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~ GAIA Goodness ~

5 Children’s Books to Help You Talk About Refugees and Kindness 

 When we need to teach our children — or ourselves, for that matter — about a complex topic, we at GAIA turn to books. Reading is proven to open our minds and help us empathize with other people.

With the recent events concerning refugees in our country, our founder, Paula, wanted to sit down with her children and give them a glimpse into some refugee stories. She also wanted to remind them of the importance of making others feel welcome and loved in the world — and in their day-to-day lives. When she first shared these kid-friendly reads on Instagram Stories, our followers begged for more. 

So here ya go!

Children's Books

“Welcome,” by Barroux

A trio of polar bears finds themselves drifting out to sea in the French author’s simple, colorful book. At first, they are scared (who wouldn’t be!?), but relief sets in when they finally reach land. That is, until an inhospitable herd of cows forces them to move on — and that’s just the start of a series of rejections. What, oh what, will these bears do!? Buy it here.

Children's Books

“Stepping Stones,” by Margriet Ruurs

Told in Arabic and English and illustrated with the stone work of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, this little book tells the story of a family who flees their war-torn country and after a long, hard journey finds a new life in a new land. It’s a moving masterpiece with a message of hope. A portion from the sale of each book supports an organization that assists refugees. Buy it here.

Children's Books

“Lost and Found Cat,” by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

If you’re an animal lover, get ready to weep. The true story of Kunkush the cat inspires waterworks. A family flees Mosel with their beloved kitty cat secretly in tow and makes it a very long way with Kunkush. But when the family lands in Greece, Kunkush gets separated from his people. What happens later is nothing short of a miracle! Buy it here.

Children's Books

“Because Amelia Smiled,” by David Ezra Stein

Sweet Amelia wears a big grin on her face. She knows that she feels happy, but what she doesn’t know are the far-reaching effects that her smile will have on other people. David Ezra Stein does more showing than telling with his wonderfully detailed colored pencil illustrations. We never get tired of looking at this one. Buy it here.

Children's Books

“If You Plant a Seed,” by Kadir Nelson

This book had us at “bunny,” but its message is deeper than cuteness. The little brown fella in this book learns some important lessons about reaping what you sow — and the vast rewards of planting seeds of kindness. Buy it here.

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GAIA + Spring Break: 7 Perfect Travel Pairings

Spring break is in full swing in some parts of the country. In others, people are just packing up. To help you plan your vacation wardrobe, we (and a few of our fans) pair popular travel destinations with GAIA goods, handmade by refugee women who are rebuilding their lives in the United States.

GAIA Pom Pom Bag

Glamping in Marfa, Texas

The funky desert town of Marfa, Texas, is one of our personal favorite destinations. J.Crew’s Jenna Lyons spends time there each September, and in this month’s issue of Conde Nast Traveler, she shares with readers that on her most recent trip to this magical spot, she packed the GAIA Pom Pom bag we designed especially for J.Crew (available mid-April).

GAIA Tassel Necklace

Sightseeing in Pensacola, Florida

Julia Ussery, a boutique owner in the Florida beach town of Pensacola, pulled together a spring nautical look for Southern Living that incorporates our Cleo tassel necklace. Yes, the city has sand and surf, but it’s also a naval base. This casual yet polished outfit nods to that fact — and it’s perfect for an afternoon stroll downtown and the Museum of Art. 

GAIA Pom Pom Bag

Soaking in Sun in Cabo, Mexico

Something Beachy blogger Kelsey White shows us just how sexy a Pom Pom pouch can be when she hits the popular Mexico resort town of Cabo San Lucas wearing one of our bags made of African mud cloth with a shoulder-baring white dress. Her vacation picks appear this month on the fashion site Foray

GAIA Roundie Bag

Après-Ski in Beaver Creek, Colorado

Half the fun of going skiing is getting dressed to go skiing. The same goes for after the slopes. When you’ve had all the downhill you can take for one day and are ready to hit the town for snacks and shopping, round out the fashion scene with our Roundie (see what we did there?).

GAIA Tassel Earrings

Touring in Washington, D.C.

Part of our team recently visited the nation’s capital, which is a popular spring break destination. (Education doesn’t have to stop just because school’s not in session.) Travel light when touring important historical monuments and museums and accessorize with our Sunburst tassel earrings. Their playful style is a much-needed reminder to smile in a city that sometimes takes itself too seriously.

GAIA Cha Cha Bag

Shopping in Santa Monica, California

On the other side of the country, there’s quite the opposite sentiment. Our friends who live on the West Coast tell us it’s a bit like a permanent vacation. If spring break finds you in La La Land, there’s just one thing to do — OK, there are literally a million things to do, but hang with us — and that’s take our Cha Cha to the iconic Santa Monica Pier after an afternoon of retail therapy.

GAIA Crescent Clutch

Finding Bliss in Scottsdale, Arizona

The Wild West, as it turns out, is the ideal place to cultivate calm. Scottsdale, Arizona, is brimming with spa experiences designed to take you away from it all. Spend your days unwinding and refreshing with facials, massages, and more, and then venture out on the town for some serious eats with a GAIA Crescent clutch.

Marfa image by Paul Joseph via Creative Commons

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Meet Maria

GAIA Refugee Women - Maria

 

Maria Sho is the very definition of the word “sprite.” Tiny, cheerful, and mischievous, she has a twinkle in her eye and a sly smile on her face. And though she speaks very little English, it’s easy to tell she has a quick wit and sharp mind.

Now 40, Maria arrived in the United States with her family in 2009. She joined the GAIA family shortly thereafter, and eight years later is still sewing for us from her home in Northeast Dallas.

Maria and her husband, Jowah Ni, fled Burma for a refugee camp in Thailand in 1996. (Burma is a republic in Southeast Asia also known as Myanmar. Killings, torture, rape, landmines, and forced labor of ethnic minorities by the Burmese military regime are not uncommon.) They lived in the camp, on the border of Thailand and Burma, with tens of thousands of others for 13 years. There, Maria became a mother to their three boys — Sanay, Laurie, and Joseph.

She remembers life in the camp as extremely difficult. She had no work, and Jowah spent much of his time away from the camp, fighting with the Karen National Liberation Army. (The KNLA has been fighting the Burmese government since 1949 for the self-determination of the Karen people of Burma. The Karens are an ethnic minority in Burma.)

 

GAIA Refugee Women - Maria

 

A Fresh Start

When Maria recalls the day an NGO group camp to her camp to ask people to apply to live in the United States, she claps her hands and laughs. She didn’t hesitate to put her name on the list, saying, “I thought, ‘Maybe life is better there than in the camps.’”

And she wasn’t wrong about that.

After thorough mental and physical vetting by various agencies — there are multiple interviews and health tests before a refugee is given clearance to travel to the United States — she arrived in Dallas.

She and Jowah were worried at first. “When I looked around, I didn’t know what to think,” she says. “Jowah thought it was difficult here. We didn’t know where to go and what to do. We didn’t know who to ask for help.”

 

GAIA Refugee Women - Maria

 

A Happy Ending

The International Rescue Committee, an organization that helps refugees resettle and rebuild their lives, introduced Maria to Catherin, another Burmese refugee who relocated to Dallas earlier that same year. The two women became like sisters, sharing their struggles and finding reasons to laugh together as their children also became fast friends.

Catherin was already working with GAIA, and soon Maria joined our team as well. Today, Jowah works in a restaurant, clearing tables and washing dishes. Their three children — now 20, 15, and 11 — are happy and healthy. They all inherited their mother’s hilariously dry sense of humor and have been known to prank us when we call.

 

GAIA Refugee Women - Maria

 

Maria says she is never homesick — a sentiment not often expressed by the refugees who work with us. She says is incredibly happy to be living in a safe place and to have the opportunity to work to take care of her boys. “I never want to go back,” she says.

Maria and the other refugee artisans who work at GAIA are why we exist. They inspire us to work hard and remind us to always be grateful.

To read Catherin’s story, go here. To learn more about about refugee resettlement and how you can help, go to rescue.org.

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The Refined Woman Features Our Founder

Last month, The Refined Woman, a lovely fashion blog and online shop, asked to feature Paula as part of its “Boss Ladies” series. Of course, we said yes to sharing the GAIA story with even more women who might fall in love with our work and help support our mission.

The questions were really fun, and they provide a bit of insight into our founder that you might not otherwise ever get, since our own blog focuses more on the refugee women of GAIA and the products they make, than Paula herself. Read on to find out what makes her happiest, how her idea of success has changed, and how she knows when it’s time to get grounded.

GAIA Founder Paula Minnis

Paula Minnis is the founder of GAIA Empowered Women, a socially conscious fashion line helping refugee women rebuild their lives in the U.S. through dignified employment. She lives with her husband, 4-year-old twins, and two stepchildren in Dallas.

Growing up I really wanted to be
A teacher. Early on, I realized the lasting effect an inspiring teacher could have on one’s entire attitude towards learning.

My go-to order at a coffee shop is
I’m on a Matcha Latte kick. It gives me a less jittery energy boost.

I don’t know how I ever lived without
Google Maps and my car’s back-up camera. I have zero sense of direction, and I’m not the greatest driver.

GAIA Staff

One thing people don’t know about me is
I’m happiest when singing karaoke.

My real life hero is
My husband Todd: he runs 2 businesses, travels often, works tirelessly, and yet is always positive, present and engaged when home with his family. He’s truly an inspiration, and motivates me to be the best version of myself.

What I love about my work is
It’s a privilege to get to know the refugee women and learn about their culture. It’s eye-opening, heart-warming, and humbling. The team of women who work with me to support the business constantly inspire me through their dedication and passion for serving others. And I love our customers!! They have the best hearts, and their support is the reason we’re still here.

The hardest thing about my work is
It’s hard when I feel that we’re not making as much of an impact as we could. There are so many other refugee women in need of employment, but we can only create opportunities for them if we have the business. I put enormous pressure on myself to constantly lead GAIA in a direction of growth.

GAIA Founder Paula Minnis

How I got started with my current career
I began a career in the fashion industry as an apparel buyer right out of college. But after a decade in that industry, I became disenchanted. When I got married and became a stepmom to 2 young kids, I took time off to regroup.

In 2009 I began volunteering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which provides care and resettlement assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. I became a mentor to a Burmese refugee woman, Catherin, and her 2 young children. After enduring over a decade in a refugee camp in Thailand, Catherin faced a new set of challenges upon her arrival to the US…. from learning how to use an ATM to navigating our health care system. Her strength and determination inspired me to do more. When I discovered that Catherin had some basic sewing skills it led to a true “light bulb moment,” and the idea for GAIA was born!

I had been reading about how unlocking a woman’s potential is crucial to the prosperity of a community, and giving women an opportunity to become self-reliant helps cultivate a brighter future for their children. I realized I could pay Catherin a living wage to sew pretty things with vintage textiles I had collected, utilizing my background in the fashion industry to bring it to market. So in late 2009, GAIA, for Goddess of the Earth, was born, with the ultimate mission of helping refugee women thrive in their new communities.

GAIA Staff Women

The dumbest thing I did when I was starting out
Not learning to be more succinct in describing GAIA and our story. Keep your story short and sweet, or eyes begin to glaze over.

How do you balance work, family, and friends?
With the exception of date nights with my husband, I rarely go out at night or even meet friends during the week for lunch. Family and work occupy my time at the moment, and I’m cool with that. I read an article in which Randi Zuckerberg described the Entrepreneur’s Dilemma: “Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends. Pick three.” For me, fitness and friends have fallen by the wayside, and that’s okay. I know there will be a season when I can incorporate all five, but with a growing business and growing children, I choose to allocate my resources primarily in those areas. And I definitely require a good night’s sleep to do so!

GAIA Founder Paula Minnis

I used to think success meant
Making it up the career ladder

My current definition of success is
Being part of something bigger than yourself

An example of when I had to push through my fear of taking risks was when
In 2014 I traveled to Morocco with my sister-in-law, where we camped for 5 nights in the middle of the High Atlas mountains. I also traveled alone for a few days at the end of the trip, which was a little scary, but mostly liberating and exhilarating. I now make it a point to regularly go outside of my comfort zone, either through travel or another experience that I would typically find daunting.

GAIA Refugee Women

I know my work/life balance is out of sync when
If I’ve gone over 2 weeks without exercising, then I know it’s time to squeeze in a yoga class, just to breathe, stretch, and become centered again.

The last time I created something I was proud of was
March 7, 2012, the day my twins Gabriella and Charlie were born. I struggled with infertility for several years, so their birth was a precious gift.

GAIA Founder Paula Minnis

I wish I could tell my younger self
Don’t sweat the small stuff.

The legacy I hope to leave is
I always go back to the Mother Theresa quote ”We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” My hope is simply to leave a drop or two, and hopefully encourage my kids to do the same.

XO, GAIA Empowered Women

Photos: Kelly Sutton, Steven Visneau, Hilary Walker

Be sure to check out The Refined Woman when you have a chance.

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Meet Latifa

GAIA Refugee Women - Latifa 

When Latifa Majri smiles at you, you smile back. You can’t help it. She has a joy that’s contagious, a charming twinkle in her eye, and a warm spirit that draws you in. From the moment you meet her, you feel like she’s an old friend.

Now 45, Latifa moved to the United States with her husband, Duraid Abdulkarim, in 2010. Originally from Tunisia, a North African country on the Mediterranean Sea, Latifa met Duraid in Iraq while visiting her brother, who was studying there. Duraid was her brother’s friend, and before long, Latifa and Duraid were married. 

However, even after they wed, Tunisia would not allow Duraid to become a legal resident of the country. With a war raging in Iraq, the couple couldn’t return to his homeland, so they moved to Jordan to live. 

Displaced but Determined 

Life was difficult even there. Because she was Tunisian, Latifa was allowed to work legally. She got a job sewing clothes. But as an Iraqi refugee, Duraid was forbidden to have a legal job. They did the best they could to make a life. After nine years in Jordan, the couple was chosen by the International Rescue Committee to come to the United States.

GAIA Refugee Women

Latifa says she was elated by news of the move. She knew that having an American green card would mean she would be free to visit her family in Tunisia whenever she wanted — something not available to her while she was living in Jordan. She missed her family deeply, and when her mother died, she was not allowed to return for the funeral. That had crushed her. Since relocating to Texas, Latifa has been home to Tunisia every year to visit her two sisters and brother. 

“I miss them a lot,” she says, “but every day I call them, every day we chat.” She gestures to the laptop sitting on her coffee table, and says, “I am looking for cheap tickets all the time.” 

It’s unusual for refugees to be able to afford frequent international travel, but Latifa is a woman with not only a beautiful smile, she also has a strong work ethic, unflagging determination, and goals. She holds two jobs — making necklaces and handbags at GAIA and taking care of children at a nearby daycare — and is adept at saving money. Duraid works at Parkland Hospital, and the couple lives comfortably in an apartment in Northeast Dallas.

 Firmly Rooted in America 

In June 2015, Latifa and Duraid became United States citizens. “June 2, 2015, I took the test,” Latifa says, remembering the date with that big, infectious smile and obvious pride. “And the ceremony was June 19, 2015. When I passed, I was crying!”

GAIA Refugee Women

Latifa says she loves living in the United States. When she talks about being unafraid here, she gives herself a hug. When she shares that she voted for the first time in the 2016 presidential election, she positively beams.

 Latifa and Duraid knew no English when they arrived in Texas. They had no friends. They had very little money. But they went to school and learned the language. They both got jobs and rebuilt their lives. Seven years after their move, they are healthy and happy and filled with gratitude for the opportunities given them.

GAIA Refugee Artisans

Latfia is one of 19 refugee artisans currently working at GAIA. As her story demonstrates, meaningful work and a living wage are key in a refugee’s efforts to rebuild a happy life. These women are why we exist, and it is our honor and privilege to share their stories with you.

Please take the time to read about Huda and Bothina and keep reading our blog in the months ahead for more of their stories. 

Learn more about about refugee resettlement and how you can help at rescue.org.

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Six Ways to Say ‘I Love You’ With GAIA

  

If we were to draw the time between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, it would undoubtedly be the shape of a heart: one lush curve; a downward sweep; turn the corner; and back up again to a second loving curve. ❤️❤️❤️

 If you’re thinking about sweets for your sweets, let us help. These pretties are the perfect sugar-free way to show your affection. What’s more, they are handmade with love by GAIA’s refugee artisans, who are rebuilding their lives through meaningful work that pays a living wage. What could be more heartfelt than that? 

1. Flower Crown Pom Pom Bag | 2. Elena Mini Heart Purse | 3. Love. Text Pouch | 4. Lala Roundie | 5. Laurel Tassel Necklace | 6. Ruby Sunburst Earrings

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Behind the Scenes at GAIA: Refugee Artisan Visits

All GAIA products — from handbags to jewelry to pillows — are handmade in Dallas, Texas, by resettled refugee women who are using their tactile skills to help rebuild their lives here in the U.S. after experiencing tremendous loss in their home countries.

The "refugee artisans" GAIA employs do most of their work from home. We make (sometimes multiple) weekly visits to each of them, picking up the products they’ve completed, delivering the materials they need to make more GAIA goodness, and just catching up — we may be serious business women, but first and foremost, we're friends!

Behind the Scenes at GAIA

Tag along with us on a recent visit to see Catherin, the first Refugee Artisan to begin working at GAIA, back in 2009.

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When we arrive at Catherin’s Northeast Dallas apartment on a mild January morning for our weekly product pickup, she answers the door with little Juliana on her hip. She smiles and invites us to come in.

Behind the Scenes at GAIA

We've made visits to Catherin's countless times, but the formality holds — she offers us a plate of refreshments. (We always tell her not to bother but she just can't help it!) Today, she puts out a plate of chocolate-covered wafer cookies and apple juice — bring on that sugar rush! — then sits on the sofa with Juliana on her lap. The baby munches a cookie and giggles, coyly trying to steal everyone's attention and, per usual, she is successful. 

Catherin's modest apartment home is immaculate. There’s a cartoon on TV, as there often is. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll get a dance routine from Juliana. (Toddler moves are the best!) Unfortunately for us, she's not feeling the music today. There's a neat stack of GAIA bags on Catherin’s sewing table in the corner of the room where she does the majority of her work. This living room experiences A LOT of living — dance parties, movie snuggles, picnic-style meals, and the frequent whirring of Catherin's sewing machine allowing her to make a living-wage contribution to her beautiful family.

Behind the Scenes at GAIA

Johnna, GAIA's production specialist, walks over to Catherin's "office" and carefully checks each bag, starting with a stack of Fold-Over Clutches. She zips and unzips the bag, inspects the inside, and keeps a tally. Then she moves on to a stack of Cha Cha's and a pile of Lariats.

The prized gingham Pom Pom bags are part of our big J.Crew order (coming spring/summer 2017! Eeek!). Johnna counts 15 and praises Catherin for her trademark quality, admiring the way she has secured each handmade, hand-beaded pom-pom to the bag by hand.  

Behind the Scenes at GAIA

In a white binder that includes a labeled section for each of the refugee artisans, Johnna tracks product inventory and payments to the ladies. Not super high-tech, but it gets the job done! (Shoutout to all our analog ladiez!)

After Johnna inventories each piece — and notes that Catherin doesn’t have the leather she needs to finish some of the bags (rats. Our bad.) — she joins Catherin on the sofa and explains her new assignments.

Behind the Scenes at GAIA

In the week ahead, Catherin will make two prototypes for the GAIA spring collection. (Vendors are eager to see our new designs — coming soon, guys!) Catherin watches closely as Johnna shows her a pattern and lays out fabric and leather to explain how they should be pieced together for the new creations. This begins our back-and-forth R+D process, which could take one week or one month (fingers crossed for the former!).

Next, Johnna shows Catherin a stack of fabrics from which she will make more Cha Chas, and explains how to cut the precious vintage textile to maximize its awesomeness. The fact that Catherin keeps all of these details in her noggin is just remarkable. Sometimes wires get crossed (or Juliana has her way with our neat stacks) and products come out different than we intended, but Catherin's skill and our beautiful textiles make it pretty impossible to really mess anything up. *Knocking on wood.*  

Behind the Scenes at GAIA

Finally, before we leave, Johnna and Catherin take a quick inventory of supplies. Does Catherin have enough beads? What about white fringe? This is the trickiest part of employing women from their homes rather than at one centralized production facility. If we forget something, or they forget to ask, it haults production until our next visit. Although the inefficiency and inconvenience pains us, all of us will jump at the chance to go pay another visit to our talented friends.

Johnna makes a note of what to bring Catherin next time, and then we're off to the next stop: Maria’s home, where we will attempt to count hundreds and hundreds of pom-poms. Say a prayer!

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It's Resolution Time!

GAIA Text Pouches

It’s that time of year again! The time when most of us pledge to work a little harder toward being the best versions of ourselves possible. Some of us just make a mental note (note to self: more greens in 2017). Some of us place actual notes on our bathroom mirrors (don’t forget to floss!). Others of us go so far as to make a vision board and laminate that sucker. But we’ve got a new way for you to remind yourself to stick to those New Year’s resolutions: text pouches!

Each time you pull one of these zippered beauties from your bag or drawer, you’ll be reminded of the promise you made to yourself — as well as the good you’ve already done by supporting the GAIA mission of providing meaningful and well-paying work to refugee women.

One of our resolutions this year is to find more ways to lend a hand to others. To that end, we’re helping you pair your self-promises with our pouches. 

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Promise: ditch the jeans for dresses
Pouch:

GAIA Text Pouches You Fancy 

Promise: wear makeup more than once a week
Pouch:


Promise: set a budget and stick to it
Pouch:

GAIA Text Pouches Adulting

Promise: get a new job
Pouch:

GAIA Text Pouches Hustle

Promise: earn a promotion at the job you have
Pouch:

GAIA Text Pouches Killin' It 

Promise: use all your vacation days
Pouch: 

GAIA Text Pouches Snow Bunny

Promise: spend more time with your peeps
Pouch: 

GAIA Text Pouches Tribe

Promise: make more time for your SO
Pouch: 

GAIA Text Pouches XOXO

Promise: try to make a baby
Pouch:

GAIA Text Pouches Mamacita

Promise: always show you care
Pouch:

GAIA Text Pouches Love

We've got even more text pouches to choose from, so get creative! We at GAIA wish great things for you in 2017!

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A Look Back at 2016

It’s been an amazing year here at GAIA. So many cool things have happened for us — things that have allowed us to further our mission of providing meaningful employment to resettled refugee women. It’s humbling and inspiring to see how each small step we make impacts lives. Take a look back at 2016 with us — and stay tuned for what we are sure will be the best year yet.

Kufri Textiles x GAIA 

JANUARY: GAIA partners with KUFRI to create our first textile line, gorgeous ikat patterns handwoven in India that we use throughout our entire collection — clutches, pouches, pillows, and even our embroidered earrings!

GAIA Refugee Artisans

JANUARY: Bothina and Huda join the GAIA team. Both beautiful and talented, these Syrian refugees and in-laws were relocated to the United States in December 2015. They came to work with us at the first of the year.

GAIA Earrings 

FEBRUARY: News of the first GAIA earring collection perks up ears from coast to coast.

Paula Minnis GAIA Founder

MAY: Our founder, Paula, is accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, for local business that are poised for growth.

 The Little Market x GAIA

JUNE: On World Refugee Day, fair trade marketplace The Little Market begins selling GAIA handbags, pillows, and more, introducing the brand to a larger audience.

Wisteria x GAIA

JULY: Wisteria unveils a custom pillow collection from GAIA, sold exclusively at its Dallas store and made by refugee artisans Huda and Bothina.

GAIA Blog

AUGUST: Knowing we have important stories to tell, we launch a blog!

J.Crew x GAIA

SEPTEMBER: GAIA appears at New York Fashion Week, when J.Crew features us as part of its spring 2017 presentation.

Lauren Conrad Vists GAIA

SEPTEMBER: Lauren Conrad visits us in Dallas for our collaboration with her e-shop, The Little Market.

Southern Living Magazine Features GAIA

OCTOBER: Southern Living magazine recognizes our founder, Paula, as part of its first Beauty Awards, which honor “real Southern women doing extraordinary things.”

OCTOBER: Catherin, GAIA’s first refugee artisan and the inspiration behind the company, becomes a U.S. citizen. In November, she voted for the very first time.

GAIA Refugee Artisans

OCTOBER: Demand for GAIA’s products reaches the point where we're ready to welcome new refugee artisans to the team. One of the first ladies, Kholoud, is pictured here on her first day on the job.

GAIA Refugee Women

NOVEMBER: The beautiful and talented Bothina is promoted to Refugee Artisan Coordinator and Trainer.

GAIA Laurel Necklace

DECEMBER: The Laurel necklace goes live. This stunning addition to our jewelry collection was designed by Huddy and is made with love by Congolese refugee artisan Feza.

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Why Refugees??

GAIA Empowered Women

Hi GAIA Family, Paula here!  In the midst of all the holiday hustle & bustle - when we can easily get caught up in the stress of shopping, getting cards out, and traffic woes (guilty)  - I wanted to pause, and take a moment to write about something close to my heart.

Since founding GAIA in 2009, I’m often asked “Why refugees?” There are so many people out there who need help, what is it about this group in particular that made me want to advocate for them?

Well, I definitely didn’t wake up one day and decide to create a business to employ refugees. GAIA was inspired by a personal experience that greatly affected me, which grew into a deeper understanding of why and how resettled refugees in our community should be lifted up and encouraged to thrive.

I never would have created GAIA had I not met and mentored Catherin, a Burmese refugee. She had just recently arrived in the United States, after spending more than a decade in a refugee camp, where her first two children were born. She was shell-shocked, shy, and a bit stoic, but with a quiet grace and warmth I came to know as we spent time together. I also came to see the immenseness of the challenges she faced in her new home — this is what planted the seed for GAIA.

So why refugees?

GAIA Refugee Women

1.  Refugees are success stories waiting to happen. 

Most refugees arrive here with next to nothing — few belongings or resources, and limited exposure to the Western world and our culture. Some, as in Catherin’s case, have never even used a stove or an ATM, but many have left behind lives more similar to ours, where they had microwaves and cars — and jobs.  

Although each refugee group is different, what unites them is the desire to work. They don’t want to just “receive,” they want a job that allows them to support themselves and their families, that gives them a sense of purpose and belonging in a foreign land. When Catherin began sewing napkins for GAIA, I could sense her confidence building and her happiness level growing. She began to smile!!  

When refugees come to the U.S., they grasp at every opportunity to thrive. Many have had to rely on aid to meet their basic needs when living in refugee camps. If they are lucky enough to be resettled here (our vetting system is the world’s strongest), they’re eager to integrate and become productive members of their communities.  

Yet, all too often, their enthusiasm can be diminished by the feeling that they aren't welcome here -- that they should "go back to where they came from."  Can you imagine being forced to flee your home, wait in limbo for years to finally be offered a safe haven, then arrive to a new country only to find that people don't want you or your children there?  Even though you fled the same horrors they're all afraid of??  It breaks my heart.  Such lack of compassion and humanity is not what this nation was founded upon.       

Remember, our country was built by industrious immigrants; helping today’s immigrants become engaged members of our community is a win-win for everyone.

GAIA Refugee Women 

2.  It’s important to remember where we all come from.

America’s founding fathers were refuge-seekers! Our country has a proud tradition of providing a safe haven for the world’s most vulnerable, helping them settle in a new land, the way many of our parents and grandparents did.  We're a nation of immigrants, from all nationalities, backgrounds, and faiths.   

The inscription on Lady Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

GAIA Refugee Women

3. Politics aside, we were taught to love thy neighbor.

As a Christian, my faith and understanding of the Bible are constantly evolving (I still have a lot to learn), but one of the first lessons I recall was “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is taught across virtually all of the world’s religions. The Golden Rule!  We may have different beliefs and different places of worship, but we have a shared humanity. Refugees are people just like us who have been forced to leave their homes, their lives torn apart. Let us welcome them with open arms!

If you're interested in helping refugees, I encourage you to contact the International Rescue Committee to find out how.

XO,

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