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.
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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 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
‘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