Don’t be defined by the setbacks. There will be lots! Sometimes we will make mistakes, sometimes other people will let us down. We had a whole group of products developed, with a lot of time and money tied up in them, and our manufacturer shut down. This one hurt, but we just kept pressing on. Others will let you down, we let ourselves down at times, but we can’t be defined by the many setbacks along the way.
As part of my series about “companies and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lorin and Kyle Van Zandt. Lorin and Kyle are the co-founders of MISSIO Hair, a hair product company that exists to use beauty to restore hope and fight human trafficking. Working as a professional hairstylist serving women emerging from human trafficking alongside her husband Kyle’s desire to fight this injustice led them to create hair products with purpose. Together, they have created stylist-designed and salon-tested hair products that serve as a vehicle to educate salons in victim identification, serve women at-risk and in recovery, and give to non-profit partners. Their double-bottom-line approach is an innovative and effective way the reach customers who want their purchases to matter while unlocking the potential of the beauty industry to directly fight human trafficking.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Lorin: Sure! If you can believe it, my story begins when I was just 15 years old — I started doing hair and quickly became passionate about beauty. For me it was more than a haircut though…I soon realized that beauty could be used to help people in need, and I began giving haircuts to the homeless and those in drug rehab centers. I saw the potential that my passion and profession could be a platform for good, so I enrolled in cosmetology school in the evenings after long days of teaching 4th graders.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to work with victims of human trafficking for the first time. Many had just been rescued and were taken to safe places, and I would meet them in secure locations. I gave manicures, pedicures and haircuts to women who didn’t believe they had worth after years of being sold and used as if they were nothing. I realized then that something as simple as a haircut led to something so big. These women began to believe something new about themselves. It was in those moments that the vision for MISSIO was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Lorin: There are so many! We could tell so many stories about how our first office was in our garage and we would test our product samples on our neighbors, to working with cosmetic chemists to create the perfect products, to all of the people who helped us develop our initiatives. Of course, our favorite stories involve the women we serve and the stylists we empower. In fact there was one time when one of our stylists partners had a really dangerous encounter that she told us about. A few months after I took her salon through our human trafficking prevention education, I was delivering products to her store. She was nonchalantly talking to me about how much she loved the products, when she shifted gears and said, “oh, and your education saved my life.” Taken aback, I immediately asked to know more. She went on to share how she was in the parking lot of her apartment complex when she experienced an attempted abduction. She told me that our training helped to increase her awareness and put her one step ahead in her escape. This was a story that made the news and could have ended quite differently.
We are so grateful that she was okay and that our training helped in a way that even we didn’t expect. It’s been amazing to hear many stories of what has come from the education part of our initiatives…so many stylists tell is they wish they would have learned this information years ago.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Kyle: If people could see the behind-the-scenes of MISSIO, you’d probably laugh quite a bit! I won’t fill you in on some of the original names of our company, but those definitely would have been funny mistakes.
Sometimes mistakes happen that are definitely NOT funny at the time, but we laugh when we look back it them. For instance, we ordered hundreds of liter-sized bottles for backbar shampoos and conditioners. We noticed one of them had a not so little black dot printed on it. We thought is was just a mistake on one bottle, but when we went through the boxes, they ALL had a “birthmark” in the exact same spot! The bottle printer quickly sent some new ones over, so it was all good in the end. Seriously, not funny at the time!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Lorin: Human trafficking is one of the most terrible injustices that exists, and it is stealing worth from women. Because we’re so passionate about encouraging and seeing worth restored and women understand their true value, it began to make sense that this was the primary issue we felt called to spend time fighting. While there are so many causes that are important and that we’d love to support, we also understand the unique position that hair stylists are in. This enables us to serve women in need in such powerful ways and truly impact communities.
Kyle: Human trafficking is a vast and elusive injustice which continues to grow. At MISSIO, we’ve seen firsthand what the impact of our efforts can do for those in need and are committed to using our platform and products to help eradicate human trafficking. We do this through three initiatives: We EDUCATE salons and communities to identify potential victims, we SERVE women who are at-risk or in recovery from exploitation and we GIVE to non-profit partners fighting human trafficking worldwide.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
Lorin: Over the years we’ve helped many women, but there is one in particular that comes to mind. I was doing freelance hair at the time, and I got a call from a local nonprofit asking if I would be able to provide a haircut to a woman who had just come out of trafficking. When I met her, her head was down, she avoided eye contact, and I could tell the abuse she has undergone as chunks of her hair were missing. As I got to work, I quickly saw her confidence transform from avoiding looking at herself to loving how she looked and cheering as she looked in the mirror when I was done. It was in that moment that I know my true purpose was something bigger than me and I felt called to take action.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Kyle: Oftentimes, with an issue as vast as human trafficking, I think people get overwhelmed and think they can’t make change, but it is going to take all of us fighting this issue from multiple angles! I think the first step is to learn more about the issue. It comes in many forms and is carried out differently all over the world. For instance, human trafficking in the US is quite different than child trafficking in Nepal. However, the roots of the issue are quite similar. I’ve learned over the years that we need to address it from three major prongs: prevention, rescue, and recovery. Each of these requires so many different angles and can get very complicated. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this, but I’ve learned from some pretty amazing people and organizations over the years. Learning about the realities of this issue and becoming equipped to be vigilant in your own community is a great first step.
From there, discover of local non-profit fighting human trafficking and helping survivors. See how you can help in your area, and definitely give that organization!
Finally, we believe that the best way to fight human trafficking is to prevent it. There are people who are more at-risk than others because of circumstantial vulnerabilities. These include the homeless, children in foster care, those struggling with addiction, victims of abuse, and even those with low self-esteem. Finding ways to assist and show love to people in these circumstances actually goes a long way in preventing human trafficking from ever occurring.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Lorin: Wow, there are SO many definitions out there! Here’s one that we’ve seen over the years: “A leader is somebody who can unlock the potential of others.” I like this definition because a genuine leader is humble, placing others first, and recognizing that nothing can be accomplished without everybody’s unique contributions. That’s why we love the idea of the servant leader, somebody who leads out of a place of confidence, but also humility. MISSIO is so much bigger than us. We’re leaders, we’re guides, but we believe the potential lies with everybody who is on this journey with us.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s harder than we ever imagined. We had a general idea of how hard starting a business would be and how all-encompassing it would become. MISSIO was a vision that we knew would require risk, sacrifice, sleepless nights, a crazy schedule, etc. but what we didn’t anticipate was how deeply connected we have become to our work, something we’d never experienced in a 9–5. Every single element of MISSIO is an extension of ourselves. In many ways, we’ve put our hearts out there for the world to see, which can sometimes be a very vulnerable place! That was a new experience for us, but it has been so worth it. Every day, we wake up with the underlying belief that what we’ve created can change the world.
- It will get lonely. We have had so many people surround us, work with us, encourage us, and give us amazing advice. However, nobody can quite relate to the amount of time and work, how much heart and emotions, and so much more that we’ve put into this. Our friends and family have been a huge support network, but we can’t expect people to fully understand or take on what we have. I think that’s why they sometimes say leadership is lonely.
- Don’t be defined by the setbacks. There will be lots! Sometimes we will make mistakes, sometimes other people will let us down. We had a whole group of products developed, with a lot of time and money tied up in them, and our manufacturer shut down. This one hurt, but we just kept pressing on. Others will let you down, we let ourselves down at times, but we can’t be defined by the many setbacks along the way.
- Be patient. People did tell us this at the beginning, but I (Kyle) wish I understood it more. The world loves to celebrate overnight successes, but most endeavors require time. I just love to see that our products, our brand message, and our initiatives are maturing, and we’ve built a solid foundation as a company. This can only happen with time.
- Being a founder is NOT glamorous! Sure, there are moments of speaking and inspiring hundreds of people or appearing in magazine features. But the reality is quite different. Often, we are the ones buried in the details of the day-to-day. For us, sometimes this means anything from cleaning the office toilets, to juggling childcare and preschool pickup, to screwing lids on shampoo bottles, and so much more. For us, CEO means chief everything officer!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Lorin: As a beauty industry professional who ventured to use my gifts in a non-traditional sense, serving women in need, I have seen how what I do has the potential to impact the lives of others in tremendous ways. Hair stylists have a unique advantage to impact the lives of so many women and I believe we have barely tapped into the platform we have for making a difference, not just in the lives of those in our chairs, but beyond the salon. Through MISSIO we are unlocking the potential of the industry to use beauty to restore hope and fight human trafficking. By educating the salon industry to recognize warning signs, inspiring and mobilizing stylists to serve women at-risk or in recovery in their communities and giving to organizations that are helping victims, we are making a true difference — one hair product at a time! Moving forward, I’d like to see more companies use their platform for good. I believe we have barely tapped into the true difference we can make through this industry.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Kyle: Ahhh! How can I narrow it down to just one?! I love to read and learn, so I’ve got pages of these laying around. I think Lorin and I have lived by this one, though — I think many have said it, but I’ll attribute it to Paulo Coelho: “The ship is safest when it is in port. But that’s not what ships were made for.” Early on in our marriage, we decided that we wanted to take risks, to go after hard things, not for us, but to make in impact on the lives of others. In our first year of marriage, we literally sailed to Guatemala to serve the lovely people in it’s remote Rio Dulce region. We weren’t made to play it safe, we were meant to be a light in the world, to take risks and fiercely love. That precedent of risk and impact definitely set the stage for us to become entrepreneurs. I love how Mark Batterson puts it: “In every dream journey, there comes a moment when you have to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. You have to go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Lorin: I just really want to have lunch with Rachel Hollis! She’s written great books, and I love her podcast. She also works with her husband, so we’d have a LOT to talk about! Seriously, she has helped me as a mom, an entrepreneur, and she is incredibly passionate about helping women recognize their true worth and value. I know she would fall in love with our Styling Cream, so I can’t wait to introduce it to her one day!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Kyle: Please do! We’re very active on Instagram (@missiohair) and you’ll find everything there from product reviews to service updates and partnerships and events that we’re a part of.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!