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~ GAIA Goodness ~

Meet Marzia

GAIA Refugee Women - Marzia

One look at tiny Marzia and you know that she’s one of a kind. Her colorful clothing tells you right away that she’s a lighthearted soul with a fun personality. Her bright smile and sweet laugh draw you in with hopes of learning more. What she lacks in stature — she’s tiny! — she makes up for in laughter and heart.

Marzia was only 6 months old when her parents moved their family from Afghanistan to Pakistan to escape civil war nearly 25 years ago. Her parents and six of her brothers and sisters remain in Pakistan to this day. A sister has moved back to Afghanistan.

GAIA Refugee Women - Marzia

But Marzia arrived in the United States in March 2016 with her husband, Abdul; her baby daughter, Aamana; and her hearing-impaired mother-in-law, whom she helps care for. Two years later, Marzia and Abdul have settled into jobs and are expecting their second child.

Because her family was poor, Marzia attended school only through the third grade, when she needed to go to work sewing clothes. Her seamstress skills are put to good use at GAIA, where she works on our text pouches and tops.

GAIA Refugee Women - Marzia

Marzia’s innate joy shows in her attitude about her new life, her delight in her co-workers, and even her beautiful handwriting. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when she was frightened and struggling, but she is honest about that recent history. It wasn’t that long ago — only a couple of years — that she and Abdul were unsafe and desperate to be selected to come to the United States.

It didn’t matter to Marzia that the only word she knew in English was “hi” or that she didn’t know where Dallas was on a map. She knew only that there had to be a better place for her and her family than Afghanistan. And she wasn’t wrong about that. 

GAIA Refugee Women - Marzia

Beaming, she says, “I am so excited to have a fun job. I work; I go to English classes. My husband is happy. Maybe our children will grow up to be teachers or doctors.”

Each of our refugee artisans has a unique story. Read more here.

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Meet the Girls Behind "GAIA for Girls"

Teeming with kids of all ages, even through the summer, Jack Lowe Elementary School in central Dallas is a lively place. It’s where founder and managing director of the Vickery Meadow Summer Reading Academy Dalene Buhl comes each morning to oversee unique programs in English language phonics, reading, and writing, with extracurricular nutrition, music, PE, tap dance, and art.

New on her roster this year: GAIA for Girls. With great enthusiasm, she supervises nine girls, grades 7 through 10, in our jewelry-making venture and lives up to her unofficial title of 'Chief Optimist'. Buhl and her colleague Gail Stoke were instrumental in helping us create the GAIA program intended to empower girls and their mothers to help their families, and Buhl beams when she talks about the potential long-term impact on the young students. The program not only provides income for the girls and their families, she says, but it also stimulates their creativity, builds their confidence, teaches them about business from inception to production and beyond, and plants seeds of curiosity and independent determination for their futures. Talk with the girls and you can almost see those seeds sprouting.

In some ways, these teenagers are very typical. In one moment, they giggle shyly; in another, they boldly offer their opinions. Like other teenage girls, they enjoy television, sports, music, and their friends. But in other very significant ways, they are unlike many teenagers you know. Their hardships can be difficult to fathom. Some come from families who live on less than $800 per month (let that sink in for a moment). Others have parents who are disabled, ill, or have died. Yet despite their burdens, these girls have strong spirits and palpable ambition. That’s how they ended up in the program in the first place: They felt frustrated by their families’ situations and determined to find a way to help.

The girls say that working together, designing and crafting text bracelets for GAIA for Girls has not only been good for their families, but it’s also strengthened their friendships and given them the satisfaction of making something beautiful. There’s a lot to love in this little group. Says 13-year-old Norhafizah, whose family immigrated to the United States from Malyasia: “We have talents that are rare in the world! We are uniquely awesome!”

Below, you can get to know a few of these sweet girls a bit better.


Age: 13
Home country: Myanmar
Loves: Reading, dancing, sleeping, and watching cartoons
Goals: To be a doctor, travel the world, and live a happy life
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Designing and crafting the bracelets!”



Age: 12
Home country: Myanmar
Loves: Cooking, sewing, singing, dancing, and reading
Goals: To become a doctor in order to help others
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “I like that [my sister, Emmanuel, and I] are helping our parents.”



Tay Mo 

Age: 14
Home country: Thailand
Loves: Playing soccer and the violin
Goals: To be successful in and outside of school; to be a leader in my family
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Being creative and making something beautiful is a good way show your true colors.”



Age: 13
Home country: Burma
Loves: Watching K-pop, singing, and dancing
Goals: To become a doctor and help others
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Helping my parents with the finances. This is a good opportunity to learn and earn money.”



Age: 13
Home country: Malaysia
Loves: Playing badminton, swimming, exercising, dancing, singing, and eating
Goals: To go to college and get a good job after
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Because I often like to waste my time watching movies and eating and playing and sleeping, this is good for me. I like being creative, and this keeps me active.”



Age: 15
Home country: United States (first generation)
Loves: Listening to music, playing the piano, doing crafts, and helping in school Goals: To go to college and eventually own a business
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “As far back as third grade, I was designing bracelets and selling them to friends at school, so I am really excited to make it an actual job.”


Shop the GAIA for Girls collection now.

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Meet Saja

GAIA Refugee Women - Saja 

In March 2003, troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland invaded Iraq. This first stage of the Iraq War, called Operation Iraqi Freedom, was meant “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” A decade later, the country still raged with internal war. Cities were destroyed, the threat of deadly violence from Al-Qaeda was everywhere, and a young woman named Saja and her husband, Ahmed, decided to seek safety in Turkey. 

You wouldn’t guess that fact by looking at them. They are a peaceful, beautiful pair with two sweet children, a 5-year-old daughter named Jomana and a 3-year-old son named Ramy. Jomana will start kindergarten in the fall, and Ramy is into taking things apart. They are much like most other children you know, only they speak both Arabic and English. Saja and Ahmed arrived in the United States in December 2014, after living in Turkey nearly two years. 

GAIA Refugee Women - Saja

Temporarily in Turkey

 Saja’s story doesn’t involve a covert night-time border crossing or desperate years in a refugee camp, but that doesn’t mean her journey as a refugee has been easy. Though she and Ahmed were able to drive across the Iraq/Turkey border and set up house in Istanbul without trouble, neither of them spoke Turkish and they were told they would not be allowed to work. In Iraq, Ahmed worked as a photographer — sometimes with the press — and owned a banner-making business. After a few months in Turkey, “we ran out of money,” Ahmed says. “Life was really hard there.”

Luckily, Ahmed is a resourceful man who is quick with languages. He not only learned Turkish, but he found a way to earn money. He also sought asylum for himself and Saja in the United States as war refugees.  

After completing their application, they waited six weeks for a phone call, after which they traveled about six hours from their home in Istanbul for their first interview. By this time, Saja was nine months pregnant. Ahmed remembers that day well: “On September 25, they made a detailed interview with us — Why did you leave Iraq? What is your story. How many brothers and sisters you have?” he says.

“They needed to know if we had a good reason to leave. I told them the truth. ‘I am afraid. I was working with the press and with the Americans, and I am really afraid they will come and end my life.’” 

Two days later, Saja and Ahmed welcomed Jomana into the world. 

GAIA Refugee Women - Saja

The Waiting Game 

Saja and Ahmed were given a case number to follow on a website. He was told it would be months before a decision was made, but even so he eagerly checked the site every week. “After six months, I see that we have been selected!” he recalls. 

Saja says she looked at the site and she shouted with glee and cried. “We were excited,” she says, “but at the same time a little bit sad. I was thinking, “But when will we ever see our family again?’”

Another interview and many security screenings followed that happy day. Another six months pass before they find out that they would indeed be granted refugee status and move to the United States. After saying goodbye to their friends, Saja, Ahmed, and Jomana boarded a U.S.-bound plane. Their trip to Dallas included a six-hour layover in the Netherlands and a night in New York. They requested Dallas because they already had friends here and knew making a new life would be easier if they knew at least someone.

GAIA Refugee Women - Saja

Well and Happy in Dallas

Since arriving in Dallas, Saja and Ahmed have worked terrifically hard to establish a rich, full life. Ahmed works at Walmart and they’ve had a second child, Ramy. He is still taking photos and is interested in website design. The couple is saving for a house and dream of the day when they can buy a new car. 

 Though Saja didn’t work outside the home in Iraq or Turkey, she went to work in Dallas creating jewelry for Melt Goods before joining the GAIA team in January 2018. She is the only one of our refugee artisans who knows how to cut, sand, and polish the brass we use for our earrings. She says that someday she’d love to run her own jewelry business.

On the day that we sat down with Saja and Ahmed to talk about their story, they were headed to the beach in Galveston, Texas, for a weekend away with friends.

“It’s a good life,” says Saja. “We are happy.”

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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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Meet the GAIA Summer 2017 Interns

GAIA Summer Interns

Summer is a fun time at GAIA, thanks in part to summer interns! Having the fresh faces and bright ideas of the young ladies who spend a couple of months lending a hand to our small business is exciting for us and educational for them. Whether they’re tagging along on our visits to refugee women in their homes or organizing shelves filled with supplies, their enthusiasm and energy are contagious. This season, we are so grateful to have four delightful souls and feel confident that they will end their break from the classroom with a different kind of knowledge about the working world. Let's meet this fun-loving bunch!

GAIA Summer Interns Alex

Alex Karber, 21

Hometown: Amarillo, Texas

School: University of Kansas, class of 2018

Area of study: Illustration/animation

Dream job: Hand-letterer at Hallmark

Why are you excited to be at GAIA? Being part of something that is much larger than I am is a new way for me to live life. I truly believe that loving people is the root of everything good, and that is exactly what GAIA is founded on. I am excited to learn more about the women I am working with and to experience how a company like GAIA can impact lives

What is your favorite GAIA product and why? The Pom Pom bag! You can’t look at that bag and not smile!

What’s your favorite quote? “Decide what to be and go be it.” — The Avett Brothers

Who is a woman who inspires you? Every single day, my best friend, my mom

GAIA Summer Interns Lily

Lily Sutherland, 21

Hometown: Mansfield, Texas

School: Texas State University, class of 2017

Area of study: Fashion merchandising and business 

Dream job: Visual merchandising or product development for a company with a cause 

Why are you excited to be at GAIA? I love the products, and I like being part of the process of creating a product. From an initial idea to handwriting the note that goes into a package when it is about to be sent off, I enjoy being part of a creative team. I also love getting to interact with the women we are empowering.

What is your favorite GAIA product and why? Anything with a pompom attached. I am not totally sure why. I just love those things. 

What’s your favorite quote? “Beautiful girl, you were made to do hard things, so believe in yourself.”

Who is a woman who inspires you? Beyoncé. She is the ultimate queen. She uses her fame to empower women around the globe to believe in themselves, tells them that no one can define them and to never give anyone the opportunity to dull their sparkle.

GAIA Summer Interns Jewel

Jewel Jefferies, 21 

Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas 

School: The University of Texas, class of 2018

 Area of study: Consumer sciences and retail merchandising 

Dream job: To start and build my own fashion company with a meaningful purpose 

Why are you excited to be at GAIA? This is a job I love and feel good about doing! I hope to learn about running a small company and how to keep growing without losing sight of your company’s purpose. 

What is your favorite GAIA product and why? The Olivia Cha Cha bag, because I love pink and gold. 

What’s your favorite quote? “A smile is the best makeup any girl can wear.” — Marilyn Monroe 

Who is a woman who inspires you? My mom

GAIA Summer Interns Maddie

Maddie Whitten, 21

Hometown: Frisco, Texas

School: Oklahoma State University, class of 2018

Area of study: Marketing and international business

Dream job: To be a social entrepreneur and to start my own business

Why are you excited to be at GAIA? I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than working for a company full of leaders, dreamers, and believers who all have a goal of empowering and employing marginalized women who deserve a second chance. The insanely cute products are just a plus. I hope to learn how to use my talents and gifts to make a tangible difference in our community, as well as how a successful small business works.

What is your favorite GAIA product and why? Literally everything! My answer to this question changes daily. No joke. Right now, it’s the Sunnie Pom Pom bag, because it is such a statement piece and conversation starter. But what GAIA product isn’t?!

What’s your favorite quote? “I’ve always had the feeling that life loves the liver of it. You must live and life will be good to you, give you experiences. They may not all be that pleasant, but nobody promised you a rose garden. But more than likely if you do dare, what you get are the marvelous returns.” — Maya Angelou

Who is a woman who inspires you? Maya Angelou exuded grace, confidence, humility, and passion. She was just as fierce as she was compassionate. Most importantly, she was a woman who was unapologetically herself. I am inspired by her wisdom, her love for others, and her strong will to pursue the dreams that set her soul on fire. 

GAIA Summer Interns

Interested in interning with GAIA? Email us at

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GAIA Refugee Mamas Share Their Thoughts for Mother's Day


Mother’s Day is right around the corner, and at GAIA we have lots of mammas. Most of the refugee women who make our purses, pouches, and other accessories are also raising littles.

Though they come from all over the world, they share an extraordinary resilience, strength, bravery, and commitment to making a better life for their children. They also share a universal perspective: Regardless of a woman's cultural background, language spoken, country of origin, or religious beliefs, being a mother is a universal experience that transcends boundaries. 

We believe that moms make the world go 'round, and we know that the challenges all mothers face can be multiplied when a mom is displaced from her home and finding her footing in a new country. We also believe that sharing the joys and difficulties of mothering with one another is helpful, so we asked our refugee artisans and apprentices to tell us a bit about their experiences since coming to the United States.


GaIA Refugee Women Feza

 Feza, Congolese Refugee and Mother of Three

Being a mother in the refugee camp was difficult because we didn’t have money to buy our kids what they needed, and they were bored all the time. Here in America, if they need something, I am able to buy it for them with my earnings. In fact, I just bought a house with a yard! Plus, my kids are much happier now because they have more to do and can go to school. 


GaIA Refugee Women Bothina 

Bothina, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Two 

My job as a mother changed when the crisis in Syria began. I had to protect them and keep them safe both physically and psychologically. I had to be there for them, to be strong in spite of our circumstances. I am so happy that they are now getting to grow up in the U.S. We’ve been here a year, and it’s been incredible to watch them evolve. Now my challenge as a mother is making sure they are integrating into American culture while also staying connected to their Syrian heritage. 


GAIA Refugee Women Huda

Huda, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Three 

We have a very happy family. I tried to raise my three children to be loving and tolerant of others. Because of the conflict in Syria, I haven’t seen two of my children in more than four years. One of my sons is in Germany. My daughter is in Turkey with her husband and a little granddaughter, whom I have never met. I have applied for a green card and am waiting on that. It will allow me to travel to visit them. I am happy that my son, Tamam, and his family are here in the U.S. with me and my husband. I don’t know what I would do without them. (Editor’s note: Bothina is Huda’s daughter-in-law.)


GAIA Refugee Women Catherin

 Catherin, Burmese Refugee and Mother of Four

My children have many more opportunities here in the U.S. than they had in the refugee camp. In the camp, they couldn’t learn a lot, so it would have been hard for them to become what they want. But here, they can become anything if they work hard. Last fall, I became a U.S. citizen. I did that mainly so that my children — Bambina, 14; Basolus, 10; Christopher, 6; and Juliana, 2 — would be U.S. citizens and have even more opportunities. (Editor’s note: When a parent becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen, that parent’s children also become naturalized citizens, as long as the children are under the age of 18, have green cards, and live with that parent.)



Kholoud, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Six

After we fled Syria, we spent three years in Jordan. Only one of my children was able to go to school there. That was difficult, so I am happy now that all my children are in school. I love watching them learn and grow into the people they want to be. Being a mother can be overwhelming at times, of course, especially because Western culture and traditions are all new to us.



Gul, Afghan Refugee and Mother of One

I absolutely love being a mom to 2-year-old Amina. We love America, our family, learning English, and working! I am so fortunate that my own mother is here in the United States with us. She is deaf and we communicate through a sign language that we created on our own.


GAIA Refugee Women

 Narges, Afghan Refugee and Mother of Two

In Afghanistan, the schools are not great. The economy is not great. I am happy that I can raise my children here in the United States because I have big dreams for them! I want them to go to college and be doctors or engineers. Their opportunities for success are so much greater here!


GaIA Refugee Women

Izdehar, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Four

My favorite thing about being a mother is the perspective that it gives me on life. Having children helps me realize what’s really important in the world, and knowing that my children depend on me helps me stay strong when things get tough.



Esraa, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Four

The biggest thing for me is that motherhood has really helped me appreciate my own mother! (Editor’s note: Esraa is the mom on the left.)

Sarah, Iraqi Refugee and Mother of One

I feel like my role as a mother to Jenna, who is 3, is the most important role I will ever have. I believe that a loving and supportive mother can make the whole family strong. What's difficult for me right now is being a daughter. My mother is still in Iraq, and she is very ill. I can’t help care for her or even hug her. And I don’t know if I will ever get to do those things again. (Editor’s note: When we interviewed Sarah for this story, she could barely talk through her tears. Her heart breaks knowing that she may never see her mom again.)

 We wish these mamas — and all mamas around the world — a Happy Mother’s Day!


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Meet the GAIA Spring 2017 Interns

GAIA Spring Interns

It's a busy, busy time here at GAIA. We're preparing big orders and launching some pretty new spring things (check out our gorgeous new pillows and be on the lookout for a preppy-cool new line of pouches). So it's all hands on deck, including two great interns who are helping us stay on top of things.

What do GAIA interns do? Sometimes they're counting pompoms. Other times they're assisting with photos or dreaming up names for new products. Usually they're learning a little something about running a small business, and they're always ambassadors for the GAIA, helping us uphold our mission: creating beautiful style with purpose.

We're happy to introduce you to a couple of great Texas gals who are helping us get some big things accomplished this season.

GAIA Spring Interns

Name: Shelby Lynne Anders (pictured on the right)  

Age: 21  

Hometown: Kilgore, Texas  

School: Dallas Baptist University  

Class of: 2018  

Area of study: Business marketing with a focus in public relations and behavioral management  

Dream job: Editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue  

Why are you excited to be at GAIA? GAIA is one of a kind. The products, the artisans who make them, and the culture of GAIA is unique — especially in Dallas. I am ecstatic for the opportunity to encourage, empower, and walk alongside the gals of GAIA.  

What does “refugee” mean to you? Strong. I see such strength in the refugee women of GAIA. Their intellect, wisdom, determination, and laughter reveal an inner beauty that is timeless. Their journeys have not been easy, and the sacrifices they make are endless. And to be immersed in a culture that is not their own, to learn and thrive takes immense strength.  

Favorite GAIA product and why? I am obsessed with the Pom Pom bag. They make such a statement. In particular, the Lala is my favorite by far. It is whimsical yet neutral. I love the peachy poms — my absolute favorite color and print combo hands down.

GAIA Spring Interns 

Name: Ann Pollan

Age: 21

Hometown: Ennis, Texas

School: Pepperdine University

Class of: 2018

Area of study: To be determined (LOL!)  

Dream job: I consider myself to be very creative. I think my dream job would to be a creative director or something similar. I would love to be able to tell a story to an audience through clothing and furniture. I would also love to have my own clothing line.

Why are you excited to be at GAIA? I love the appearance of GAIA products. When I first saw GAIA products at Cabana and then heard the story of GAIA, I knew I wanted to intern or volunteer here. I was super excited to find a local brand that was very fashionable and had a great mission in my own backyard.

What does “refugee” mean to you? Survivor 

Favorite  GAIA product and why? I love the Cha Cha bag. I’ve been told big things come in small packages. That is how I feel about this bag. The bag is small, but between the fringe and the gold chain it will definitely be noticed. I am very petite, so the fringe clutch is a great size for me — and it’s perfect for date night. 

Interested in interning with GAIA? Email us at

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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 came 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

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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

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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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