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  • It Only Takes a Spark: A Peek at Our Design Process

It Only Takes a Spark: A Peek at Our Design Process

GAIA Inspiration Board

Inspiration for GAIA bags, jewelry, and home goods can come from anywhere. Without even meaning to, we’re constantly collecting ideas in our travels, from magazines and blogs, and just being out and about in our daily lives. Getting inspired in a world filled with color, texture, and creativity is easy! Turning a spark into a saleable product, however, can take ingenuity, finesse, teamwork, and good old-fashioned trial and error.

Here we pull back the curtain to give you a look at how we start with an idea and end with rewarding work for our refugee artisans — and fashion and decor we hope you will love.

Starting From Scratch

Let’s start with our Pom Pom bag. While exploring the souks of Morocco in late 2014, our founder, Paula, bought a sweet little handmade pouch embellished with dangling beads and multicolor paillettes. When she got home, she hung it on one of the inspiration boards in the GAIA studio. There it stayed for months, silently stirring director Lauren’s imagination. Early in 2015, while the team was brainstorming, thoughts turned to the little pouch. Lauren had been hoping for a chance to bring it to life. This was it!

GAIA Pom Pom Bag

Our first attempt was to replicate it exactly, but that didn’t quite work out. Several prototypes — and a morning-shower revelation — later, the Pom Pom was born! The final design has an elastic opening and chain strap instead of a drawstring, and fluffy pom-pom embellishments instead of beads. Aesthetically on point with a fairly straightforward assembly, it was an instant hit with the team, the refugee women who make the bags, and customers alike.

Building on What’s Working

Inspiration can also come from existing GAIA designs. Take, for example, the new Cha Cha bag, which is a variation on the Pom Pom. Or our new Sunburst earrings. These tasseled beauties were designed by our jewelry guru Huddy and are built on a scaled-down version of our embroidered earrings, which we knew our refugee artisans were already making very well.

GAIA Cha Cha Bag

And that’s a big consideration for all of GAIA's designs — how easily our artisans can turn out a high-quality product by hand or on a home sewing machine using materials with which they are already familiar. Plus, we want making our designs to be gratifying work for our refugee artisans. We seek feedback from the refugee women. If they find a design too complicated or too tedious to complete, the work won’t be rewarding or empowering. 

What’s more, we consider the cost of materials in a design, and probably not for the same reasons most companies do. When we keep material costs low, we can pay our artisans a bigger percentage of the price of the item. Ideally, the majority of what we (and you) pay for a GAIA pouch, bracelet, or other design is income to the refugee women. The Cleo necklace is a great example of this. Material costs for the tasseled necklace aren’t much, but construction is quite labor intensive, so a greater percentage of the cost of the necklace goes right to the women who make it. And that really hits our sweet spot!

Taking Things for a Test Drive

Between prototype and full-scale production, there’s 'test marketing', of course. Which basically means we all take a new design out for a spin, ensuring it will hold up with daily use and to see how our friends react. We know we've got a hit if we're out and about and the compliments keep coming! Every ooh and ahh and “I'm OBSESSED!”  is a vote for a new design, putting it one step closer to officially becoming part of the GAIA collection.

GAIA Sunburst Earrings

And what gets our vote for favorite GAIA design? We took a quick office poll, and of our recent debuts, Sunburst Earrings came out on top (they complete an outfit, and are light on the lobes). Of our styles that have been around longer, the Roundie got Paula’s vote for its versatility (cross-body, clutch, and reversible), Alyssa chose the Crescent (unique statement piece), and the rest of the votes went to our ever popular Fringie (perfect petite size.)  Drop us a note and let us know YOUR favorites!


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    Paula Minnis
  • Behind the Scenes

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