Q&A with LACEY CHONG: CEO and Founder of Spa Swag for Warriors

Spa Swag for Warriors is a non-profit organization based in Arlington, VA. It is dedicated to providing high quality bath and body products to deployed female service members overseas in order to increase the morale, well-being, and retention of women in the military, and to reduce the stresses of hardship tours. Lacey Chong, the CEO and Founder of Spa Swag for Warriors, launched her non-profi t in 2014. Today she continues to grow the organization with the mission to inspire, motivate and encourage service women around the globe.

How did you come up with the concept for Spa Swag for Warriors? What inspired you? I came up with the concept for Spa Swag for Warriors when I realized that women in uniform serving overseas in hardship conditions don’t have regular access to items that I consider necessary.

In Fall 2014, one of my best friends, Becca, a U.S. Marine Corps officer deployed to West Africa for a nine-month tour. Her messages were heartbreaking. She felt dirty. She did not feel like a woman. Her place had a bucket shower, no potable water, and the usual kind of feminine hygiene products we are used to in the developed world just were not available. She and five other ladies were posted in very remote locations and did not have resources or products that are usually available on U.S. bases or in cities.

Women like Becca serving our country overseas in hardship posts have a stressful job – they put up with a LOT. I made it my personal mission to send high quality bath and body products to deployed female service members because I believe it is absolutely essential for their morale and well-being.

Do you have any favorite reactions from your recipients? How may have these reactions changed your business plans.

Yes! We love hearing back from our lady warriors, and ask them to send us feedback, questions, or comments. One soldier said that our packages made her cry – and it was the best day she had in a long time. Another gal wrote from a base in the Middle East, and she said: “Thank you so much for our spa swag from the Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron it means a lot to have something girly out here when we’re fixing trucks and sweating out here.”

We’ve changed our business plans in terms of what we ask companies to donate for the spa swag bags. A few months ago we asked companies for any extra bath, body, or beauty items they cared to send. Now we are being much choosier with whom we work with, and tell them our most-wanted items are body and face wipes, lotion with SPF, sunscreen, and moisturizing hair products.

Soldiers posted to hardship locations are most often in countries that are very sunny and have harsh conditions, and the shower water is often hard – so they need items for their skin, body, and hair to counteract that.

“I made It my personal mission to send high quality bath and body products to deployed female service members because I believe It Is absolutely essential for their morale and well-being.”

There is such a masculine connotation given to anyone in the field of active duty given male or female. Why did you feel it necessary to provide such a feminine service?

There is a common misconception that we often come up against: “Female soldiers don’t need anything special like bath or beauty items.” Yes, their physical needs are met, but deployed ladies absolutely deserve to have a little bit of luxury in the field because it makes a huge difference when you can feel feminine, clean, and pulled together.

How many Spa Swag packages have been sent out since your start in 2014? How many more do you imagine you’ll send in the next year or so?

We’ve sent 12 boxes to ladies in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia since we started in December 2014. Each box holds between 10-15 individually packed spa swag bags. We are hoping to send 50 more medium or large USPS flat-rate boxes by the end of 2015.

 Do you send packages out upon specific inquiry or do you choose servicewomen at random?

We find the majority of our lady warrior clients through word of mouth – most are friends-of-friends who hear about us and request a spa swag package. Others find us through our website, email us at contact@spaswagforwarriors.org, or reach out over social media: @SpaSwag on Twitter, Spa_Swag on Instagram, and Facebook. Eventually I would like for our operation to grow to the point where donors could “sponsor” a servicewoman for a year – and we’d send the lucky lady a luxe bag of spa swag products once a month…kind of like a Birchbox business model!

If companies donate the products, what do the funds that are raised go towards?

Funds that are raised are used to cover the cost of providing the SpaSwag service to the female warriors abroad. For instance, while the products themselves are donated, the packaging materials and shipping expense still need to be paid.

Right now, each shipment is sent with little packages for each woman that can be easily distributed. We take pride in knowing each woman feels as though she is receiving a special gift just for them. Furthermore, during our fundraising events, we have been bringing supplies for donators to write personalized notes, which accompany each little package.

As we are a growing non-profit, any additional funds we manage to raise have been used to off-set start-up costs and on marketing materials to solicit new product donations.

What are your aspirations for your organization?

I’m determined to shift the narrative of women in the military away from negative press. There is so much negative messaging about PTSD, women serving in combat zones, being separated from their children and families, and sexual assault. While these are indeed legitimate issues that absolutely should be addressed – this negativity detracts from the amazing, positive impact that our uniformed women have on a daily basis.

I’d like to stop accepting donations from individuals, and move to a business model where companies donate 100% of our bath and body products. The ladies on the Board of Spa Swag for Warriors and I made a unanimous decision to only send high-quality products to ladies…we think women serving our country deserve the very best. It’s also important to us to use thoughtfully sourced products from reputable companies that we ourselves use or have used.

In terms of our financial aspirations, as of May 20th, 2015, we are at 42% of our fundraising goal for 2015. We’d greatly appreciate if individuals or companies would contribute the rest of our relatively modest goal of $7,000 for the year via our fundraising site: spaswagforwarriors.causevox.com.

What is the most rewarding aspect of Spa Swag for Warriors?

Knowing that what I put into Spa Swag has an immediate impact! I have always played a supporting role in small and large organizations in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors, but I have never led anything. I took a hard look at my previous jobs and extracurricular activities, and decided that I wanted to own something and make a difference. Knowing that Spa Swag’s success hinges on how hard I work is incredibly motivating.

What advice can you give to other women aspiring to start their own non-profit organizations? Ladies, sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and do it. I almost over-analyzed and business modeled and “what if’d” myself out of starting Spa Swag for Warriors…and I am thankful I did not. It’s incredibly empowering to stop being afraid to ask for what you want. I believe in and live by this quote: “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

Want to get involved? Visit: www.spaswagforwarriors.org