Kiwi skincare creator Hannah Hong using beauty therapy to save refugee women

hannah Hong
Hannah Hong has more going on in a year than most in their lifetimes. Photo credit: Supplied.

For Hannah Hong, a passion for creating skincare and saving the world started after school. 

The Auckland native attended Epsom Girl's Grammar school and says every day after class she walked to luxury department store Smith and Caughey's in Newmarket.

"I would try all the skincare and whenever a woman would walk by I would know 'oh she's wearing Chanel'," Hong told Newshub.

"I was so in love with skincare and perfume I thought I wanted to explore that. I happened to be really good at chemistry at school so I thought 'why not?'"

Some of Hong's Lemon and Beaker range.
Some of Hong's Lemon and Beaker range. Photo credit: Supplied.

Kind of a beauty 'Rainman,' Hong ended up studying a hefty mix of chemistry and psychology at university, gaining a Bachelor of Science, as well as a CIDESCO Diploma in Aesthetics and Beauty Therapy.

"I believe [skincare] isn't only a chemical compounds, it's a mix of the psychological emotions attached to it," Hong says. "The packaging and fragrance, it's an entire experience - you use all five senses."

Her passion resulted in her beginning local skincare company Lemon and Beaker, named for two of the ingredients on her desk when she was brainstorming.

Hong's passion for skincare has carried her through multiple degrees and charity work.
Hong's passion for skincare has carried her through multiple degrees and charity work. Photo credit: Supplied.

But while starting a skincare company from scratch might be enough for most, Hong has a lot more going on.

In 2016 she received a call from a friend working for an NGO helping refugee women in Jordan's capital city Amman.

"She said, 'I heard you make skincare and soaps yourself'," Hong recounted." She said, 'Why don't you come over here and teach these refugee ladies. We need to create some jobs and we need to teach some classes."

Hong loaded up all her beauty equipment - around 50kg of luggage - and travelled to Jordan, with barely any idea of what to expect.

"There were classes being run for these refugee women who had fled their homes, we decided to teach them different classes; facial treatments, nail art, soap making."

The classes were an instant success.

"Everyone loved what they were learning and they wanted to find jobs. These ladies were so excited to find a job and once they started to acquire the skills they could go out there and [find one]. 

"It was incredibly exciting because I didn't realise the benefit of the beauty industry, [in Jordan]."

Hong and some of her graduates in Jordan.
Hong and some of her graduates in Jordan. Photo credit: Supplied.

Hong says that for many of the women, it was the first time they had experienced fun and laughter in months, after fleeing for days without food, or finding family members dead on the side of the road.

"They were doing massage together, and all the sorrow they had from the war - from the famine and from hardships in their lives - they were released," Hong recounted.

"A lot of them were laughing and crying. I just thought 'wow, I can see the emotions,' and it made me feel so happy to be living where I do, and do what I do."

Along with the classes, Hong and her fellow volunteers began a small soap factory, employing many former students.

Accompanied by the Google Translate app on her phone, Hong would travel down to the souk every day to buy soap making ingredients for the refugee women.

"They have amazing olive oil; high quality premium stuff we can't get here," she recounted. "I found amazing ingredients: Rosemary, and dried roses for so cheap. I was amazed at how premium the ingredients were."

Some of the Lemon and Beaker soap produced.
Some of the Lemon and Beaker soap produced. Photo credit: Supplied.

Last year, the factory turned around a US$40,000 profit, which volunteers used to run extra classes and English classes for children.

Hong travels back to Jordan whenever she can, sending friends and colleagues in her place when she can't leave the lab back in New Zealand.

She says once Lemon and Beaker starts turning a proper profit, she'll donate 10 percent of profits to a school for refugee children, something she says is a deal-breaker when it comes to bringing on investors.

"I love doing it; I see it as my most precious time. It's nothing to do with business or me getting anything but I feel like this is the reason I am living... it gives me such happiness."