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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.

Emmanuel

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!”

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Rebecca

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.”

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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.”

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Dar

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.”

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Norhafizah

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.”

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Marisol

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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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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GAIA and Mon Amie Host Create for a Cause on World Refugee Day

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

Of all the red-letter days in a calendar year, World Refugee Day is the nearest and dearest to our hearts. In a big way, it’s a day for GAIA to do something special in honor of the 65 million people around the world who have been displaced due to violence and oppression and celebrate their resilience. On a more personal level, it’s a day for us to celebrate the resettled artisan women who are the very reason GAIA exists.

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

This year, World Refugee Day fell on June 20. To mark the occasion, we partnered with another local socially-minded brand Mon Amie to host a fun event at our new headquarters.

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

Mon Amie is a division of Fossil, which is also based in the Dallas area. The name is French for “my friend,” and the company is certainly our friend — and a friend to many women worldwide. It shares our style-with-purpose mission. While we work to empower resettled refugee women and girls through well-paying, meaningful employment, Mon Amie empowers women and girls in developing communities around the world by helping provide access to food, water, education, health care, and business opportunities. So when the like-minded folks at Mon Amie reached out to us with the idea of a pop-up event, we were definitely on board!

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

Together we packed the GAIA house for a Wednesday evening of snacks (that was indeed a macaron tower!), sips, and a special craft workshop headed by Huda and Bothina.

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

Visitors browsed the watch brand’s summer styles and all the GAIA goodness we have to share, while Huda and Bothina led the group in a #CreateForaCause workshop. Social media influencers, including Lee Cordon, Denise Johnson, and Stephanie Drenka were among our many lovely guests who made tasseled key rings to take home.

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

It was such a fun way to celebrate World Refugee Day — and kick off summer. Everyone who attended had a blast, and all agreed that they found a new appreciation for the handiwork our artisans do: It’s a whole lot harder to make a tassel that's built to look pretty AND built to last!

GAIA + Mon Amie Event

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What to Wear on Summer Weekends Away

Summer is in full swing, and we’re eagerly packing our bags for some long weekends away.

Where are we going? What will we wear? We’re so glad you asked!

We cruised Forbes’ list of top travel destinations for 2018 to choose our not-so-far-away destinations and then paired them with GAIA tops and accessories and bottoms and shoes from our friends at Cabana. Every beautiful GAIA item is handmade by a refugee artisan rebuilding her life in Dallas, Texas (a great place to visit, by the way).

Check out these gorgeous U.S. spots and the outfits to match.

Asheville, North Carolina

We’ll breathe more deeply and rest more soundly when we nestle into nature in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ll at least drop by the Biltmore Estate, even if we don’t get to stay there.

Top + Earrings + Bag + Bottom + Shoes

Detroit, Michigan

The idea of Motor City and the birthplace of Motown really gets our motor running. It’s a city seeing a revival — and you know we love a good starting-over story. Top of our list: a ride on the Q-Line streetcar.

Top + Earrings + Bag + Necklaces + Bottom + Shoes

New Orleans, Louisiana

The Big Easy can get a bit sweaty in the summer months, but we don’t mind. Hotels and restaurants are plenty air conditioned, and if we really need to cool things off, we’ll grab a frozen daiquiri.

Top + Earrings + BagNecklace + Bottom + Shoes

Palm Beach County, Florida

As if miles of sandy white beaches weren’t enough, Palm Beach County is more than fun in the sun. We’re hitting Delray Beach for its incredible Japanese gardens and the must-see costume museum in Boca Raton.

Top + Earrings + Bag + Bottom + Shoes

San Juan, Puerto Rico

The U.S. territory still needs our help after last year’s hurricane. One way to give back is to go stay. We’ll book a room, make some dinner reservations, and plan daytrips to rainforests and rum castles.

Top + Earrings + Bag + Necklace + Bottom + Shoes

Curious about the refugee artisans who create our tops and accessories? Get to know them here.

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A Little Bit of Little News

If you follow GAIA on Instagram, you may have noticed a few new things for the smaller set. Maybe you spotted a sneak peek on an Instagram post with colorful arm candy that read: “New bracelets for the littles — likely to be borrowed by the bigs!”

Yes? No? Either way, we’re here to give you the scoop on those bitty bracelets.

 With four messages — XOXO, CUTIE, I ❤️ YOU, and BFF — the bracelets are handmade by refugee youth in Dallas as part of a new GAIA initiative to provide work to local refugee girls and their mamas. We weren’t looking to start something new when opportunity knocked, but we know a need when we see one.

When we learned through volunteers from Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church working with students in the Vickery Meadow area of Dallas that a group of teens were frustrated by their mothers’ inability to find work, we took notice. When we heard that the students were asking how they could help, trying to determine what they could do to generate work, earn money, and improve their circumstances now that they are here in the United States, we all began to brainstorm together ways to engage these girls.

GAIA for Girls

GAIA for Girls

With wheels turning, we thought, What if we create a new collection for GAIA? We had considered expanding our existing Kids collection to include jewelry...Wouldn’t it be kind of perfect to offer bracelets for younger girls, made by older teen girls working to affect change in their own lives? And so we designed these cute new bracelets with the girls skills in mind, and partnered with the volunteers to train the girls and get them up and running. They were thrilled!

The students are really driving this initiative. These girls have grit. They have moxie. They are bright, eager and excited to work for what they want. Many of their families have survived serious trauma either before or after arriving in the country, and yet they are positive, energetic spirits who inspire us.

GAIA for Girls

GAIA for Girls

Look into their faces and you see tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. They will surely go on to be fashion designers and restaurateurs and captains of industry of all sorts. Watch their industrious hands and you know you are watching the creation of something much bigger than jewelry. That makes our hearts sing!

This new initiative truly exemplifies what GAIA is all about. The students get to help their families and we get to further support refugees in Dallas — and ensure a brighter future for these teens, because we know that empowered girls become empowered women.

* Special thanks to the dedicated mentorship provided by PHPC tireless advocates, Dalene Buhl, Gail Stoke, and Rev. Kathy Lee-Cornell, and our friends at Tasby Middle School, Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, and the Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation.  ** Please note that absolutely no child labor laws are violated in this project.

GAIA x Folklore girl's skirt 

More Neat New Things for Kids

The darling bracelets aren’t the only kids’ news we have for you, however.

We’re excited to offer monogrammed diaper pouches and the sweetest kids clothing from Folklore, another Dallas-based company with a mission for helping women improve their lives. Handmade in Guatemala with upcycled cotton from the New Denim Project, the striped skirts and dresses coordinate with some of our tops for a mother-daughter look that cannot be beat.

With diaper pouches that coordinate with large pouches for mama’s stuff, and large pouches that coordinate with little mouse purses, and pom-pom bags that match our mini hearts and mini kitties, there’s lots more mommy-and-mini goodness from GAIA. 

Shop the entire GAIA’s kids’ collection.

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Surprise and Delight: Our Refugee Artisans Share Their Blessings

Resettling as a refugee can be difficult. Refugees encounter prejudices and hostility from many directions. Some refugees move to the United States not knowing even basic English. Some arrive not knowing how to use an ATM or even a stove! On the flip side, some refugees arrive here after years as a working professional in their home country, only to have to start over completely — and usually not in their chosen professions.


Getting resettled is a process filled with challenges that people born and raised here can hardly imagine. It’s also a process filled with unexpected joys. Refugees arrive in the United States with assumptions of safety and freedom. They hope that their children will be able to attend school and that they will find work that sustains them. But there are things they don’t dare dream or know to anticipate — wonderful, unforeseen things.


We asked our refugee artisans to tell us about the surprises that have happened in their lives since they arrived in the U.S. Here’s what they said.

GAIA Refugee Women Catherin

Catherin

When we first arrived, we were worried about everything, but each year that I am here, life gets easier and happier. I love my job and working with the GAIA team. Paula, Lauren, and Alyssa love me and love my kids — and that makes me happy!

(Read Catherin's story.)

GAIA Refugee Women Feza

Feza

First of all, I thank God for bringing me to this country, because I do not worry about war at all. Secondly, I am very happy that GAIA helped me with this job. Because of my earnings, I was able to buy a house, and am now living in my own home with my family because of your support. Thanks you so much, God bless you!

(Read Feza's story.)

GaIA Refugee Women Maria
Maria

“I didn’t expect to have a job that I liked — and I love my job at GAIA! And I didn’t expect for my children to receive such good education.”

(Read Maria's story.)

GAIA Refugee Women Latifa

Latifa

“I’ve become a U.S. citizen! I am now able to travel to visit my friends and family, who I miss very much. My husband and I are also earning more money than I ever dreamed we would be able to.

(Read Latifa's story.)

GAIA Refugee Artisan Kholoud

Kholoud

“I never dreamed I would learn to drive a car! Now I drive all over by myself!”

 

Izdehar

“When my husband and I first got here, we were shocked by everything. We didn’t speak English, and we had a hard time finding jobs. I didn’t think we’d ever figure things out, but now we are doing well and looking forward to our future.”

 

GAIA Artisan Refugee Huda

Huda

“I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see my children again. I didn’t think that as a Syrian I would be able to leave the U.S. and return, but I was recently able to travel to see them after not being able to do so for seven years!”

(Read Huda's story.)

 

GAIA Refugee Women Bothina

Bothina

“What’s surprised me most are the friends I’ve made. I never dreamed that I’d have so many friends. I didn't expect to be surrounded by the love and support that I have, especially where I work. I consider myself to be very lucky and blessed by God that I didn't have to try a lot of jobs before I found myself in a place that is full of kind, loving, considerate people.

(Read Bothnia's story.)

GAIA Refugee Women Manar

Manar

“We got a car as a gift, but — more than that — I started to practice driving!” 

 

GAIA Refugee Women Marzia

Marzia

"Everything about coming to America has been a wonderful surprise!”

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The Company We Keep: GAIA Collabs & Custom Collections

Teamwork is a theme around GAIA. We believe that together we are better, and that partnerships between like-minded brands can truly amplify the goodness we're all trying to put out into the world! The last six months have brought all kinds of opportunities for us to create special things with and for special people. Let’s take a look!

Custom Collections: Wisteria, Raven + Lily, and Rachel Roy

GAIA x Wisteria Mudcloth Pillows

Our partnership with furniture and home decor brand Wisteria is an ongoing effort launched in 2016 (read all about it). We’re delighted to continue creating pillows with purpose for the company’s Gifts That Give Back collection. GAIA refugee artisans use one-of-a-kind textiles — exclusive GAIA-designed ikat and hand-dyed African mud cloth — to sew pillows that are available exclusively on Wisteria’s website or at their Dallas store. online

GAIA x Raven + Lily Mudcloth Pillow

GAIA x Raven + Lily Mudcloth Pouch

New this season: We designed a special collection of pillows and pouches for Raven + Lily. The Austin-based brand sells fair trade clothing, accessories, and home furnishings with the mission of empowering women around the world. Founder Kirsten Dickerson currently provides meaningful work to more than 1,500 at-risk women, helping ensure they have safe jobs and access to health care. The company is a natural fit for GAIA’s work.

“We both are passionate about employing women with dignity, using traditional textiles, and exploring ways to be sustainable in our production practices. Most of our designs are developed in Austin through our direct artisan partnerships in 10 countries, but sometimes we find a company like GAIA that is a perfect partner for a co-branded design collaboration. I think the collaborative spirit promotes the overall mission of both our companies in a beautiful way,” Kirsten says. 

GAIA x Rachel Roy Text Pouch

GAIA x Rachel Roy Text Pouch

Giving back is also key to the Rachel Roy mission. For the last two holiday seasons, GAIA partnered with the L.A.-based brand for its Gifts for Good effort. Now we’re taking things a step further with the thought of creating products together all year long. Soon to be released: text pouches and pillows exclusive to the brand. What can you expect from this partnership? Design-driven products that are colorful, fun, and functional, says founder Rachel Roy.

“Both of our organizations are ... run by women who truly care about the world and making it a better place. We both are the type of organization that does not wait for someone to give us the answer, we go out and create answers to challenges ourselves. I’m proud of our commitment to each other to keep creating work for refugees,” Rachel says. 

Collaborations: Melt Goods and SZ Blockprints 

We couldn't be more excited to introduce our first collection of hand-cut brass earrings, all produced in collaboration with Melt Goods. Like GAIA, Melt is a small Dallas-based business that employs resettled refugee women to make fashion accessories. The work we do is similar and the synergy is strong. Collaborating with Melt was a no-brainer for us, and founder Meredith Lockhart felt the same way.

“We are all about encouraging and uplifting refugees, and I think the cheerful colors and bold designs really coincide with our message and goals. Though GAIA and Melt are making different products, we have the same mission in mind,” says Meredith. “I adore everything GAIA makes. It is so fun, upbeat, colorful, and bold — all of which are qualities that we like to incorporate in our jewelry and brand.” 

Another recent addition to the GAIA lineup: a children’s collection incorporating the gorgeous fabrics of SZ Blockprints. Founder Sarah Zellweger works with artisans in Jaipur, India, to create colorful hand-printed fabrics. She also works to educate and empower women and girls in India. We're crazy about her prints, but also really love her mission — and how it aligns with ours.

"We are so thrilled to be working with GAIA, a brand whose mission and ethos we admire so much," Sarah says. "The fact that our textiles are ending up in the hands of refugee women all over Dallas, rebuilding their lives through their sewing and design skills, is such a beautiful joining and a continuation of a story."

So far we've incorporated SZ Blockprints fabric for a Mini Heart Purse, Bib & Booties, and Diaper Pouch. We’re also working on a Zipper Pouch/Clutch collection and — perhaps most exciting of all — we’ll launch our Butterfly Top this spring. It’s GAIA’s first foray into clothing, and we think you’re really going to love it!  

Also, in case you missed it, check out our earlier post about our exclusive collaboration with another woman-owned, Dallas-based company Perennials©.

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