Sanctuary Project is a social enterprise jewelry brand providing meaningful employment and job training to women who have survived lives of trafficking, violence, and addiction. We are a survivor-run organization, offering a safe community for women in transition to grow in practical skills while restoring their lives and hearts. Our jewelry is designed and packaged by the women we employ, and 100% of our sales go directly to providing more job opportunity and job training to survivors.Sanctuary Project is a social enterprise jewelry brand providing meaningful employment and job training to women who have survived lives of trafficking, violence, and addiction. We are a survivor-run organization, offering a safe community for women in transition to grow in practical skills while restoring their lives and hearts. Our jewelry is designed and packaged by the women we employ, and 100% of our sales go directly to providing more job opportunities and training to survivors.
She also would like to have a factory where the jewelry components would be made by women who are survivors and then sent to Austin, where the women who put them together are also survivors. During that time she also reconnected with Jeff Hayes, whom she had known earlier, during a trip back to San Francisco. The friendship grew into something more, and they got married. They moved to Austin in 2017 after he got a job here. “Everything shifted in my identity and self-worth,” she says. “I saw myself as a party girl and a slut. I didn’t see myself as a victim. I thought I had made these choices.”Because Sanctuary Project provides a safe place, all of its employees are women, and none of them have been traffickers, which can sometimes happen with women who have been trafficked.Sanctuary Project finds survivors through connections at the Travis County Jail, local nonprofit organizations and the few shelters for victims of trafficking Central Texas does have.
About a year into the relationship, he suggested she trade sex for money with people he would set up. Her drug problem, though, eventually made her unreliable.
The business itself is a sanctuary: giving women their first job after being sexually trafficked, which Hayes defines as being made to perform a commercial sex act by force, fraud or coercion.The entry-level job isn’t glamorous on purpose: They start by putting together jewelry such as earrings onto hooks or pendants on chains. Then they move into packaging and processing orders. “It’s a really low bar for entry,” Hayes says.
Hayes herself didn’t really understand what was happening to her when she began to be trafficked, and her story is not what many people might think of when they think about someone who has been trafficked.“They understood our vision,” Hayes says, to create something beautiful, of value, and to have women who didn’t feel their own self-worth begin doing the healing to feel it.
By middle school, Hayes began acting out. When she was 14 and a freshman in high school, she went to a party, got drunk, did drugs and was raped by three different boys.She kept getting into dangerous situations and choosing bad relationships, looking for someone who would take care of her. She met her trafficker, whom she thought of as a boyfriend, when she was 19. He encouraged her to cut off all of her relationships with friends and family.Sanctuary Project teaches life skills, provides mentorship, coaches the women on recovery and gives them the experience of working a job and a job reference. Most women who have been trafficked have a criminal background because of being sold for sex and/or substance abuse. For her, the big vision is to one day add a residential shelter that helps women who are older. Many of the current shelters focus on children who have been trafficked. Most of the women are either living in a safe house or with supportive family members. Hayes tries to make sure they are not feeling the pressure of rent, which might make them more likely to return to their trafficker.Today, Hayes is providing that sanctuary for women like herself, women who need a chance to rebuild their lives, a chance that she was given through a job shining shoes.Austin was the start of something new for Holly Hayes. With no prior jewelry making experience, she jumped in and began building Sanctuary Project in her kitchen. “I taught myself by watching YouTube,” she says.A few of the women who started working in the job training program have gone on to work on the leadership team as full-time employees running the business.