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~ GAIA Goodness ~

A Note From Our Founder


Dear GAIA Friends,

After a great deal of thought, reflection, discussion, and prayer, I’ve made the difficult decision to close GAIA’s doors at the end of May.  

As you can imagine, this decision did not come easily.  GAIA has been a true labor of love and such a source of joy, meaning, and fulfillment in so many lives, especially mine!  However, after almost 10 years of running and growing GAIA, I’ve determined that it is time for me to take a step back and redirect my energy to my family.

As all working women do, I’ve constantly struggled with work-life balance, endlessly striving to be both a present, engaged mom and an effective leader.  I’ve done the far-from-perfect juggle for so many years, but with my twins now in grade school, my oldest stepson about to leave for college, and my stepdaughter leaving in 2 years, the fleeting nature of their childhood is really sinking in. You can’t get this time back, and I feel I have let so many moments pass by without fully being present.  I have poured so much physical & emotional energy to my GAIA family — who are so precious to me — but it is now leaving me too spent to put meaningful energy towards my own family, who unfortunately aren’t getting the best of me.

I've always said that when I started GAIA, it wasn't because I thought "the world needed another handbag line"…. but because I thought that refugee women deserved a warm embrace in their new country, and to have dignified, living-wage work as they rebuilt their lives in a foreign land… and the work might as well be focused on creating something cute and fun to wear!  Over the years we’ve grown organically and gently, watching in awe as our Artisans have grown as well. And now, as I struggled with what my decision to take a step back would mean for them, I've recognized that the time has come where they are actually NOT refugees anymore.  They are mothers, wives, artisans, homeowners… and Americans.  These women have transformed their lives. The warm cocoon we created at GAIA has served its purpose, and the butterflies are ready to emerge.

It’s interesting, the timing.… now that I’ve reached a season in my life where my family needs me more, it turns out that the refugee women we employ need us less.  Funny how God works like that!

Sharing the news with the Artisans and our team has been pretty heart-wrenching, as you can imagine.  There have been some tears — not so much in fear over what’s next, but in sadness over losing the unique, open, and loving community we cultivated here at GAIA.  It’s been pretty special: a compassionate, emotionally connected workplace unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I have reassured the team that our friendships will continue, that the bonds we formed will live on.

Our focus now is to help launch the Artisans into their next chapter as smoothly as possible, so they can secure jobs before our target closing at the end of May.  We’ll be working on resumes, references, mock-interviews, etc. to help equip them and set them up for success.  I’m hopeful that there may be employment opportunities discovered through people within our network.  The wonderful thing is, we know each and every one of our Artisans intimately, and can recommend and vouch for them with complete confidence.  

We are also exploring the idea of creating a sort of 'Sewing Co-Op' or production facility, in which a group of our Artisans take in tailoring work and/or special sewing projects for Interior Designers, other brands, etc..  If this is something that may be of interest to you, and/or you know of any potential employers, please email me at!

Our other primary goal is to celebrate what we’ve created and what the Artisans have accomplished over the past nearly 10 years. Yes, closing our doors is sad, but this will not be a period of mourning.  "Project Farewell" will be a CELEBRATION of the loving community we all shared here, and will continue to share!  So expect parties, gatherings, and a lot of storytelling to recap our journey over the years. :)

As far as my future, I’m excited to continue my work on behalf of refugees, immigrants, and other marginalized groups.  That will never end.  I actually expect to expand my advocacy work even MORE, now that the focus and pressure of running a fashion business is removed from the equation.  There are so many incredible organizations here in Dallas doing inspiring work, and I’m excited to support their efforts, while continuing to use my voice on behalf of the voiceless.  

I read somewhere that a company is the image of those who form it.  For GAIA, that would include our staff, customers, vendors, collaborators, advocates, cheerleaders… all of you, the people who made GAIA possible. So much goodness, continuously providing the wind in our sails over the past 10 years. The love, care, and compassion of everyone who intersected with GAIA is what made it so uniquely beautiful.  And that love will continue to blossom, even though this chapter is ending.   

Closing our doors will definitely be bittersweet -- but our hearts are full.  Can’t wait to see what lies ahead, and what grows out of the beauty created through GAIA.


With Love & Gratitude, 


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Meet Megan

We've always believed in the adage: "Find a career that you love and you'll never work a day in your life." (We like to think that we all feel that way here at GAIA.) But when you meet Megan Julio, you'll find she is the perfect example of this mantra.

The Austin native boasts an impressive retail resume including positions in production, inventory management, merchandising, and wholesale. She has spent the bulk of her career in the wholesale world and previously worked as an account manager for Place showroom, a multi-line contemporary showroom, and Citizens of Humanity. 

And as you can see from her long list of credentials, fashion is definitely Megan's passion, but she felt she had a bigger calling when it came to her career. "I always felt in previous roles that something was missing because my personal values never truly aligned with what I was doing for the company," she explains. "Sometimes fashion needs a little more heart behind it. It can be a disillusioned environment at times." 

The retail vet has always loved GAIA's mission to empower women and do good in the community and world, so she felt the call to reach out to GAIA founder Paula Minnis about a year ago. "We hit it off and shared similar past experiences in the corporate fashion world," she says. "A year later here I am joining the team." 

Megan will be working as the Operations Manager and will be handling the wholesale side of the business. Her personal goal? "I hope I can bring knowledge from my varied background in fashion and wholesale to greatly help expand the GAIA mission to more and more people so everyone can know and love the GAIA Goodness and cheer on the wonderful refugee women we're here to support and empower!" Read on to learn more about Megan. 

What do you like to do in your free time? I'm a foodie and a people person so in my free time as long it involves hanging out with my husband, family or friends and a good meal then I'm happy!
Passions? Family, travel, art, culture
Favorite spots to dine in Dallas? Sixty Vines, Mercat Bistro, Mesero, HG Supply 
Favorite spots to shop in Dallas? Favor The Kind, Flea Style, and of course GAIA! 
Favorite GAIA products? Our earrings! ALL OF THEM. I'm obsessed with the Coco and our sunburst earrings are my go to lately! Pretty soon I might own every color!
What are you reading right now? The Alchemist, Moms on Call & Bringing up Bebe...  can you tell I'm pregnant? I also have a bad habit of not being able to read just one book at a time.
Favorite blogs/social media accounts? GAIA, The Little Market, Camille Styles, People of New York 
Whats the best thing about going to work every day? 
The people! I get to work around so many incredible women each day. The GAIA family truly is a family and in my short time here I've never felt more welcomed, loved, and purposed.

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Our Hopes for 2019

2018 brought plenty of beautiful victories - reunited families, flourishing business, and the welcoming of several shining additions to the GAIA family: both of the infant and coworker variety. As we step into the new year, the gals at GAIA want to engage with the concept of kaizen which means to “continuously improve.” With hearts open and eyes forward, here is what we hope to accomplish this year: 




Buthayna wants to purchase a house this year and also discover how to create more “me time.” A hope that she carries every year is that she will be able to see her family, who, because of the conflict in Syria, are displaced around the world. Tacked onto her previous goals, Buthayna, like the rest of us, wants to exercise more.



With Marzia's growing family, she hopes to find a house this year for her husband and two sweet girls.




 After this year, Huda hopes to be more proficient in English, have radiant health, and add to the happy memories of her family. She also looks forward to hearing good news from her relatives still residing in Syria.




 Feza wants to work even harder to provide for her family in 2019.





Forat wants to apply for her U.S. citizenship this year and she plans on taking the test in August! She also hopes to lean into salam (peace) in 2019 and learn how to be more content with her blessings.





Maria desires good health and to enjoy a beautiful life.






In 2019, Manar hopes that her dream of finally being reunited with her family, after six years, will come true and there will be peace in Syria. She also plans on continuing her education to create more avenues of opportunity in the U.S. 



We hope that your 2019 is filled with love, joy, and peace.


The GAIA Gals

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Looking Back on 2018 With Gratitude

Each passing year that GAIA grows, we have more and more people to thank and acknowledge for helping push our mission along. As we enter into our 10th year (!!), we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past year and show gratitude for our little village of helpers, volunteers, shop owners, and boss babes.



The minute we met local artist Mione Plant, we knew she was a match made in watercolor heaven. Her drive and passion to help others was apparent, and her ideas for partnering were even more inspiring. We teamed up to host kid and adult art workshops in our space that were not only well attended, but a complete blast. Plus, she created an exclusive series of prints for our shop (see if you can spot the GAIA product making sneak appearances!). We know there are more collabs to come with this talented woman.

We also treasure our partnership with Perennials©, a Dallas-based, female-fueled fabric company that has resulted in tons of new high-utility GAIA goodness!

And speaking of collaborations, we've loved teaming up with local Folklore Las Ninas, who partnered with us to create our first necklace for the littles! You'll also see part of their adorable children's clothing collection hanging in our store. {Shop the necklace collection here!}  

We added a few new retail rockstars to our staff this year, including Devin McCrary. Shout-out to Commerce Goods + Supply for gifting us with their sweet former staff member and for featuring founder Paula Minnis as the speaker at their first "Conversations at Commerce" event. (And if you haven't been to Commerce in the renovated Adolphus space, run. Don't walk. It's inspiring us on so many levels.)

As we've mentioned, we made the move to a retail space in an Uptown cottage  last year. And our neighbors at Blue Print welcomed us with open doors. The ladies behind the gorgeous interior design shop included us on their "shop local" map, and helped spread the word to their customers about our store around the corner. And we must say, the staff wears their GAIA goods well. 


When we opened up a retail space, we wanted to welcome other groups in to host their events. (And we take any chance to spread the message of our mission!) For instance, we co-hosted a celebration to commemorate World Refugee Day with Fossil's Mon Amie brand. And other groups used our happy home to host their events too: Kleinert FoundationPHECA, UT Southwestern Faculty Women’s Diversity Group, NCL Turtle Creek, and multiple birthday and bridal shower celebrations!

GAIA exists to empower refugee women, and helping to lift up refugee teens is the perfect extension of that... after all, empowered girls become empowered women! With the help of Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, we launched our GAIA Girls Initiative, and designed bracelets to be made by girls FOR girls, helping refugee women and their daughters create brighter futures for themselves in the U.S.

Meeting Katie Stout opened up another opportunity to spread our GAIA goodness. The marketing guru and founder of Pulley Project invited us to participate in the Opt for Optimism campaign. We received a $100 gift card from Frost Bank, and "frosted" it forward by donating the cash back to the Heart House. We love finding ways to give back. 

Another awesome experience was taking part in "A Day in Dallas." By Way of Dallas and D Magazine handed out cameras to 20 people to document 24 hours in their day, and our very own Buthayna was one of the chosen few! You can read all about it here

Our mission is to employ and empower refugee women. And yes, they really do make every piece that we sell. However, some of our items need a little extra love, and we have Heather Dolan (above right) to thank for her expert skills on the sewing machine. Heather spent countless hours helping our refugee women perfect the Rina top and the Bella bag. We are so lucky to have Heather as a VIP volunteer... then were doubly blessed to have her sweet daughter Drue (above left) intern for us over the holidays!  

Our local Dallas retail partners are always at the top of our gratitude list. Their endless support and understanding of our mission makes us able to do what we do! Major props to Cabana. For the last 8 years, Merry Vose and her team always make us feel at home at the beachy/casual Lovers Lane boutique. If GAIA had a muse, the ladies who shop at Cabana would be it.... when we're creating new looks, we're always considering how our designs will look alongside their expertly-curated assortment! Then just next door, Madre, a beautiful design store for kids, carries our collection of children's items. Our little purses and necklaces fit right into the chic space. If you ever need a hostess gift or wedding shower present, Madison in Highland Park Village is our go-to. They were actually the first retailer to carry GAIA back in 2009! (Trivia moment: Did you know it all started with a dinner napkin?)  Wisteria not only sells GAIA, but they generously let us borrow their studio for our photo shoots. (And they helped us choose some gorgeous items for our new retail space, too!)  We love a trunk show because it allows us to show off our range of products while getting to know our GAIA customers and supporters. Thanks to Carley Seale and her gals at Favor the Kind and Roam for hosting us at two trunk shows this year, we loved hanging with you!! 

 Our hearts are so full of gratitude for our kind and compassionate tribe, and their steadfast support of GAIA and the inspiring refugee women we employ.  As we reflect on the past year, we feel excited for the future. What will 2019 bring? Follow along with us on our journey. We'd love to see you in the store this year! 


P.S. - For a fun visual recap of our year, head to the "2018" Highlight in our InstaStories!



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The Ultimate GAIA Gift Guide

At GAIA, we're making our lists and checking them twice...with GAIA goodies of course! To make your own holiday shopping a breeze, we're sharing our shopping lists with you. (And we may have added some items we'd love to see under our own tree. Hint, hint!) Click around online, or come visit our cottage in Uptown to find the perfect present for your friends and family. And know that when you choose to give a GAIA gift, you're also giving a refugee woman a second chance. 

 Megan, Ops-Overseer-in-Training

This year I’m planning to gift the Coco Earrings to my sister in law. She loves a good statement earring and our Coco magically matches everything. It’s the perfect compliment to dress up or down!

My sister has been eyeing our GAIA Key Rings so I'm excited to surprise her with one this Christmas! She's a busy teacher and has two little boys so she's always on the go and needs an easy solution to find her keys quick and easy. Our key rings are the perfect thing to attach to your purse strap or favorite GAIA pouch so you're never delayed by missing keys again…not to mention, they're just adorable to carry! 

Our new Kennedy Bella Bag is definitely at the top of my Christmas list this year. I LOVE how versatile she is! Bella is reversible and can be worn as an easy date night bag or cute crossbody!

Lauren, Digital Marketing Maven & Strategy Whiz

I have lots of friends having babies, and my go-to gift for them is always a GAIA Diaper Pouch and one of the amazing children’s books we carry. I love the Eden Diaper Pouch because it’s a happy gender-neutral option. “This Is How We Do It” and “Welcome” are usually my go-to book selections!

When in doubt, give a Small Pouch! Sister-in-law, client, friend, teacher… literally everyone can use one, and there’s less pressure on picking the perfect pattern because it’s small enough for them to toss in their every-day bag of choice.

What’s on my wish-list? Um, everything! I love our Sunburst Earrings, I love our Cha Chas, and I’m definitely eyeing our new Bella Bag… but one item I’ve had heart-eyes for awhile is our Asilah XL Tote. I’m banking on a lovely spring in Dallas, and as a new mom, I need more storage than I used to. I’m envisioning lots of lovely picnics at the park with this trusty tote!

Paula,  GAIA's Fearless Leader 

This year I’m feeling inspired by the fashion and textile guru, and self-proclaimed “World’s Oldest Living Teenager”, Iris Apfel. I’ll be gifting her book to my super-stylish step-mom, who never leaves the house looking less than a million bucks.

My sisters--who inherited her great taste and appreciation of all statement jewelry-- will be receiving our GAIA “Jet” Earrings, made by our artisans with hand-polished brass and suede fringe.

I consider leopard print a neutral, so our Marilyn Cha Cha is definitely at the top of my list!


Devin, GAIA Hospitality Guru

I am going get the Elphie Sunburst Earrings for my friend who is always into a bold fashion statement.

I am also going to gift my friend, who is a new mom, with a Diaper Pouch and Bib + Bootie Set. That little baby will be such a stylish cutie!

The GAIA goodie I would like to receive is a Lala Pillow. I love the story of Kufri and dig its playful print!

Brooke, Design & Production Pro

I want to give my sister the washed denim "All The Things” pouch this year. She’s a new mom and this is the perfect “catch all” for her diaper bag that she can wash. 

My nieces will love the Mini Kitty Purses. They’re the perfect size for the littles and they’ll love playing with the pom poms and eyelashes. 

I would love to get the Bella Bag this year. I love that it is reversible and is the perfect size for a night out, but can also be worn with a chain during the day.

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10 Gifts for 10 Personalities

You know you have found the perfect gift when you can just imagine your bestie squealing with joy as she's pulling the tissue paper out of the bag. But no two members of your tribe are alike. That's why we've rounded up 10 gifts for 10 different personalities so you can check everyone off your nice list. 

She's a Jet-Setter

She's always on the go, flying from from coast to coast. She likes to travel light, so help her pack her carry-on essentials with a sturdy Utility Pouch. Each is made from high-performance Perennials fabric, so you can trust it can hold up to her frequent flyer miles.  


She's the PTA President

No doubt she is dashing from here to there, always reaching for her keys. Plus, she's probably balancing a backpack, PTA binder, Yeti, and a Goyard tote all on one arm. She needs a key ring to lighten the load. 

She's Your Mom (Or MIL)

There's no question who reigns supreme in your family. (And her favorite pet name for you is "Honey.") She'll adore the "Queen" small pouch made of French jacquard fabric in a bee print finished with grosgrain ribbon detail. 


She's an Animal Lover

She adopts dogs, stops for cats, and has saved a whale or two. The "Canary" large pouch adorned with cranes is feminine and pretty--the perfect accessory to show off her wild side. 


She's Front Row at Fashion Week

Every fashionista knows that leopard is a neutral. The "Marilyn" Cha Cha bag is the perfect size to hold her Tom Ford lipstick and Stella McCartney sunnies so that she can run from show to show in style.



She's Your Mini Me

Your tot's eyes will glisten with delight when she unwraps the "Dolores" mini heart purse.  The Indian block print fabric and trio of pom poms are as cute as she is. 


She's Your Biggest Fan

Handcrafted from suede & brass, GAIA x Melt earrings blend traditional & modern. They are a rock-solid design for a rock-solid BFF. 


She is #goals

She's always Insta perfect. She even shows up to brunch camera-ready. Give her something to like with this "Domino" tote. 


She's a Doll

If your little loves an accessory, this necklace by Folklore Las Ninos is a perfect stocking stuffer. The design features bright pom poms, a tassel, and a Guatemalan worry doll, which is said to offer solidarity for your worries and doubts. 

She's all Ears

Our pompom and tassel earrings are just the thing for the friend who always answers when you call and is always happy to listen. 

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So Much to be Thankful For

 As we start to make our way into the holiday season, life at GAIA can be pretty hectic. Filling holiday orders, wrapping gifts, and making sure that each customer is taken care of with a smile. (We love what we do!) But amidst the craziness of matching pom poms with the right swatch of fabric, we love to take the time to reflect on the moments during the year that remind of us why we love to work for a company that offers a place for women to support one another. Read on for a few of our GAIA team members' most memorable moment of gratitude and thanks. 

'I became a mom right there in the foyer of our new GAIA home.'

My most memorable GAIA moment of 2018 isn’t hard to pick this year! It was March 20th, the day we moved from our old office to our new storefront. We were buried in boxes, saying goodbye to our sweet space of 4+ years, and then navigating the cardboard traffic at the new location, as the old tenants moved out the same day! It was madness! I don’t think I stopped moving all day, and was just about to unpack the first box when my husband came bursting through the front door of our new studio. I thought he was paying me a surprise visit to congratulate us on a successful move! But instead he told me that he and our adoption caseworker had been trying to reach me all afternoon because we had been matched with a little boy, our son Miles, who was 5 weeks old! I became a mom right there in the foyer of our new GAIA home, covered in dust and dirt, exhausted and satisfied from the craziest most exciting day that just got infinitely crazier and more exciting! I am so thankful for my team. All the GAIA Gals that work tirelessly behind the scenes to make magic happen, and who all stepped up in a big way so that I didn’t have to worry one bit as I stepped away to welcome our new baby boy. There are no other women on this earth that I would rather have by my GAIA or in life! Love you girls, and thank you for all of your love and support through this new season of my life. Miles doesn’t yet know how blessed he is to be constantly surrounded & doted upon by such incredible women! He’s one lucky little dude! -Lauren, Digital Marketing Maven & Strategy Wiz


'I walked into this space and began to tear up.'

Behind the beauty of branding and blouses, it is easy to become disenchanted by all of the work that still needs to be done. But then there are moments that remind you why we are all still here: still truckin’ along, witnessing quirky friendships unfold and lives transform. One of those enchanting moments happened for me during Paula’s birthday party. Manar, Huda, Forat, Buthayna, Mariza, the GAIA Team of past and present were all our interns! I had just finished helping some gals on clean up duty in the kitchen and I was going to get something from the retail space. If you haven’t been to the GAIA Cottage there is this magical vantage point in the hallway where you can view all of the wonders at once. I walked into this space and began to tear up. To my right, between the cash-wrap and chalkboard, our interns were building blocks with Amina (Marzia’s daughter) as Miles (Lauren’s son) crawled around on the floor. To my left, were the women of GAIA: some in matching pink hijabs, some in comfy sweaters, some gathered around the table lavished with pizza and dishes of food which were labors of love. “This is GAIA,” the thought echoed in my mind. We blossomed from one unique friendship and transformed into a community. Women helping women, from all walks of life, by supporting each other, loving on babies as if they were our own, growing in talents, and celebrating our gifts. We don’t always do this perfectly, but this reminded me of what it’s all about. - Devin, GAIA Cottage Hospitality Guru



'These women are more than just coworkers.'

This year, and frankly, every year I have worked for GAIA, I am overwhelmingly grateful for how the GAIA team functions as a true family. This past year, my husband and I experienced a major loss, but also experienced one of the greatest joys: getting pregnant. The GAIA Gals rallied around us and were extremely supportive as we processed our grief, and were just as excited as we were when we found out we were having a baby! I will never be able to put to words how thankful I am for their continuous love and support. These women are more than coworkers, they have become my close friends, and I can’t wait for my son to be surrounded by such strong loving women, who also happen to come from all different backgrounds and parts of the world! My family and I have been blessed beyond measure by the GAIA Gals. - Alyssa, Design & Production Ace


'It's always such a joyous celebration!'

"This summer we invited all of the artisans to the office for a potluck lunch and pictures. It was so encouraging to see all of the women breaking bread together, catching up, and playing with each others' kids. We don’t get to have all of them here very often, but when we do it’s always such a joyous celebration! I’m so thankful that I get to work in a positive environment where everyone is welcomed with open arms. That day at GAIA really made it feel like a home, where all women are welcome at any point in time.” - Brooke, Design & Production Pro


'There are so many special moments.'

Every moment I spend here has a strong memory, whether it's our endless laughter, or the sense of accomplishment after I create the first new product for a collection.  There are so many special moments.  Also, I can't help to think about the moment this past Spring when I was able to travel back to the Middle East to see my Mom, two sisters and their families for the first time in 7 years after being separated when we fled the violence in Syria....which I know could not have happened without the unending support from the team and everyone at GAIA. - Buthayna, Refugee Artisan Trainer & Calmer


'The sense of community at GAIA is contagious.'

As the newest member of the GAIA team, I am most thankful to have been able to experience and learn what being a part of the "GAIA Family" truly means. In my short 3 weeks on the job, I've already witnessed a joint baby shower, a birthday party for our fearless leader Paula, and multiple GAIA Family lunches. I've gotten to love on babies, try Middle Eastern dessert, Afghan cuisine, and immerse myself in a community environment that is full of warmth, love, and diversity. The sense of community here at GAIA is contagious and, as the newbie, I'm quickly learning is part of what makes working for GAIA so special. I'm incredibly thankful to get to work beside so many inspiring, loving, empowered women here and can't wait to see how many more thankful moments this next year brings! Being a member of GAIA is so much more than any other career position I've had, it's truly joining a family; a family I'm thrilled to be a part of. - Megan, Ops-Overseer-In-Training


'I didn’t think it could get any better…'

My work at GAIA has given me so much to be thankful for over years… just having the honor of working alongside refugee women - hearing their stories, being humbled by their resilience and grace, and witnessing their families thrive in their new home - it has truly blessed my soul.   Not to mention my incredible team!!  Watching them joyfully come to work each day to lift up the lives of others just warms my heart… these are some GOOD humans I get to hang with every day!  I didn’t think it could get any better… until our happy GAIA family found our new happy home.  Moving into the GAIA Cottage this past Spring has been such a joyful new chapter in our journey.  A warm, cozy, and inviting environment for our artisans, staff, and guests to gather in has been a dream come true.  Opening a store wasn’t necessarily part of the plan, but that’s turned out to be a blast as well!  The best part is that we’re able to open our doors to the community, building fellowship in way we haven't been able to achieve in the past - bringing people together from different cultures, backgrounds, and faiths.  We’ve hosted Craft Workshops led by our refugee Artisans, and Kids’ Art Workshops with children from multiple cultures creating alongside each other.  This new chapter has definitely had it’s challenges, with a lot of stress along the way… but miraculously, people came into our lives with the desire to help, to contribute in some way.  Artists, Designers, Coordinators, the list goes on. For all of this I am so grateful.  This Thanksgiving, my belly AND my heart will be full!  - Paula, Founder & Ship Steerer 

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Meet Forat

In Islam, the origin and meaning of a name is significant. It bears the burden of ushering the character of the individual and provides prophetic sense of what they can hope to be. Forat means “sweet water” and relates back to the river Al-Forat which goes by another name, the Euphrates. The ancient body of water weaves through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and is regarded throughout history as a metaphor for life. Life tends to fluctuate in its gentleness and ferocity, and like the temperment of the Euphrates, Forat’s life, once filled with walks along the book markets in Babylon, was torn apart and devastated by war and violence in Iraq. With the same force of the Euphrates, Forat has experienced both immense life and devastating pain which she now balances with grace and dexterity as she navigates the waters of being a refugee in Texas.

Searching for Home

After the invasion of Iraq in 2004, the country was left in the throws of a sectarian civil war. Ten years later and the death toll was still rising. From 2014 to 2015, there were almost 19,000 civilian casualties. In the same year there were reported of 36,000 injuries and 3.2 million people were displaced. When asked about life in Iraq at this time, Forat said she felt like she wasn’t alive. She would stay home, because finding a job was nearly impossible while the country roiled by violence. After realizing they needed to find a safe place to live, Forat’s family began applying for refugee status and a visa for the United States in 2009. Three years of rigorous vetting passed before Forat and her husband, Liwaa, and their three children, finally embarked on a journey of resettling in the U.S., in 2012. Unfortunately, their stay wasn’t long. The heartache of leaving their home and everyone they knew in Iraq was unbearable. When Forat’s family arrived in the States, they felt plunged into the isolation of resettling into an unfamiliar culture and an unfamiliar language. Their hardships and the depleted health of Forat’s father drove them to return to Iraq. Back home, the devastation was more than they could bear and the homeland if their memories was too ravaged for them to remain. On November 18th 2014, Forat’s family officially resettled in Dallas, Texas. Forat says; “It’s a special day for me because I feel like I am back home.” She came to the U.S. without knowing any English, apart from a few phrases like: “Good Morning,” “How are you?,” and “No speak English.”

The transition to a new life proved to be challenging, especially to someone like Forat who seeps joyous energy and who’s natural disposition is nothing less than an extroverted powerhouse. She was caught in the limbo between having all of the bureaucracy (visa, social security, etc.) that says Texas is now her home, and the ability to engage with her new community that would make Texas feel like home. Forat remembers visiting White Rock Lake with her family when a woman approached her. The friendly stranger introduce herself in English but she spoke too quickly and Forat could not understand her. All that Forat knew to say was “no speak English” and even though she wanted to reach out, timidity and the language barrier barred her from connection.

The galvanizing moment for Forat’s journey with English was when she recognized the importance of being an advocate for her children. At the doctor’s office, in school, and during their transition into American life, Forat fought like a champ to break down the language barrier by reading children’s books at the library with her kids and engaging with new friends. Life slowly became more palatable. She also had the help of an older American friend, named Margaret, who lovingly told Forat’s children to call her Grandma. With a gentle, “Hey Forat…”, Margaret would correct and encourage Forat in her English and teach her how to read recipes for dishes she can easily make in the States. ESL classes became less daunting with English-speaking friends that could help her along the way.

Time at VTC

Through connections in her ESL class, Forat was lead to to doors of Vickery Trading Company, a local nonprofit with programs for refugee women to garner their skills in english, financial literacy, and sewing. Their goal is to equip resettled women with as many tools as they can, creating a flourishing existence and self-sufficiency. VTC hires refugees from all over the world and a way they create a community that is ties strangers together is by requiring everyone to speak one unifying language: English. Forat recounts how daunting her first two weeks were when she was new to VTC and unable to speak any English. “But I learned with Vickery Trading Company,” Forat recalls, and through her classes and friendships with the international community at VTC, she found a family. After two years, Forat graduated VTC and had the opportunity to dip her toes into a new vocational field with all of her newly attained skills.

The GAIA Family

Soon, Forat found her way to us! Her laugh radiates through our cottage and she is quick to welcome a new face with her transparency and encouragement. Forat fits seamlessly into our GAIA family and we are honored to welcome her! One take away from Forat’s story is that Humans. Carry. On. Even when denied the right to peace and security, there is a deep resilience settled in their soul. We often lose sight that refugees are normal people. They have family traditions and rush hour traffic and dreams of growing old with people they love. They work. They play. They go about their everyday life trying to make ends meet while they pick their kids up at school and wonder if the cat has been fed. Then war enters their narrative. The “everyday” is disrupted when peace splinters. Humans wrong humans. Decisions beyond their control catapult the everyday questions into those of survival.

In several of the conversations with Forat about common misconceptions of refugees, she has a recurring lament she wishes she could share; “We are normal. Refugees are people, just like everyone else.” It is a rather centering idea. Instead of reacting to a narrative like Forat’s with pity or disbelief or disassociation there is an opportunity to engage. An opportunity to acknowledge it isn’t our homelands, skin tone, or religion that binds us to each other, it’s the unity of humanity. As Mother Teresa puts it; “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other-that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister.” It is our duty to enter into the unrest, to provide what is lacking, and love like we belong to each other.


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GAIA Attends the Nest<>Hermès Convening in NYC!

GAIA Attends the Nest<>Hermès Convening in NYC!

GAIA founder Paula Minnis was invited to attend a three-day Artisan Leadership Summit as a guest of Nest, a nonprofit that builds a new handwork economy to increase global workforce inclusivity, improve women's well-being beyond factories, and preserve important cultural traditions around the world. For this year's summit, guests were invited to learn about all-things Hermès. Paula couldn't wait to get to New York to represent GAIA, meet the talented fellow attendees, and peek behind the brand's orange curtain! But most of all, it was such an amazing opportunity to learn from a 181-year-old brand that has always been true to its core identity.

Paula and fellow artisans and brands (including Dallas' Vickery Trading Company) learned from Nest and Hermès leaders on topics such as brand identity, customer service, distribution, and customer retention. It was truly a hands-on workshop with meaningful takeaways and tricks of the trade. 


Experts in their fields, such as Virginia Nam from the fashion partnership division of Instagram, spoke about telling your story via the social media platform, as well as best practices for branding on Instagram. (We think our Instagram account is pretty worthy of a follow if you ask us!)

Here's the fabulous Nest group at the Hermès store in New York! The visual merchandising manager and store manager gave a private tour before the store opened, and the group learned about visual merchandising, including best practices for color, composition, assortment, and display. Drop by our Dallas store sometime to see how we put our new knowledge to use! 

The group got to have some fun too! Paula and the rest of the Nest gang were invited to the Carré Club, a traveling pop-up that shows off the brand's iconic silk scarf designs and showcases artists from around the world. And we even had a celeb spotting. (Yep, that's Miss Martha Stewart!) 

GAIA founder Paula Minnis even got inked! Don't worry, it was just a temporary tattoo to get in the Hermès spirit. It was so fun to learn from the various artists, as well as shop the pop-up's custom scarf designs.  

On the final day, Paula was invited to share what she learned. Her major takeaways: own your unique identity and vision and stay true to your brand; build a strong framework because the roots of the tree are in place from which all the branches grow; and create a genuine customer experience. Our hope at GAIA is that we enchant you, surprise you, and exceed your expectations, all well helping refugee women earn a living wage. Whether you're shopping online for the perfect bag or popping in the store to say hello, our customer experience is one of our favorite parts of what we do every day. (Just wait until you see what our new "Hospitality Guru" Devin McCrary has implemented already! Hint: super cute packaging and wrapping.)


We couldn't leave New York without an orange bag. Inside were DIY leather keyrings. We do love a craft. (And a keychain of course!) To learn more about Nest, visit their website to see why they're a favorite nonprofit of ours. 

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Books We Love - For both Kids AND Grown-ups!

Books We Love  - For both Kids AND Grown-ups!

At GAIA, we believe that education is empowerment. It’s the core of our mission statement to help women through employment, encouragement, and dedication to their long-term success in our local communities. With education as a pillar of what we do every day in our Dallas shop & studio, we love to offer a selection of books that help children grasp the lessons of compassion, inclusion, kindness, and diversity. Start them young! Here are a few favorites we stock in the store:

For the Littles

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill

Why we love it: The New York Times said it best: “These days, it seems more important than ever for books to show young people how to act with thoughtfulness, civility, and kindness.”

What it teaches: This book explores what it means to be kind, from standing up to a bully to asking a new child to play. It also reiterates how any act big or small can make a difference in someone’s life.

Little People, Big Dreams series

Why we love it: This series of books makes big lessons and female role models in history accessible and easy for kids to understand.

What it teaches: We love that each book is a history lesson wrapped into a story about an inspiring woman. Amelia Earhart, Mother Theresa, and Marie Currie all take center stage to teach your children that yes, you can be or do anything you put your mind to.

Hats of Faith by Medeia Cohan and illustrated by Sarah Walsh

Why we love it:The illustrations are beautiful—each one standing on its own as a mini piece of art—and the text is simple and straight-forward.

What it teachesHats of Faith is an introduction to the custom of religious head coverings, such as hijabs, patkas, and turbans. Open up the conversation with your kids about different religions, cultures, and clothing.

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe

Why we love it: Author Matt Lamothe takes children on an international journey to Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia. In each country, the story follows a day in the life of a child. Learn about what they like to play, wear, and how they live.

What it teaches: Children are able to peek inside the world of children who are different from them, but at the same time they may draw conclusions that some of the characters’ daily interactions mirror their own.

For the Bigs

We carry inspirational tomes for adults too! These books are easy on the eyes, but good for the soul. We believe that the beauty on the inside is just as important as the outside, so each coffee table book not only has gorgeous photography, but each one covers a topic that inspires us—travel, fashion, and of course, visionary women. Here are a few of our favorites:

Gaia by Guy Laliberte

Why we love it:  Because of the name, obvs!  Seriously, you know we had to carry a book that shares our namesake.   In Greek mythology, Gaia was the mother goddess who presided over earth. And this book celebrates her in all her glory. Flip through stunning portraits of earth from Guy Laliberte’s private journey in space, reminding us that anything is possible.

Mother and Child by Claiborne Swanson Frank

Why we love it: One (of the many) things we love about our job is meeting the families of the refugee women—their children often joining us at our workspace. So it only made sense to include a book that is about family. This beautiful book captures 70 iconic mothers and what it means to be a mom in the modern age.

Visionary Women by Angella M. Nazarian

Why we love it: The heart of what we do is about giving women empowerment, and this book truly embodies the message to follow your dreams. The author highlights 20 visionary women, such as the youngest Nobel Prize laureate Alala Yousafzai, dancer Carmen Amaya, swimmer Diana Nyad, and more.


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