GAIA Empowered Women

Kelly Christine recently spent an afternoon capturing the beautiful designs of GAIA Empowered Women's newest product line. GAIA is an incredible company with a touching vision. All of their products are created by refugee women who have resettled in the Dallas area. Each has a uniquely incredible story that is worth telling. We are honored to be sharing a piece of Paula and GAIA Empowered Women's with you. 


Heirloom: Do you have any morning routines that you believe help set you up for success? If so would you mind sharing with us and why? 

Paula: My goal is to wake up at least an hour before my 3 year-old twins, which is not an easy feat. But the extra time is invaluable, as it allows me a moment of meditation, to just unscramble my thoughts to smooth out the day before me. Then of course I immediately hop on social media and/or my laptop to catch up on email! 

Heirloom: Tell us about GAIA Empowered Women. How and why did you start? 

Paula: I started my career as an apparel buyer right out of college, and after a decade of working in that industry, I started to become disenchanted by it. So I took some time off after getting married and becoming a stepmother in 2008, and began volunteering as a Mentor to a Burmese refugee woman, Catherin, and her 2 young children. After enduring over a decade in a refugee camp in Thailand, she then faced an entirely new set of challenges upon her arrival to the US….everything from learning how to use an ATM to navigating our country’s health care system. It’s overwhelming to even those of us born here, imagine how daunting it is for someone in Catherin’s shoes! Her strength and determination really moved me, and inspired me to do more. One day we were studying vocabulary words, and after describing the word “sew”, I discovered that Catherin had some basic sewing skills, and had a true “lightbulb moment.” I had been reading about how unlocking a woman’s potential is crucial to the prosperity of a community as a whole, and how giving women an opportunity to become self reliant through earning a living wage helps cultivate a brighter future for their children. I realized that I could pay her a living wage to sew pretty things with vintage textiles I had collected, utilizing my background in the fashion industry to bring it to market. So in late 2009, GAIA, for Goddess of the Earth, was born, with the ultimate mission of helping refugee women thrive in their new communities. 

Heirloom: What touches you most about the stories you hear on a daily basis? 

Paula: I’ve been most touched by the resilience of these women. After already surviving against incredible odds prior to coming here, they then have to completely rebuild their lives in a foreign land, with multiple challenges along the way. We've dealt with domestic abuse, alcoholism, illnesses, break-ins, poor living conditions, and exploitation by other employers and apartment managers. These women face it head-on, with strength and faith unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.

Heirloom: Tell us a little about you. Who is Paula and what drives and shapes who she is? 

 Paula: I’m driven by faith and family, and the desire to continuously strive to be a better version of myself. I’m definitely a work in progress! So I’m on a constant quest to enlighten myself, to gain a higher level of understanding and compassion for others. I do this through traveling as often as I can, reading a ton, and connecting with people from all walks of life — all of which continue to shape who I am.

Heirloom: What legacy do you hope the pass on to your children through your work with GAIA? What do you hope they remember most ?

Paula: I think about this a lot, because I really struggle with the whole work/life balance thing, and often feel guilty about taking time away from my kiddos while I try to grow this business.  
But I feel strongly that “From those to whom much is given, much is expected,” so my hope is that they grow up with an awareness of need and struggle in the world, and the compassionate desire to use their own gifts and passions to serve others.

Hopefully, they'll look back on their childhood with a busy working mamma, and will recognize the value of meaningful work, and how gratifying and fulfilling it can be to help those that need it most.

Pastrana Studio


There is a special joy derived from holding something tangible in your hands that you know has been crafted by hand. Some of the most precious things we have in our homes are the gifts and expressions of love that were crafted by the hands of another. Pastrana Studio produces some of the most beautiful wood work around. Each piece is handcrafted by this husband and wife team and is truly something special. They design what they call "quality heirloom products  that not only will you be able to enjoy, but be able to pass down for generations to come." Once we heard their heart and desire you know we were hooked and we hope you will be also as they share some of what makes them tick. 

Heirloom: Do you have any morning routines? If so, would you mind sharing a few of them and why you feel that set you up for success?

Julian: Typically we'll wake up each morning and take some time to read and relax while we enjoy our coffee. This is important to us to start our day off in the right mind set and not to feel rushed for the day. Then we make a prioritized list of what tasks we need to accomplish and plan out our work day. This allows us to have a tangible goal for the day and sets a challenge for us to complete the list, or as much as we can get done in a single work day. It also helps us stay on track of the different projects and orders we have going on.

Heirloom: Tell us about your journey into wood working.

Julian: My journey into woodworking began when I started working a job in residential remodeling. Once I began learning basic woodworking skills, I decided that I wanted to start designing and creating my own pieces. As amateur as they were in the beginning, i knew my passion would drive me to continue learning advanced skills and different technics that would take my pieces to the next level. After a few years, many trails and errors, and a better equipped shop, my skills were at the point where I felt satisfied enough to put my work out there. Although while working with wood is my chosen medium, I do consider myself an artist.

Heirloom: What inspires you? Where do you turn for inspiration and new product design?

Julian: Our source of inspiration comes from a variety of places, but mostly stems from things in our past that have been staples in  the development our individual style. For example, the 50's era encompasses many aspects of inspiration that both Kate and I grew up embracing. From the music, to the clothes, to the classic cars, and of course the furniture. Design was seemingly more simple back then, more functional rather than just aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time being very well made. This carries over into our design process now, which we combine both functionality and visual appeal into our work. The goal is to create timeless pieces that can work in any type of setting or design theme. We also draw inspiration from the material itself. The quality of woods that we use have such great characteristics that they can many times dictate or guide a  piece into formation just by visualizing the inherent qualities of the material, such as certain grain patterns, imperfections, or color variations. This organic element of our design process allows the wood's natural state to be the focal point. In turn, we don't use paints or stains in our pieces for this reason.

Heirloom: How do you balance work and play? 

Julian: We try to have set days and times during the week that are dedicated to working on our products. However, due to us both continually wanting to be proactive, it can sometimes be difficult to stay disciplined in this area. The key is 'shutting it off' at the end of the day and just relaxing for a change. We are still learning how to successfully accomplish this on a constant basis. But we've been blessed living where we are now though, the scenery and seclusion make that aspect much easier. 

photography: shawn roller

Shawn has previously been featured on Heirloom. See more of his work and learn part of his story here