It has been just over two months since Matthew Fairfax condensed his life in Seattle into two suitcases and moved to Cambodia.
Fairfax, owner of the successful James Alan Salon and Spa in North Seattle, first felt the pull toward Cambodia in 2008 when one of his stylists told him about the work that a client was doing to help those who have been rescued from sex trafficking. Over a cup of coffee, Fairfax learned that 30,000 young Cambodian girls under the age of 18, some even as young as six, are being forced into sex trafficking with no real, sustainable way out of the nightmare. One hour and two cups of coffee later, Fairfax was convinced that he had to help.
“I began to wonder if we could help provide a way out of the sex trafficking cycle by offering cosmetology education and the opportunity for employment to these girls. With the urging of one of my stylists, and now co-founder, Lauren Ebright, we made our first visit to Cambodia in 2009 to see the problem first-hand,” explains Fairfax.
Upon returning to Seattle, Fairfax established the Justice & Soul Foundation with the hope of implementing a sustainable model to bring young girls out of poverty, and thus, "provide a career to the trafficked survivors."
By marrying their connections and experience in the beauty industry with the rise of fashion in Cambodia, Fairfax and Ebright hoped to establish a school where they could teach the fundamentals of cosmetology as well as enlist qualified therapists to address the trauma experienced by survivors of sex trafficking.
“While we were developing the Justice & Soul Foundation… working tirelessly to launch this effort, there was a part of me that felt like it wasn’t enough," Fairfax admits. "When we first visited Cambodia in 2009 and met with [12 non-government organizations], I realized that they all had someone on the ground working on behalf of the organization. The Justice & Soul Foundation needed someone there as well.”
Fairfax returned to Cambodia for a third visit in 2012 and decided to make the country his new home for the next three years. Since his move in July 2013, Fairfax has begun working to secure a building to establish the school and develop systems that will drive the training, a process that could take up to a year. In January, Fairfax will be joined by his cousin, a make-up artist out of New York, who will implement and lead the esthetics curriculum, as well as work to recruit more US-based industry contacts to visit and teach for varying periods of time.
By the end of his first year, Fairfax anticipates the school will see its first class of students. In order to avoid a money barrier, students will be granted scholarships. Furthermore, they will learn the basics of customer service and salon care along with actual salon techniques. Fairfax hopes to gear stylists' training towards the small, highly wealthy class of Cambodians in order to "provide the most direct path to financial independence.”
The Justice & Soul Foundation is a non-profit organization, and, like most non-profits, it relies heavily on outside support. Stylists can get involved by visiting the school in Cambodia to serve as guest educators or by helping advocate and fundraise at home.
In addition to the program in Cambodia, Ebright and the Foundation’s new Executive Director, Keri Pravitz, are partnering with domestic organizations to rescue teens in the United States. Fairfax explains that, “it is estimated that Seattle has between 500 and 800 juvenile prostitutes, and both Seattle and Portland are considered hubs for trafficked teens.”
The beauty industry has been known to show great camaraderie, and Fairfax is hoping that the Justice & Soul Foundation will be no exception.
“I may have been the one to leave my salon and life in Seattle behind, but I can’t do this alone. This will literally take an army of stylists, donors, advocates, and supporters. But I’ve seen incredible things happen during my career in this industry. This is a global problem, and I’m absolutely convinced that by working together, we can provide victims with a sustainable way out of a very real nightmare using the skills and education that have provided each of us with a wonderful career. We have the power to transform lives.”
-Sydney Berry, President of Salon Services and Justice & Soul Board Member
[Image courtesy of Matthew Fairfax]