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~ GAIA Goodness ~

We're Home!

GAIA shop in Dallas

This Spring, the GAIA family moved into new digs! After outgrowing our former workshop & studio, we were so excited to find a bigger home — in a beautiful old carriage house in Uptown Dallas, no less — and open our first retail store. There we are selling not only our own handmade collection but also a carefully selected assortment of items from like-minded companies.

GAIA shop in Dallas

Recently, our founder Paula spoke with D Magazine about the new shop and showed off our pretty new place. Read that story and see lots of photos.

GAIA family

To celebrate our opening — and get some beautiful photos of our team in the new space — we brought the whole GAIA family together. It’s something we are rarely able to do, and so it was an extraordinarily special day of laughter, loving on babies, and sharing food from all over the world. Women from seven countries — Burma, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Congo, and the United States — celebrated sisterhood and christened our happy new home. By the end of the gathering, our hearts (and bellies) were full.


GAIA refu

Every one of us is so grateful to do what we do, and we welcome you to drop by 2417 Mahon Street in Dallas to shop our curated collection in person or shop goods made by our refugee artisans online now.

GAIA for Women

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Those Magic Moments

Working at GAIA is unlike working at most small fashion companies. We do all the same kinds of fun product research and development you’d expect from a company like ours. We get to play with beautiful textiles and analyze trends and design accessories that we think people will love. But because we employ resettled refugee women to bring our products to life, we have an opportunity to witness a process — and be involved in lives very unlike our own — that is rare and special. It’s not always easy. What our refugee artisans have been through is heartbreaking, and their stories are often painful to hear, especially Bothina's, which has touched people around the world. But the flip side of difficult times are magic moments.

Each of us at GAIA has heard and seen things during our workday that made us pause and catch our breath, caused us to stop and reflect on our blessings, or sent us to the bathroom with a lump in our throat. These moments of overwhelming emotion are as much a part of the job as matching a striped fabric with the right pompom — and we wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. They make our jobs unique, remind us that we are doing something truly powerful for other people, and help us find meaning in our own lives.

Here we share a few of our most magical moments with you.

Bothina Goes to Washington

‘They Know Who You Are’

I love that our brand name doesn’t just end at “GAIA,” because the second half of our name, “Empowered Women,” is the most important. We are in the business of being and developing empowered women. When I first starting working at GAIA Empowered Women, I thought I was empowering the refugee artisans I was working alongside, but I was wrong. All the women here — admin staff and artisans together — challenge, encourage, and lift one another up. There are quite a few moments that have left me thinking, “Wow, I am so lucky to be working and experiencing life with these ladies. How has God been so good to me?!” One of those moments came recently when a film crew was in the office talking to Bothina. Bothina has been a voice for — and given a voice to — refugees around the world. The IRC took her to Washington, D.C., to make a stand for refugees. They have interviewed and videoed her countless times, but I will never forget when one cameraman told her, "Bothina, [refugees] know who you are. They've heard your story, and you have given them hope for their futures.” Does it get better than that?!? — Alyssa, production & development manager

Huda GAIA Refugee Artisan

‘I Cannot Imagine Five Years’

A moment that comes to mind is a morning when Huda came into the office and told us that she was leaving for Germany in two weeks for a month. At first we were all shocked to be given such short notice, but after digging deeper we began to understand: Huda had not seen some of her family members — including her son — in five years! I was blown away by this. She teared up when she was telling us how excited she was to finally see her son and meet his wife for the first time. She had so much joy telling us all that they would do and how excited she was to take this trip. It is amazing to be able to give these women the opportunity to be reunited with their families. I get homesick and miss my parents if I go a few months without seeing them, so I cannot imagine five years. I think about all the things that have happened in my life in the last five years and what it would've been like not having my parents there. The more I thought about Huda’s trip, the more overcome with emotion I became. — Brooke, production coordinator

GAIA Refugee Women

‘I Stand by Their Sides as a Sister’

I remember a local television news crew was here in the office filming Bothina (it happens a lot), baiting her with questions about the election and asking her about her vetting experience as a Syrian refugee. I say “baiting” because they were phrasing their questions to get a dig or a heavily polarized comment from her. Instead of taking the opportunity to be negative, Bothina spoke eloquently about her vetting and resettlement. She talked about how working at GAIA is so much fun — a much-needed reprieve after a harrowing several years — and how each of us on the team has been her friend and her champion through it all and how thankful she is for us. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I remember sitting at my desk, eyes filled with tears. I was caught off guard by my emotion and avoiding Bothnia’s twinkling eyes as she knew she had got me! Empathizing with our refugees’ traumatic experiences and mourning with them in their unfathomable losses overwhelms me every time, but the honor of standing by their sides as a sister who loves them and cares for them more than they even know overwhelms me just as much. — Lauren J., director of operations

Bothina GAIA Refugee Artisan

‘I Had Never Heard Bothina’s Story’

My magical moment was when the IRC came to the office to video Bothina. They were set up in the front room of GAIA and were interviewing her while I worked at my desk. I could hear her telling her story to the IRC while I was working. I had never heard Bothina's story from her point of view in her voice, and it really overwhelmed me. I walked to the back of the workroom and started crying about how strong she was after everything she had been through. — Lauren G., head of digital

Catherin GAIA Refugee

‘Catherin Has Come So Far’

There have been many magic GAIA moments for me through the years, of course, but a big one happened in late October, when my husband, children and I visited Catherin and her family in their new home! It’s so incredible to see how far Catherin has come. When I met her in 2009, she was a stoic, shellshocked Burmese refugee, patiently learning how to use a stove (among other things) in her tiny, one-bedroom apartment in Dallas. To see her now — a naturalized U.S. citizen living in a beautiful home on a tree-lined street with a yard and enough bedrooms to allow her teenage daughter to have her own room for the first time — just makes my heart want to burst. It’s pure joy! — Paula, founder

Bothina GAIA Refugee Artisan

‘She Just Hugged Me’

One day a new tenant moved into the office behind GAIA and the owner came around to our office to meet all of us. When we were introduced, she just hugged me. She was so welcoming and it was so moving to have a stranger hug me and tell me that she was glad I am here. Bothina, artisan trainer

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Why the Price Is the Price

Hi GAIA friends... Paula, here!

As you may already know, we like to pull the curtain back a little bit on how we do things. From a behind-the-scenes look at visiting one of our refugee artisans to a peek at our design process, I love sharing with our friends and customers just what goes into the products we sell.

Sometimes we’re asked why GAIA accessories cost what they do. After all, if we’re not using semiprecious stones or exotic leather, why the heck do our earrings and handbags cost upward of $100? In the age of fast fashion — and, listen, I occasionally like a cute $35 Zara top as much as the next gal — we’re all accustomed to clothing and accessories being really inexpensive.

However, inexpensive often equates to 2 things: 1) the materials used are of a lower quality and/or 2) the person making the item is not being paid fairly for his or her work. That is what sets GAIA, and other like-minded ethical brands, apart. Let me break it down.

For starters — and this is the most important part — GAIA pays our refugee artisans a living wage for their work. This is a core component of our mission statement. Minimum wage in Texas, where we are based, is $7.25 per hour. The living wage for a family of four in our area (that’s two working adults and two children), according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, is more than twice that. It’s $14.69 per hour, to be exact, which is why GAIA pays our artisans on average $15 per hour. How does that compare with other countries? A 2014 Bloomberg news article puts the average manufacturing wage in China at the U.S. equivalent of $3.52. In India, it’s just 92¢.

A large portion of the fabrics we use are artisan-made and/or vintage textiles of the highest quality. We also source eco-friendly organic cotton or hemp textiles, which can be a bit more expensive. Because most of the fabrics are extremely limited in quantity, we try not to waste an inch, which is why you might sometimes see an earring or a beaded necklace echo a pattern from a pouch or a bag. This is one way we keep costs down. In addition, we constantly strive to source our materials from ethical, fair trade vendors. For example, it took us a good while to find the right source for the brushed brass rings on our Cha Cha and Tote bags. Finally, we discovered Matr Boomie, which empowers 20,000 women and minorities in 40 communities throughout India.

And then there’s the matter of wholesale, which is often not something a retail customer considers. About 70 percent of our business is selling to other businesses — retail stores that purchase a large volume of our product at a discounted wholesale price, then mark it up to sell to their customers. We love our wholesale accounts because they order so many items at once, providing significant income to our refugee artisans in a single transaction!    However, because we want to keep our final retail prices more attainable, our wholesale margins on most of our products are way lower than most other fashion companies. In fact, if we were exclusively a wholesaler, we wouldn’t survive on our margins. We would have to increase our wholesale prices, resulting in an increase in the final retail price to the customer. Instead, we choose to keep our final retail prices on the more reasonable side and count on the profit margins through GAIA items sold on our website to offset our lower wholesale margins.

I hope that makes sense.

And I hope that the graphic below makes it easy to understand the costs that go into one of our products and why. Our Embroidered Earrings retail for $110, but we wholesale them for half of that at $55, so our profitability is mostly based on the lower number. You can see that though a price might seem like a lot, it’s actually not, considering all of the costs it must cover!

So, in a nutshell, charging less for our product would mean lowering our refugee artisans’ wages, which would essentially change our entire business model. The GAIA support staff is definitely not getting rich doing this work and they graciously accept lower wages than they might earn elsewhere (I personally have not taken a salary yet) in exchange for the meaningful, rewarding, and life-changing work we do on behalf of those in need.

Providing living-wage employment to refugees is why GAIA exists, and for us to change that would compromise our core mission. It is my hope that providing this window into in our costs and pricing will not only help you feel even better about your GAIA purchases, but that it might also encourage you to reflect on your buying power as a whole and to be more intentional in how and where you shop.

Know that when you make a GAIA purchase, you are purchasing something touched by real hands, by real women who have endured atrocities unfathomable to most of us. Know that you are helping to restore their dignity, creating the opportunity to rewrite their stories. Yes, you are adding something beautiful to your wardrobe — but you are doing so very much more!

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Two Ways Upcycling Benefits Our Brand

We’ve been thinking a lot about the environment lately, trying to better understand our responsibilities and the actions we can personally take to protect the planet and live more lightly on it. Living lightly is a philosophy that is baked into the GAIA business model — GAIA means “Mother Earth” after all — and we’re proud of how we upcycle materials, not only because it eliminates waste but also because upcycling allows us to invest more in people than we do in materials.

GAIA Vintage Textiles

The Textiles

GAIA is a textiles-based brand, and the majority of the fabrics we use are vintage, upcycled, or made of eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton or hemp. Most of our textiles are very limited in quantity and special in this world, so our goal is to use as much of each piece as possible. Once we make a larger item, like a pouch or handbag, we use fabric remnants and scraps in everything from earrings to necklaces to the linings of our bags. We try not to waste an inch!

GAIA Earrings

The Product

For example, we incorporate remnants into our Cleo tassel necklaces. Not only does this use those extra bits of fabric that another company might toss in the trash, it also means that each necklace is a one-of-a-kind original. The same goes for our fabric-wrapped Beaded necklaces. We also use leftover fabric in our Mini Heart and Mini Kitty purses for littles. But our favorite example of how we try use literally every little centimeter of fabric: our earrings. Textile remnants are the centerpiece of each show-stopping pair!

GAIA Refugee Women

The People

As you may know, GAIA exists to help resettled refugee women rebuild their lives in the United States through meaningful work. We pay our artisans a living wage to craft the collection, and most of the women work from home, where they can set their own schedules and take care of their children. Our use of vintage, repurposed, and sustainable materials supports that mission, too: Not only do those types of textiles reduce our environmental footprint, they also allow us to invest more into labor. In other words, we’re putting more money in the people who make our product — which is what we at GAIA are all about!

If you’re interested in ways that you personally can impact the environment, we encourage you to check out

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GAIA x J.Crew!!

GAIA for J.Crew

As you might have seen on our Facebook or Instagram, GAIA products are now in select J.Crew stores all over the United States and abroad, as well as online.

It’s a big moment for us — one that was nearly a year in the making. We are beyond thrilled to see our beautiful handmade earrings, pompom bags, and hair ties (more on that later) under the J.Crew umbrella. It’s not something we aspired to, but the implications for our little brand are huge: More people find out about our products, which means more sales. But what’s meaningful about that is it means we get to hire more refugee women! And that’s why we’re here!

So how did this partnership happen? And how did a tiny brand with a tiny team working out of a 950-square-foot office pull off production of 6,200 individual handmade items? Sit tight and we’ll tell you.

GAIA Instagram

The Discovery

Last May, our founder Paula shared a photo of herself in a striped J.Crew dress on GAIA's Instagram account. Paula tagged J.Crew, along with her GAIA pieces. The company’s creative director, Jenna Lyons, saw the post and “liked” it, along with several other photos on our feed. She also shared a few of our images with members of her team. Which, of course, we didn’t know.

Cut to two months later, when we get an email from the brand buyer who oversees J.Crew’s partnerships with third-party brands, called "In Good Company". She told us that they’d anonymously ordered three Pom Pom bags and that they were obsessed with them. She said that Jenna had carried one to a wedding and loved it. She asked if we could make some samples for potential consideration for the spring 2017 collection.

Of course, we said yes!

They sent us some of their fabric yardage and we made 16 samples, using a mix of their fabrics and ours. They said they might use them in their September Fashion Week presentation in New York. (What!?)

We tried not to get our hopes up because they kept reminding us that the bags might not be used and that even if they were used that they might not be picked up for stores. All summer, our team struggled to keep our composure, knowing that we might appear at New York Fashion Week! We were still flying high just from the fact that Jenna was following us on IG — never mind that J.Crew was interested in our products!

Deep breaths, like, all the time.

 GAIA for J.Crew

GAIA for J.Crew

So then, lo and behold, Fashion Week rolls around, and on September 11, several styles of our Pom Pom bags show up in their presentation! We were freaking out, to put it mildly. But would they get picked up by stores? Would J.Crew actually place an order? We didn’t know. And we would have to wait. And wait. And wait.

We were getting nervous.

And then, about a month later, they finally reached out and said they’d taken so long because they loved all the bags and it was hard to choose!

The Order

When the order came, it was initially for three styles of Pom Pom bags.

Gaia for J.CrewGAIA for J.CrewGAIA for J.Crew 

But a few weeks later, the J.Crew accessories team emailed and asked if we could make hair ties with pom poms. We hadn’t done it before, but Bothina figured out the construction for the initial samples we were able to send the company an assortment of color combos.

Gaia for J.CrewGAIA for J.CrewGAIA for J.Crew

And then, when Paula went to New York and met with J.Crew buyers they saw her GAIA tassel earrings. They asked for samples and then chose three styles from our existing collection.

GAIA for J.CrewGAIA for J.Crew

The full order comprised 4,200 hair ties; 1,200 Pom Pom bags; and 400 pairs of earrings.

This was by far the largest order we’ve ever received. Now we had to figure out what it would take to fulfill it. We starting by plotting out how many of each item needed to be completed each week and compared it to existing resources. At that time we had six refugee artisans, and we quickly realized we needed triple that number.

So the team reached out to the International Rescue Committee, who began to recruit potential candidates. We held several interview sessions in our office before choosing the 12 women who were the best fit.

We then enlisted Alyssa to oversee production and Johnna to oversee sourcing. One of her biggest challenges was finding a reliable quality source for the elastic bands we needed to make hair ties.

Gaia for J.Crew

Gaia for J.Crew

Gaia for J.Crew

The Fulfillment

A big order like this one forces a little company to shore up. For GAIA that meant not only hiring more people, but also streamlining processes, putting system in place, and formalizing training.

Gaia for J.Crew

Volume was the challenge. Each Pom Pom bag has seven pompoms — we needed 8,400 pompoms for the bags — and each hair tie has two — which meant 8,400 more. And every GAIA pompom is made by hand. There were refugee women all over Dallas making pompoms nonstop for weeks! We knew we had the earrings down, it was just a matter of getting 800 individual pieces made. The hair ties were a little tricker, because we hadn’t done them before and our supplier was late delivering the elastic bands, which put us in a time crunch.

Gaia for J.Crew

Gaia for J.Crew

Ultimately, we were in the thick of things for more than a month — and it all got done only with the help of many, many volunteers. GAIA friends and family came to our office on multiple Saturdays to help us inspect each product and attach the hangtags hand-signed by our artisans. It was a family affair — Lauren J.’s mom flew in from California, both Paula’s mom and step-mom volunteered their time, and the husbands did their share as well! One friend of ours even threw a party at her house one evening where people did quality control. (Everything had to be perfect!) We all took home bags or ties to tag each night. A neighbor let us store the inventory in her office. Toward the end, we had to pull out all the stops!

And then we packed it all up and sent it to New York. Whew!

Gaia for J.Crew

The Fulfilling Things

This order was a turning point for GAIA. Whatever happens next, we grew so much from the experience.

Our hearts are warmed by the outpouring of support we received from every direction, and we are in awe at what an incredible partner J.Crew has been. They liked us for who we are, never asking us to change what we do or how we do it, fully believing in the mission behind our brand and showing us a lot of patience and grace when we needed it.

What has happened feels surreal at times. To know that J.Crew elected to use its massive international platform to feature a little company that exists to employ refugees and to bring awareness to refugees living in the United States is significant in many ways, especially in a time of anti-refugee sentiment. GAIA refugee artisans now have a world stage on which to shine.

We didn’t dream this dream that is now a reality, but we are forever grateful.

Gaia for J.Crew

J.Crew Order by the Numbers

18 refugees artisans
800 earrings
1,200 Pom Pom bags
4,000 tassels
4,200 pompom hair ties
16,800 pompoms

Gaia for J.Crew

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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.


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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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.


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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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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GAIA Office Tour + Meet Our Team

GAIA Office Tour + Meet Our Team

Step into GAIA headquarters, and you’re stepping into a showroom, office, and workshop all in one. 

The first things you see are the colorful, handmade fashion and home accessories crafted by the refugee women the company employs. Shelves of clutches, bins of pouches, trays of bracelets, and racks of beaded and tassel necklaces are as enticing to fashion-loving women as candy is to kids.  


Just beyond the showroom is a space filled with the tools the team needs to take every product from cool idea to ready-to-sell. Raw materials are stacked floor to warehouse-high ceiling along one wall; two huge worktables made of door blanks and IKEA cubbies provide places for measuring and cutting textiles. Some desks hold sewing machines, others have iMacs and laptops.  


The experience is a bit like being in a taffy factory — where you can see sweet things coming together right before your eyes and leave with something wonderful, whether it’s a Pom Pom bag in your hand or a good feeling in your heart.

The women employed here agree: A lot of hard work takes place at GAIA — and lot of joy too!


“GAIA is where we are today because of our stellar team,” says founder Paula Minnis. “They’re the ones who get it all done. Their passion for serving others and dedication to the GAIA refugee women is truly remarkable — and a constant inspiration to me! Creating brighter futures and empowering women are all in a day’s work for these gals.

Let’s meet the ladies who — along with Paula — make the magic happen.


Name: Lauren Jarrett
Postion: Director of Operations

Length of time at GAIA? September marks my five-year GAIA-versary!

Describe a typical workday in six words.

Emails, textiles, women, planning, strategizing, celebrating.

What’s one thing you’ve learned at GAIA?
The way we (Americans) do things, think about things, and act on things is largely American. Our ways are not necessarily the universal ways or even the best ways. That’s a pretty obvious statement, but working with women from such varying cultures, all of whom have differing customs, communication tactics, expectations, and needs (not to mention languages!), has made me realize just how deeply rooted my assumptions based on my American upbringing are. The same goes for the refugee women and their cultural norms. They experience this conundrum on an even larger scale, as they try to decode and function in the Western world. Certain cultural differences are obvious and therefore easily navigable. But as culturally sensitive and aware as I think I am, I am constantly confronted with challenges derived from crossed wires: things I assume to be universally understood that are purely Western, or things the women perceive as normal that are interpreted entirely differently by my American self. Though our differences can make conducting business and getting on the same page a challenge, it is always interesting and stimulating to me. I’ve traveled quite a bit in my personal life, but it's safe to say I’ve had more of an international experience while living in Dallas!

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at work?
That’s a hard one… We laugh a lot. Our home team really enjoys each other, but I think we would all say that our favorite moments involve the women. Visiting Catherin and her precious wee ones makes my face hurt from smiling so big and my heart feel so full! Visiting Maria is always hilarious — she’s a total ham. My favorite days in the office are Wednesdays and Thursdays when Huda and Bothina come sew at GAIA HQ. They bring this humble joy with them that is contagious. 

Morning drink? 

I always arrive with hot black tea — summer heat or not! My dad is Irish and English, so tea is a given.

Afternoon habit? 

My hubby makes me an iced Americano with almond milk before work every morning. It is my lifeblood come 3 p.m.


Name: Alyssa Foreman (also know as “Ace” or “Al”)
Postion: Production and Development Manager 

Length of time at GAIA? A little over a year.

Describe a typical workday in six words. 

Textiles, refugees, singing, handwritten notes, inventory.

What’s one thing you’ve learned at GAIA?
GAIA has taught me so much and has changed my life perspective in many ways. The most important lesson I have learned has been that circumstances shouldn’t determine someone’s worth or future. Resiliency is dependent upon one’s hard work and perseverance — and the support and love they receive from those around them. Being surrounded by brave women who have overcome life’s worst occurrences has taught me to be strong, thankful, accepting of others, and to never give up. 

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at work?
I have two favorite/fun activities. I absolutely love when the GAIA gals dream and strategize about the future of GAIA. It is so exciting to see where we have come from and the potential we can achieve. Secondly, I love spending time with the women! It is always a party when Bothina and Huda come to the office. It feels less like work and more like girl time. Also, one of my most fun moments was when I was picking up finished products from Latifa, and my quick pick-up turned into a full-blown breakfast with her. She makes the best morning bread! 

Morning drink? 

Every morning I come in with a coffee and green smoothie in hand. 

Afternoon habit?
Eating an apple with peanut butter or grabbing a coffee.


Name: Lauren “Huddy” Huddleston

Position: Jewelry Specialist 

How long have you worked at GAIA? Six months.

Describe a typical workday in six words. 
It’s not work if I’m having fun! (OK, that was seven.)

What’s one thing you’ve learned at GAIA? 
GAIA has taught me to reach out of my comfort zone creatively and socially. I create jewelry while incorporating textiles. And using a sewing machine? I'm still working on that part! 

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at work?
Every day is fun at GAIA because I have made such great friends here. Recently, I was working with Feza, and her children, Adija and John Michael, came downstairs to visit with me. We talked about how nervous they were to go into kindergarten and fourth grade. They are so cute, and hearing their funny stories about school always makes my week! 

Morning drink?
I love a berry La Croix, but sometimes I have a coffee with a lot of hazelnut sweetener! 

Afternoon habit?
I crave something athletic to reboot my brain. It makes me more productive for the afternoon. 


Name: Johnna Sheppard
Postion: Production Specialist

Length of time at GAIA: One month.

Describe a typical workday in six words. 
Implementing new systems; learning the ropes! 

What’s one thing you’ve learned at GAIA? 
I'm learning so much about GAIA — the products, textiles, production, etc. What I value most is learning about the refugee women, their personal stories, and their culture. 

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at work? 
One of the best parts of working at GAIA is being around the people I work with. 

Morning drink?


Afternoon habit? 
I like a La Croix in the afternoon — love the bubbles. 


Curious about the refugee women who work at GAIA? We thought you might be

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