a life-changing experience. God showed me so much throughout my three weeks there. My ministry was making lotion in different villages and God used that to open up villages that had previously been averse to AIM’s staff coming in. The pastor said that we would take light into the darkness, and God used lotion making as that light. I also had the blessing of spending time with the children in Svay Pak every day, who totally captured my heart. My happiest moments in life were spent sweating profusely and dancing ridiculously with those beautiful children, some of whom are still being trafficked. There was a lot of darkness in Cambodia, but I think God shaped my experiences to show me the light, to show me that there is so much hope. I saw so much restoration, and an opportunity to continue to serve and love, and bring redemption to this place, and these people.
In what way(s) did this trip impact your decision to work in the field of human trafficking, particularly once you graduate Jessup?
It impacted my decision in a unique way, because it refocused where I was headed completely. I have been interested in working in the field of human trafficking for the past two years, mostly in the area of international human rights law. The last eight years of my life I was convinced I would go to law school straight after I received my bachelor’s degree. This time last year I still thought that, but going to Cambodia changed everything. I still am interested in practicing international human rights law, and want to pursue that one day. However, right now I see a greater, and more practical need for serving in Cambodia.
Your company is called 27 Bath and Body. Tell me about it. What was the idea behind it?
The idea is that we can use something as simple as a hard bar of soap to change the world. The idea is that we all deserve to bathe in freedom; every single man, woman, and child. It really is taking something we use every day, and making it something that is so much more than it seems. You can buy freedom for a girl who is enslaved, and smell good doing it – we call it cleaning yourself conscientiously.
What gave you the inspiration to begin it? And how did you think to combine soap/lotion making with human trafficking?
Well it definitely goes back to my faith, and what God has equipped me with. As I stated before, my ministry in Cambodia was lotion making. While over there, the process of me teaching was so well received, everyone loved making the lotion. Seeing the Khmer people’s reaction to the product, and their eagerness to learn started to build the idea. The team I served with from WJU was so supportive the entire time I was there, and they actually told me that they could see me coming back and having my own bath and body shop. They were mostly kidding, but the idea really hit me, and then I didn’t think about it anymore. I thought it was ridiculous, and that I could never, and would never do that. As I got back from the trip, the idea continued to resonate with me. Like a little seed, it grew, and although I had my doubts, the more I thought about, the more I thought “I have to do this.” I think the idea really presented itself to me in Cambodia, and as I reflected on it upon my return. One missionary told me “they are always looking for new jobs for the girls once they get out of the recovery center, because there can only be so many bracelet makers, and hairstylists.” I realized I have a way of providing more jobs for more amazing survivors, and also spreading awareness, which is really important to me.
What is the story behind the name “27 Bath and Body”?
I struggled with the idea of the name for a while. I did a lot of research before I ever told anybody seriously about the idea, because I wanted the business, and myself, to be taken seriously. During my research I stumbled across a lot of kitschy and cute names for bath and body lines. Names great for marketing – names that sounds exotic, or romantic, or girly. Then I thought about what this is really about, it is not just about Cambodia. This is about everyone that is oppressed by human trafficking. There are still more than 27 million people enslaved in human trafficking today, and I saw that number as a great way to spread awareness. It has served as a great conversation starter to introduce people to this issue, because they ask about the name, which is exactly the intention. My desire is to help end slavery, and bring awareness to slavery one soap bar at a time, and to play a part in reducing that number.
How long have you been working on this idea?
The business officially launched for fundraising on October 27. 2013. I had been developing the idea seriously since the middle of July, 2013. So it has been almost a year, and new ideas are still getting tossed around, the business is still developing. It has come so far, and it still has a long way to go!
Why did you decide to start this project?
Mostly because the idea of anyone being enslaved in any form really irritates me. That anger makes me want to do something about it. Also, because I have such a love for those I encountered in Cambodia, and want to use my gifts to help where I can. So in this instance, love and hate worked really well together.
Do you currently run the company by yourself?
My friend, Josie Clayton, helps me run the company. Right now I do most of it, operationally and otherwise, but Josie is an awesome partner, and advocate. She is going to handle more operationally when I move there. She will be the representative in the US, she rocks.
What is your vision for 27 Bath and Body?
My vision is to bring continued restoration to amazing survivors. It is to help end slavery one soap bar at a time, and spread awareness through soap that we can all suds up to end slavery. I want to see the soap and other products these girls make in houses all over the world. The more product we sell, the more girls that can be hired, and the more awareness that can be spread. I would like to see our freedom bars in places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. My vision is to spread love through lotion making; love to survivors, and love to everyone who use our products. My vision is to empower girls through their own creativity, and to get people to see this issue and bath and body products differently.
Why did you choose Cambodia as the destination for your company?
I was going to say something really cliché, like “Cambodia chose me,” and then I realized how ridiculous that sounds. But in a strange way there is some validity to that statement. I have traveled other places before, and been invested in other causes, but I have never felt anything like when I was in Cambodia. It could be that I felt such strong ties to Cambodia because I had been volunteering with an organization whose projects are in Cambodia for over a year, and had done a lot of research on the country. I knew a lot about it, so it was almost a moment of “I just met you, but I feel like I’ve known you for a long time.” I just bonded with the country, and the people there, and with what God was doing there. I also felt God leading me there, which is important. Ultimately, I had left a piece of my heart there when I got on the plane back to the US, so I never felt like there was much of a choice, it just was, and is.
How soon do you plan to move the company to Cambodia?
I am moving to Cambodia this summer to serve with AIM at the school in Svay Pak. I am initially going to be working on this business on the side; building relationships, and doing research. I am hoping and planning to start hiring girls a year to two years after I move to Cambodia, which is this June. I want to make sure I have all my ducks in a line so that the business is sustainable. I also have more to fundraise when it comes to the business, but I believe that in a year or two, everything will be fully ready to rumble.
How will survivors hear about and enter your company/program?
I am hoping, and praying about partnering with an organization that already offers a recovery home for survivors. There are multiple ones all throughout Cambodia and that is something I want to work on when I move there. Building relationships, and seeing who would be able to accommodate this business. I am confident that something will work out; that God will put it right where it needs to be, and that it will be a mutually beneficial partnership. Once I partner with an organization like that I plan on hiring girls who are leaving the recovery program. I want their job at 27 Bath and Body to be a time of continued healing, a stepping stone for them as they continue on to fulfill greater dreams and plans.
Will survivors solely be learning how to make soap or will they be given the opportunity to do other things such as sell the soap, learn how to run the business end of the company, receive rehabilitation, etc.?
The plan is to provide for them a place of continued recovery, including: help with healthcare, access to a counselor, meals during work hours, basic teaching, and lots of love. I want them to be able to learn every aspect of the business; how to make the product, how to market it, how to make a budget. I also want them to use their creative abilities to create amazing new products. In the world of bath and body, the sky’s the limit! My goal is to help foster, and raise up leaders. I eventually want a Khmer person to take my position- I will still assist, and help run everything stateside. I want this to be theirs, and by theirs I mean the survivors. They are capable of so much!
Is 27 Bath and Body affiliated with Agape International Missions (AIM)? If so, why did you decide to begin your own organization rather than work for, or under, AIM?
27 Bath and Body is not affiliated with AIM, although I am affiliated with both, but the business itself is separate. I honestly don’t know if I ever made a conscious decision, it just happened this way. As the company developed, and continues to do so, it took its own path. I do see 27 Bath and Body working alongside an organization much like AIM, or AIM once in Cambodia, but I cannot be certain what that looks like at this moment.
What challenges, if any, do you expect to face in Cambodia, particularly in regards to your organization?
I definitely expect to face some challenges. Firstly, I’ve never actually started a business, much less in Asia, so there will be a lot to learn. There are cross-cultural differences that I will have to come to understand, as well as how the Cambodian government operates. I think any regular challenge that comes in starting a business will occur, but I don’t foresee any obstacles that particularly paralyze me.
What steps can my audience do to help you in regards to 27 Bath and Body?
There are four simple things that can be done:
- They can pray for the business.
- They can check out our Facebook page : facebook.com/27bathandbody, and “like” it, to stay updated with all we are doing. We also have a youtube channel (with one video-but hey it describes everything ), an etsy page, and a twitter account – all can be found by typing in “27bathandbody”.
- They can buy soap, or lotion, or just donate if they feel compelled. We are still in the fundraising stage, so any monetary contribution is helpful.
- They can tell people about us, and about the issue of human trafficking.
What are some steps that our audience can do to address the issue of Human Trafficking?
Oh wow, there is so much! Definitely if you have a particular gift, you can use that to help fight this issue! For example, 27 B&B is one way I creatively fight this, but I also use my administrative skills with AIM. You can use whatever you are gifted with to fight this! There are a lot of organizations you can get involved with. Locally in Sacramento, such as: Bridget’s Dream, The Grace Network, and Origin Coffee and Tea. Nationally there is: the Polaris Project, and IJM. Internationally, there is: IJM, AIM, Love146, and the A21 Campaign. If you cannot donate time, donating finances and prayer is another way to aid the fight. You can buy products, like our soap, or bracelets and shirts that are made by survivors, or benefit them. Put the national human trafficking hotline (1-888-373-7888) in your phone, and check out the Polaris project website to read about signs to spot someone who may be currently trafficked. Spread that education to anyone who has ears, which is everyone. Screening documentaries, such as Nefarious: Merchant of Souls and The Pink Room, at your school or church are also great ways to spread awareness.