An Interview with Heather Packer | Founder, Fearless Beauty
Store your courage
An Interview with Heather Packer, Founder, Fearless Beauty
It’s not every day you meet someone you immediately hit it off with, but also someone who shares your values, passions and interests on a whole different level. I’m so incredibly lucky that fate led me to Heather Packer’s stylist chair in the summer of 2009, and for all of the experiences we shared together as friends since. I’m excited to share the story of how this top NYC hairstylist took her decade of experience in the beauty industry and turned it into an opportunity to give back through the nonprofit she founded, Fearless Beauty.
TCB: I’m so fond of the inspiration behind Fearless Beauty. Can you share the story with the rest of The Cause Bar readers?
HP: In 2012, I completed a yoga teacher training that was based in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. During that training, I learned about the Bodhisattva and the Bodhisattva way. The Bodhisattva is a being that dedicates their lives to service. That way of being resonated with me deeply and I knew then that I must dedicate a large portion of my life to service. During that time, I was also traveling to India for at least a month each year, studying with a spiritual teacher and building a relationship with a group of people who ran and participated in a vocational center for impoverished people in the community. I was also beginning to feel bored in my career, and had a difficult time imagining only cutting and styling hair for the rest of my career. All of these things came together one morning when I went to meditate on the Ganges while spending a month in India. I was in the process of reading Cheryl Sandbergs’ book, Lean In, and read the Chapter "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" that morning. After my meditation, the question came again, and the answer immediately followed. Ever since, the project has been supported along the way.
TCB: Your story is clearly tied to the name of the organization. How did you decide on the name “Fearless Beauty”?
HP: For several years leading up to the creation of Fearless Beauty, I had been working a lot with the idea of Fear…what it means, how it shows up in my life, how it affects me, how it holds me back...then I read that chapter from Cheryl Sandberg's book mentioned above. Facing and working through fear was all around me. I knew that the name had to include Beauty in some way and I wanted to keep it open to more than hair. I was sitting in the Jivamukti Cafe with two friends after a yoga class and they said, “Ok, we have to come up with a name for this thing you are creating!” My friend suggested we call it "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" I repeated it. It sounded way too long for me and then I stood up and shouted Fearless Beauty! We laughed and hugged and just knew.
TCB: Your first project started in India - can you tell us more on that project?
HP: We started with a desire to make a change: To help young women in India find a way to transform their lives through the power of beauty. We began in January 2014 by partnering with a charity organization providing medical, educational and spiritual support to the children of Rishikesh, India. Together, we created a space for vocational education. We brought together a group of young women eager to learn the art and trade of hairstyling. We instilled a passion for success through mentorship and provided participants with the tools to earn a sustainable and fulfilling livelihood.
We have been successful in accomplishing our mission. Fearless Beauty has enrolled 29 women in India into our flagship 240-hour hairstyling program. Of these, 23 graduated the program and seven have earned income in the beauty industry as a result of the program. Another four found jobs outside of the beauty industry as a result of the confidence and customer service skills gained during Fearless Beauty training. Fearless Beauty is successfully empowering women to defy the odds of oppression and gender inequality.
TCB: What an impact in that one project alone! And now you’ve extended the program to Rikers Island in New York. Tell us about this latest project.
HP: As so many things happen for me and Fearless Beauty, our program at Rikers Island started from a conversation held in my chair at the salon. A long time client was telling me about a music program she was just about to start at Rikers Island and shared that during her first visit she noticed a salon and classrooms nearby. I said, "Wouldn't it be amazing if Fearless Beauty started a program at Rikers Island?!" Within a week she sent an introductory email, and next thing I knew, I received an email from the Deputy Commissioner of Rikers Island. It went from there...
The Fearless Beauty cosmetology program in RMSC (Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island Jail) is a 6 month hands on introductory class running twice a week for 2.5 hours per session, with 15 student slots. Professional hairstylists with over ten years of specialized experience are teaching techniques to help students gain skills for cosmetology school and careers in the industry upon their release. The program provides vocational training while also equipping students with entrepreneurial support pre and post release. Fearless Beauty has created a flexible curriculum with open enrollment after every 3 week module in response to the transient nature of a detainee population.
Fearless Beauty plants the seeds for economic resiliency by providing our students with the education, confidence and connections to reach for something new post-incarceration. The overwhelming number of applicants for our pilot program and the exceedingly positive response from those who were surveyed post program indicates the interest and need for vocational training in the beauty industry for this community.
TCB: You always said that everyone who’s sat in your chair has had some purpose in your life, this certainly reiterates that! Before we wrap, I have to state the obvious - you’ve done so much in such little time…what now for Fearless Beauty?
HP: Right now we are exactly where we need to be. Working with women who are involved with the justice system whether it be incarcerated, previously incarcerated or at risk. We will continue at Rikers Island, and we are also researching how we can make our program a state certified/licensed program.
To learn more about Fearless Beauty, please visit: http://www.fearlessbeauty.org @fearlessbeautynyc
About Fearless Beauty
Through the power of beauty and mentorship, Fearless Beauty is a nonprofit organization which empowers students with hair cutting, styling and color skills to transform their lives, gain deep confidence in themselves and earn a sustainable, fulfilling livelihood.